Local literacies and community spaces - Investigating transitions and transfers in the 'learning lives' of Groruddalen

Developments within the ‘knowledge society’, especially due to technological innovation, have intensified interest in the relationship between different contexts of learning, between what is often termed as ‘formal’, that is institutional settings like schooling) and ‘informal’ (everything outside of schools) learning domains. However, there is very little research internationally with a specific focus on such transitions.

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About the project

The project focuses on the connections between learning across contexts, locations and social sites and was in part developed out of an interest in key transitions and experiences across the school system and within a changing community. The concept of ‘community spaces’ indicated in the title of this project, relates to places and contexts where students are involved in learning activities, both formal and informal/non-formal and to both online and offline activities. Two aspects are critical in order to get a better understanding of students’ performances and learners’ activities, and which there has been very little focus so far. The first focuses on the relationship between different sites of learning activities, and how the home as a learning arena influences students’ perceptions of learning in schools, and visa versa. A special focus is directed towards technology use inside and outside of schools, and also how issues of science, reading and writing comes up in different contexts, inside and outside of schools. The second focuses on key stages of transition within the education system, being a learner in the education system; from entering the school, through transitions between lower secondary and upper secondary schooling, and from school to working life or higher education.


The primary aim of this project is to study and theorise the transfer of learning between different contexts and community spaces in order to depict the ‘learning lives’ of young people living in the Grorud Valley. The original concept of ‘learning lives’ is used to focus on the growth of pedagogic identities and develops theoretically out of a cultural anthropology account of literacy usage. Our ambition is to offer an analysis that can support learners as they move through key life-transitions in ways that enrich and enhance their ‘funds of knowledge’.

Background and Outline

The Municipality of Oslo, backed up by large investments from the State, has made commitments in Groruddalen in an effort to transform the community over the next 10 years (‘Groruddalsatsningen’). Program area 4 of this investment effort concentrates on ‘Oppvekst, utdanning, levekår, kulturaktiviteter og inkludering’ (‘Upbringing, education, living conditions, cultural activities and inclusion’.) The intervention program of Groruddalen represents a unique opportunity to develop a community approach towards understanding the learning lives of young people inside and outside of schools. Groruddalen is an area with a population with a cultural diversity made up by many different groups of minority speaking children.

Theoretical basis and previous research

One of the most established traditions exploring the relationship between learning in and out of school lies in the field of literacy studies, which in turn derives from key work at the origins of socio-cultural theory in education. A key construct in this field is the notion of learner-identity. Although Identity is a disputed term (especially across disciplines (Cote & Levine 2002), recent interest in the idea of learning lives, formulated in respect of adult learners in the UK (http://www.tlrp.org/proj/phase111/biesta.htm), offers a way of exploring how the formation of pedagogic relationships around the self expands the focus on literacy practices to enable us to consider questions of transfer and effectiveness. In many cases, media and media leisure uses have developed in parallel with the formal education system, with the growth of social networking and gaming cultures. Yet, whilst this focus on computers and digital technology in general is a relatively new input into the formation of changing paradigms of learning, there remain older models for exploring the relationship of formal and informal learning especially in relation to language development and social class.We can extrapolate four key themes running through a vast literature: (1) the attention to the nature and multiple contexts of learning, including physical contexts ; (2) studies of the discourses of learning, the attention to language registers and specialised usage; (3) the relation of tools (mental, technological and including, language) which learners mobilise and in some case master and appropriate to support and further develop; and (4) the attention to social networks within whose ebb and flow learners position themselves and are positioned. Describing these four core principles will allow us to compare and contrast learning in and out of school. Although we acknowledge pre-existing hierarchies of learning modes, we wish to challenge constructions that would lead to marginalising forms of learning valued by young people and within other social frames than the school.


Usding an ethographic approach the project will capture how learner's identities are constructed and negotiated across different kinds of learning relationships in order to create a rich ‘thick description’ of the learning lives and the learning contexts of three cohorts of young people. This qualitative dataset will be interrogated to produce meaningful description of learning habits, learning processes, learning contexts, learning episodes learning languages and the inter-relationships between these perspectives, and especially of the construction of the learning self. For example we will be observing how the learning identities generated in home settings are contextualized by teachers in classroom settings, and visa versa. We draw on traditions in classroom research as well as the approaches of literacy events and practices. Whereas most studies of learning explore intra-institutional experiences, our more original ambition, following the challenge identified above, is to track individual learning trajectories across domains.

Research questions

R 1. How can we understand and follow ‘learning’ across social contexts and over time?

R1.1 What characterizes identity construction and transitions between schooling and home settings, and between online and offline spaces?

R1.2 How do specific contexts support or hinder transfers across social contexts?

R1.3 How can schools use research into these questions?

R 2. What are the ‘funds of knowledge’ available to the community of Groruddalen?

R2.1 What are the range of social contexts and experiences that characterise learning in Groruddalen?

R2.2 How are students’ learning activities and literacy practices made relevant for knowledge building within and across social contexts and sites?

R 3. What are the major challenges faced by young people engaged in transitions between levels of education?

R3.1 How do children experience and cope with transfers and transitions throughout their schooling within specific domains and involving different literacies?

R3.2 In which ways can we describe learning across different institutions and age ranges in an internally coherent fashion? Are there significant contextual cues/structures that can be transferred across domains?

Time frame

The project started January 1st 2009 and lasts until July 31st 2013.


Funded by the Norwegian Research Council (NFR), Frisam.


Other partners in the project are NOVA and Professor Julian Sefton Green (UK).

The international network of the project consist of: Prof. Kirsten Drotner (Denmark), Prof. David Guile (UK), Prof. Glynda Hull & Mark Nelson (US, Berkeley), Prof. Olga Vasquez (US, San Diego), Prof. Judith Green (US, Santa Barbara), Associate Profesor Helen Nixon (Adelaide, Australia), Prof. Joseph Tobin (Arizona State University, US) and Prof. Karin Aronson (Stockholm University, Sweden).

National reference group: Sten Ludvigsen (Intermedia, UiO), Ola Stafseng (PFI, UiO), Thomas Hylland Eriksen (Culcom, UiO), Rita Hvistendal (ILS, UiO) and Kristinn Hegna (NOVA).

Research category

Basic research


Published Sep. 20, 2010 12:44 PM - Last modified Aug. 9, 2016 3:39 PM