Learning from Volunteering

Project: Other projectOther internal award

Project Details


IAA Responsive Mode award: Learning from Volunteering.

Layman's description

UK Volunteers provide over 4.4 billion hours of their time to organisations and communities every year. Volunteers are motivated by the idea of giving back to society but there are also gains to be made in skill and professional development as well as employment opportunities. Yet if volunteering is in the business of learning and development are we sure what is being learned, and by whom? We held a research workshop which brought together academics, organisations that use volunteering as part of their development programmes, regional charities, community business groups and campaigners for paid internships to inform the research agenda for volunteering and learning. The project builds on the relationship with our external partner, the North Yorkshire CIPD, and will influence national organisational development by better addressing the learning needs of their volunteer committee members.

Key findings

The workshop was well attended by representatives from local charities and community organisations and practitioners with an interest in managing volunteer workers. The day involved discussion of a range of perspectives from which to identify potential blind spots in our understanding of learning and volunteering, and areas that need more research and attention. We tried to cover a range of learning 'problems' across the volunteering life-cycle, from students who volunteer or look for internships in order to gain entry into work, from those who look to volunteering as providing development opportunities to help them advance in their paid work, to people who volunteer to replace paid employment and to those who are encouraged to 'give back' to a profession that has been their livelihood. Attendees were drawn from across each of these interest areas and we had four speakers with presentations to stimulate discussion. We started with the premise that developing skills and skill transfer through volunteering is much more problematic than is assumed and that what is learned, who is doing the learning and who is benefiting from it is an area we could usefully examine more closely. A key finding that is being developed into the next phase of the project relates to the unintended consequences from volunteering in terms of informal social learning. Volunteering is often sold as a positive experience for volunteers yet little is known about these opaque unstructured spaces where volunteers contributed and it is here that there may be a darker side to learning and volunteering.
Effective start/end date1/08/1531/12/15