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Evelin Tamm Master of Adult Education Tallinn University


This work aims at introducing my experience in implementing the voice-centred relational method as a qualitative research method in the adult education to other practitioners and researchers. An overview of the back-round and a short description of the method is given, it is fallowed by the example of the practical implementation of the method in my research process.

Using the voice listening approach I analysed the discourse of the adult learners to find out the supportive factors of transformative learning in the workplace. I conducted in depth interviews with 17 women working in the second biggest bank in Estonia. Using Listening Guide 4 steps the data was analysed accordingly.

The analyse shows that the working life has transformative influence on the working women and that most of the transformative learning takes place hidden of the formal training activities during informal social interaction and networking.

Based on the research I describe some of the activities to support the women in transformative learning processes at their workplaces.


Contemporary adult educators emphasise the importance of the learners in the process of learning (Jarvis, Holford, Griffin 2001). The information age has changed the role of the educators and the learner centred approaches have become dominant. Self-directed learning as a subject of research has been on the fore front for educational theorists starting from the 1960s (Hiemstra 1994; Jarvis, Holford, Griffin 2001).

Research shows that self-directed learner is more the aim than the starting point of adult education (Cranton 1994; Merriam 2004; Taylor 1997). Educators role is to facilitate the learner in the process of becoming critical, reflective and emancipated (Jarvis, Holford, Griffin 2001; Mezirow 2000).

In the year 1995 the European Commission emphasised the adult learning as a basic right to all citizens living in European Union in its white paper on education. Despite that the research in adult education outlines that there are differences in the participation in the lifelong learning between the groups of learners: some groups are excluded of the learning and for many the education provided is not motivating (Bhatti 2006; Preece 2001). Muted1 groups are in many cases out of the focus of the provision of learning opportunities although should be on the contrary in the very centre of the interest of adult educators. The year of 2007 in European Union was about the equal opportunities for all and the need to listen to the voice of the learners was constantly repeated. One of the main issues of the adult educators of today is therefore the question of: How to listen to the multiple voices of adult learners in order to understand their individual needs of learning?

This work aims at introducing my experience in implementing the voice-centred approach as a qualitative research method in the adult education to other practitioners and researchers. An

Muted Group Theory developed out of the cultural anthropology field, but more recently has been developed in communication mostly as a feminist and cross-cultural theory. Muted group theory helps explain communication patterns and social representation of non-dominant cultural groups. (Baer 1998)

overview of the back round and a short description of the method is given, it is fallowed by the example of the practical implementation of the method in my research process. I will also try to reflect on the difficulties I had during the analyse process.

I have translated an I-poem of one of the participants in my study as a practical example. Finally I will outline the conclusions based on the research.

VOICE-CENTERED RELATIONAL METHOD The concept of voice was first introduced by Carol Gilligan and associates in the context of moral psychology. She studied womens moral development based on the theories of Lawrence Kohlberg. She argued women having a special voice of care differing from male voices and developed a method to study the phenomena. (Doucet & Mauthner 2001; Kiegelmann 2000). The voice-centred relational method represents an attempt to translate relational ontology into methodology and into concrete methods of data analysis by exploring individual narrative accounts in terms of their relationships to the people around them and their relationships to the broader social, structural and cultural contexts within which they live. (Doucet & Mauthner 2001,5)

Based on the idea of the social relationship between the researcher and the person being interviewed the reflective dialogical research process has to be established (Russel & Kelly 2002).

The voice-centred approach was developed further to Listening Guide Method (Gilligan 2003, after Kiegelmann 2000) and contains of four steps: 1. listening for the plot, 2. I- poems 3. listening for contrapuntal voices, and 4. composing and analysis.

I-poem contains all the self related verbs so that the subjectivity and self-image will become apparent (Balan 2005).

The method is about a series of sequential listenings in order to get familiar with the self behind the words and to bring the researcher into relationship with a persons distinct and multilayered voice. Using colour pens, each voice must be separated in the narrative.

All the texts talk in many voices (Manning & Cullum-Swan 1994,469 after Russell & Kelly 2002). The task of the researcher is to listen to the voices and pay special attention on the low or silent voices. (Russell & Kelly 2002).

By now the voice-centred relational method has been used as a research method in several fields of studies including educational research (Balan 2005; Doucet & Mauthner 2001; Kiegelmann 2000; Woodcock 2005).

It is also important to notify that most of the researchers have made some changes in the original method developed by Gilligan (Balan 2005; Doucet & Mauthner 2001; Kiegelmann 2000). For example in some cases group listening or discussions have been involved (Balan 2005; Doucet & Mauthner 2001).


My research was about the transformative learning in the workplace. Transformative learning theory is a constructivist leaning theory based on the precondition that the social world is created by people who construct it in the discourse with other people. The subject of the transformative learning in the workplace is the learner creating totally new meanings by reflecting on the experiences based on his/her current frames of references. (Marsick & Watkins 2001; Mezirow 1997, 2000; Taylor 1997).

The workplace learning research in Estonia has mainly driven on the specific interest and research practice of three groups: the adult trainers, vocational educators, human resource personnel (Alas 2002; Jgi, L. 2004; Jgi & Karu 2004; Loogma 2004; Sedrik 2001;

Toompere 2004; Trk 2005). The switch towards learner centred views has beginning to emerge but the discourse on learning in the workplace has still behavioural approaches on learning.

My interest was how the transformative learning in the workplace in the real life occurs and how can the workplace support the process. I conducted 17 interviews in the second biggest bank in Estonia. All of the persons interviewed were female working in the service sector of the bank.

Idea to use voice listening approach arouse because most of the transformative learning in this environment was hidden. I started to look for special methods to overcome the silence I faced looking at the transcribed texts. It has also been argued by other researchers that transcribed texts might not always support the research process (Ashmore & Reed 2000; Marks & Mnnich-Marks 2003).

As the first step of the Listening Guide I listened to the recordings of the interviews many times. Then I decided to try writing the first I- poem and instantly the evidence of transformative learning became apparent to me. I changed the original method by writing out all the activities related to us, to see if there was the collective dimension in learning happening. I listened to the I-poems many times and outlined the different voices I heard about the learning and what was there to support it for the individual. I could feel the interview situation coming back to me just as it was and I could understand the voices as they were so obvious if I analysed it via I-poems.

For many women the transformative learning in the workplace was not an enjoyable experience. In most of the cases they felt alone with their problems and only some of the women got support through informal networks in the company. There was a strong competitive norm of the behaviour in the working place and the workers were all divided into clear clusters defined by their position in the professional ladder.

The formal training system did not recognise the informal paths of learning, had a behaviourist task oriented structure and had therefore only little impact in the real life learning processes of the women.

There were many different emotions involved and the interviews were really shocking to me as a working woman personally.


The research on the learning in the workplace is characterised by the discursive practice where the main emphasis is on the developing of norms and values important to the education or organisation. Transformative learning research has a history of 30 years but although the changes in society including working life and the work itself are transformative there is only small interest so far about the subject among the researchers.

The analyse shows that the working life has transformative influence on the working women and that most of the transformative learning takes place hidden of the formal training activities during informal social interaction and networking.

Based on this research the activities to support the women in transformative learning processes at their workplaces are: develop learner centred systems at work; pay more attention to the informal and incidental learning of the workers; facilitate the social interaction between the workers and develop horisontal as well as vertical networks; support the development of the reflective thinking; organise the workplace to support the learning processes; facilitate the learning of the workers specially during the periods of big changes like adaptation period to the new/different/more difficult work; train mentors who will facilitate the learning of the others; offer career guidance at work.


When I came to the bank I was so interested in Soon will be x years, I even do not know exactly I had the highest category I have really worked it through When I came I sat with the books read I was I had to from A to B I was a housewife I went to work secretly I checked that I need so much money I knew nothing I know nothing about banking About money I know a little I went to the bank and said I am the best You have to blame yourself if you loose me

Self Then I had to myself Myself to learn Work makes me tired I am like a lemon Training is about to give me some energy to continue again . There has no time to study something myself for a long time now We used to have also the meetings once We all had to read something And we discussed that

There are so many problems we cannot solve We cannot do anything I have no examples The reality what we do with the client We have norms, responsibilities put on us We feel it is pointless We have to test everything Everybody will suffer the clients and us Our ideas will end up nowhere and we do not have any (ideas) we have such a big work load from us nothing clever goes up I do not want I personally do not want I am not a person I see no results So that I would want too I do not see anymore

I think I have found what I like I like

Work develops and I will develop with is I think It is not my line It is boring for me I like to have goals I like to have plans I want to fill the plan

Find the best solution to feel good about myself We are all humans I might be enthusiastic I dont know

I am not here forever What can I do Sales work is my job I would not guessed I never see myself there anymore

I imagine How we move We have We have families Who are under us We work Our work expands

In my opinion I think that life makes corrections I think that will work I have no idea how I know or feel it We did not have it jet at that level We did not have such families jet I think it will come I do not see it in dark colours For me it is so logical I have the information I think everybody thinks of it

I do not know I do not think my thoughts are important I think there are much cleverer people I do not see so global I do not know why I do not see I have the information the question is how much it interests me how much I want to concentrate I think too much

I protect myself I do not concentrate I do not think I hope everything will be better I have a trauma I am really scared For me is everything worse I just do not know


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