Activist Education

Activist education is conducted by and with activists, is openly interested in the processes of change-making, and utilises education methods that effect justice-oriented social change. We use the expression ‘activist education’ to describe our work. This has implications not just for what we consider important for community organisers to learn, but how we believe adults learn most effectively. We’ve facilitated discussions and workshops with other social movement trainers and facilitators to explore just what might be involved in working as activist educators. The educational principles and practices (or pedagogy) that guide our work include:

  • experiential and empowered learning
  • listening and reflection
  • mentorship
  • questioning, not telling
  • exercises linked to real and contemporary change work
  • building a ‘container’ or learning environment characterised
  • by trust, openness, honesty, self-critique, mutual respect and support.

We avoid the ‘talking head’ approach to adult education, the facilitator as expert; and treating participants as empty vessels. Our pedagogy is influenced by the Rant Collective who describe their approach as “empowered learning”. Like us, the Rant Collective, draw inspiration from Paulo Freire’s popular education work in Brazil. Empowered learning involves respecting participants, reflecting on and sharing life experience, and developing tools, skills and confidence. Their workshops, like ours, are active (not lectured) and involve exercises, role plays and discussion. We are guided by the ‘spiral model’ of learning that was developed and practiced by the Doris Marshal Institute in Toronto. The spiral model emphasises reflecting on experience and incorporating new information in action.

The popular education spiral model

The popular education spiral model

We’ve also been influenced by Training for Change. Based in Philadelphia, Training for Change is one of the United States’ best-known activist education and training organisation. They refer to their approach as direct education, a pedagogy based on:

  • actions that directly confront and challenge the current system of injustice;
  • education that directly confronts and challenges the current system of injustice (including how people are taught)
  • respecting the expertise of the people themselves, rather than looking for expertise in textbooks and teachers and
  • the influence of experiential and popular education.

some of our favourite activist education resources

Activist Education Dimensions

An exercise to assist activist educators to categorise their work and the world of activist education, and to reflect on their (often sub-conscious) choices and priorities. Tags: activist education,

Co facilitation

Outlines the major advantages, some potential disadvantages, and suggestions for avoiding the dangers in co-facilitation. Tags: activist education, facilitation, workshop resources,

Co facilitation Inventory

A guide to maximising the learning experience of working together, including learning theory, personal motivation, expectations, and intervention style. Tags: activist education, facilitation, workshop resources,

Debriefing Workshop Sessions

Some ideas for creative processing and debriefing of activities such as large group discussions and journal writing. Tags: activist education, facilitation, workshop resources,

Effective Action for Social Change | The campaign to save the Franklin River (Part 1)

Claire Runciman, Harry Barber, Linda Parlane, John Stone, and Gill Shaw, 1986 “Too often activists only develop critiques of campaigns which fail. This implies that successful campaigns use the best of all possible strategies and tactics, and that the reasons for success are clear to all onlookers. Even a quick look at the Franklin Campaign […] Tags: action research, activist education, case study, direct action, nonviolence,

Effective Action for Social Change | The campaign to save the Franklin River (Part 2)

Claire Runciman, Harry Barber, Linda Parlane, John Stone, and Gill Shaw, 1986 “Too often activists only develop critiques of campaigns which fail. This implies that successful campaigns use the best of all possible strategies and tactics, and that the reasons for success are clear to all onlookers. Even a quick look at the Franklin Campaign […] Tags: action research, activist education, case study, direct action, nonviolence,

Effective Action for Social Change | The campaign to save the Franklin River (Part 3)

Claire Runciman, Harry Barber, Linda Parlane, John Stone, and Gill Shaw, 1986 “Too often activists only develop critiques of campaigns which fail. This implies that successful campaigns use the best of all possible strategies and tactics, and that the reasons for success are clear to all onlookers. Even a quick look at the Franklin Campaign […] Tags: action research, activist education, case study, direct action, nonviolence,

Formation of Freirian Facilitators Phyllis Nobel, 1978

Food for thought for activist educators, including a useful review of literature by and about Paulo Freire. Tags: activist education, facilitation, Freire,

Handling the Most Difficult Participant

Some effective strategies for dealing with difficult workshop participants. Tags: activist education, facilitation,

Larry Olds’ philosophy of education

Developed by Larry Olds, this matrix compares traditional education, humanistic education and education for liberation. Tags: activist education,

Maximise minimise

An exercise to build a workshop ‘container’ in which participants exercise responsibility for their own learning. Tags: activist education, workshop resources,

Mentorship and peer support

Simple institutional arrangements, like the three options outlined here, can make a huge difference to campaigners’ sense of support and their long-term sustainability. Tags: activist education, learning organisations,

Reflecting On Lessons Learned

A tool to encourage and share participants’ self-reflection and work with others. Tags: activist education,

Review of activities

Introduces four purposes of strategy. Tags: activist education, facilitation,

Review Tools

Tools and games to assist participants’ learning through recall, ensure core proficiencies have been covered, and review major lessons and insights. Tags: activist education,

The ‘Never Evers’ Of Workshop Facilitation

Experience and research indicate certain things that a facilitator should never do during a workshop. Peggy Sharp (National Staff Development Council)presents an overview of these in this article. Tags: activist education, facilitation,

Understanding the Experiential Learning Cycle

These different types of questions correspond to the stages of the experiential learning cycle. This resource is a useful guide for educators preparing workshop discussion prompts. Tags: activist education,

Workshop schedule template

A template that can be utilised in planning workshop objectives, rationale, and structure. Tags: activist education, workshop resources,

great activist education tools and thoughts from TfC

No to two hour workshops

A short article by Daniel Hunter, training associate with Training for Change. Tags: activist education, facilitation,

water glass exercise

This activity is used by Ouyporn Khuankeaw, a trainer in Thailand who most often works with village development workers, women leaders, monks and nuns, and NGO staff. She finds that popular education/experiential education is easier for participants to get the most out of if they understand that it is actually a different model from the […] Tags: activist education, pedagogy, workshop resources,

Maximise minimise

An exercise to build a workshop ‘container’ in which participants exercise responsibility for their own learning. Tags: activist education, workshop resources,

Models of education

We have collected some popular educators thoughts and insights into models of activist education.

Formation of Freirian Facilitators Phyllis Nobel, 1978

Food for thought for activist educators, including a useful review of literature by and about Paulo Freire. Tags: activist education, facilitation, Freire,

Larry Olds’ philosophy of education

Developed by Larry Olds, this matrix compares traditional education, humanistic education and education for liberation. Tags: activist education,

A supportive and respectful community of practice

During the 2006 Nonviolence Trainers gathering, several Australian activist educators developed a set of principles for how we hope to work together. We resolved that activist educators in a supportive and respectful community of practice would:

Activist educators’ skillshare

In June 2007 we convened an Activist Educators’ skillshare to strengthen our community of practice. The 17 participants work with a range of social movements in Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand) as educators, facilitators and trainers. If you are an activist educator and would like to be part of the group’s ongoing dialogue and sharing, let us know.

Environmental advocacy course

Between 2003 and 2006, James convened the Environmental Advocacy Elective at Griffith University, Brisbane.