Learning Cycles

What are People-Centred Learning Cycles?

People-centred learning cycles are the key innovative contribution of the PEOPLE project. They present a novel pedagogical approach bringing together students, university educators, business professionals or industry representatives, and users of products and services to foster a balanced exchange of knowledge, skills, and experience. Learning cycles incorporate problem-based learning in a project-based approach. Applying different people-centred development approaches, local development teams of students, academic mentors and industry professionals were cooperating in the development, co-creation and testing of new solutions, tailored to the actual needs and practices of communities. Interdisciplinary teams of students were working on their case studies (real-life business/industry challenges) in a team research project format, experimenting with people-centred research and development approaches with the aim of designing people-centred solutions. All case studies were focused on topics in the area of energy efficiency and sustainability.

What we did in the PEOPLE project

Within the project's lifetime, we implemented and evaluated two learning cycles, the first cycle starting in September 2017 and the second in September 2018, each spanning over two semesters.

In the two learning cycles, we  implemented eight case studies in total, each being a node of the project’s knowledge alliance and a partnership between the higher education/research institution and the industry partner. The four industry partners also took over the role of Case Study Leaders, thus ensuring a business push towards the realisation of common goals.




How we did it

In each country, we identified and recruited a team of students at different levels of study (majority MA/2nd level) with diverse disciplinary backgrounds in social sciences and humanities: anthropology, sociology, psychology, or related disciplines. Prior to the launch of the 1st learning cycle, trainings were provided to university staff and industry representatives, introducing research and development methods, case studies, the potential of people-centred development approaches, entrepreneurship, university-industry cooperation etc. Students then commenced their team research projects, cooperating with the local industry partner organisation and applying people-centred development approaches and tools, identified and developed by the PEOPLE project. The students’ work was jointly supported by academic and industry mentors (PEOPLE partners), who provided guidance and feedback. At the end of each learning cycle, the PEOPLE project consortium organised a Co-Creation Camp, bringing together students, academic and industry mentors from the 4 participating countries to share and discuss the results and to present the methods and project results to an international external audience of academics, researchers, industry and business representatives, and others. The PEOPLE approach and methodology as implemented in the different case studies and the two learning cycles, was evaluated during and at the end of each cycle, combining and analysing the outcomes to guide the further refinement of PEOPLE results as well as to provide our "lessons learned" and identifying best practices in implementing people-centred learning cycles.

Divided into 2 study semesters and lasting most commonly from September/October to the June/July next year, a learning cycle is divided into 4 steps:

  1. PREPARATION: What challenge/problem are we trying to solve?
  2. RESEARCH: What are the different possibilities and opportunities? What are our unique insights into the challenge? Understanding people, their lives and behaviours through ethnographic research.
  3. ANALYSIS: What the data tell us? Making sense of everything that has been collected.
  4. RESULTS: What are the ways in which we can communicate and convey the meaning? How to introduce and bring the idea into market/society and how to maximize the impact in the world?

People-centred development approach is creative, collaborative and iterative in its nature. Team members (i.e. students and their academic and industry mentors) find themselves very frequently shifting gears through the process, moving from concrete observations to highly abstract thinking, and then right back again into the nuts and bolts of the prototype. In reality, the process is shifting between RESEARCH and ANALYSIS steps which are in constant iterative relationship. It is a continuous discussion, exchange and negotiation between “exploring choices” and “making choices”; continuous exchange between diverging and converging. By going really big and broad during the ethnographic research phase, teams co-cerate all kinds of possible opportunities, possibilities and solutions. However, since the goal is to achieve a broader impact in the society and in the environment, teams have to further identify what, among that constellation of ideas, has the best potential in terms of feasibility, viability, desirability and, overall, long-term sustainability. Teams diverge and converge several times, and with each new iteration they come closer and closer to a fit-for-industry solution or recommendation.

Table below describes more in detail the PEOPLE events as key milestones in the people-centred learning cycle. Find further details on the learning cycle's process, its phases, activties, and intended learning outcomes, see page Modules.

Event – MilestoneDescriptionEvaluation
Project startFirst joint meeting with students, academic mentors and industry professionals participating in the People-centred learning cycle.Baseline evaluation
PEOPLE trainingsKey aim of PEOPLE trainings is to introduce and educate PEOPLE team participants towards people-centred development and adopting the corresponding mindset.
Training for students (2 intense days) in the area of people-centred development, introducing the people-centred mindset and challenges and technology areas of participating industries. Delivered jointly by university teachers, industry professionals and relevant external experts.
Training for university staff (2 intense days) to stimulate non-academic skills and introduce challenges in new technology areas (such as green energy, sustainable transport, new and sustainable production methods, novel materials etc.).
Training for business professionals (1 intense day) to introduce research and development methods, case studies, and the potential of people-centred development approaches. The training assists each company in identifying what people-centred research might be beneficial (methods presentation, case studies, brainstorming on its potential in their field of expertise).
Team meetingsRegular physical or virtual meetings of PEOPLE team members (students, university and industry). In addition to content-related work the team meetings also provide a project management tool for assessing the progress and future planning. Dates of meetings are set in the first month.Interim evaluation
Fit-for-company presentationsConveying and presenting the work and research results to industry professionals and executives. Based on the Pyramid principle as a methodology for structured communication (1. Start with the answer first, 2. Group and summarize your supporting arguments, 3. Logically order the supporting ideas). Final evaluation
Co-creation CampEvent that brings together students, academic and industry mentors from different universities that adopted and integrated the PEOPLE approach in their study courses. Key aim of the co-creation camp is to share experiences, discuss the outcomes and to present the methods and project results to an international external public from academic, research and business environment. Each co-creation camp features inspirational sessions offered by international renowned practitioners of people-centred development approach.Final evaluation

Knowledge, skills and competences

Through learning cycles, the PEOPLE project has begun enabling students to gain valuable practical and transversal skills that complement their theoretical education in the social sciences and humanities. Table below demonstrates the subject and social science specific knowledge together with key transversal skills as outcomes of learning cycles. More specifically, students adopt an applied perspective on social science theory and methods, especially by incorporating business and/or non-academic requirements in research design. Students are taught to carry out experiments by working alongside company employees and gaining qualitative insight in their daily work and business processes. Moreover, students do participant observations and ethnographic field research in user and/or customer contexts (e.g. households, SMEs, larger industries, etc.). Learning cycles offer them opportunities to contribute and expand user and/or customer-led tools that are already used and /or introduce new tools or methods. (Also see our Database of skills, documenting the existing as well as the required skills of graduates and practitioners in anthropology, sociology, and related disciplines).

Subject Specific Knowledge:
By the end of the learning cycles participating students possess:
• an advanced understanding of the practical issues and effects of industrial and commercial enterprise;
• an advanced understanding of and capacity to deal with the ethical issues entailed in research and problem solving;
• an understanding of how the taught elements of their degree modules are operationally applicable in real life contexts;
• an understanding of the methodologies used to study the design and delivery of products and services;
• an understanding of the impact of selecting certain methodologies and conceptual frameworks on research outcomes.
Social Science Specific Skills:
By the end of the learning cycles participating students are able:
• to employ a range of social science perspectives to analyse practical contemporary issues of sustainability;
• to assess ethical issues and act in accordance with professional ethical standards;
• to illustrate social analysis of technologies (in this instance energy technologies) with regard to specific cases;
• to engage in socio-technical research projects;
• to solve problems co-operatively through teamwork;
• to identify and critically analyse social scientific evidence;
• to communicate and work collaboratively in commercial and industrial environments.
Transversal skills:
By the end of the learning cycles participating students are able:
• to demonstrate an ability to construct argument critically for both oral and written presentation from different sources of material, including material delivered orally and in an article, report or policy document;
• to demonstrate an independent approach to learning, critical thinking and creative problem-solving;
• to use sophisticated techniques of information retrieval and management using an array of print and digital resources;
• to formulate complex arguments in articulate and clear language (both English and native), within the discursive conventions and genres of academic writing and to translate them for use by a wider audience;
• to effectively communicate complex ideas within an interdisciplinary and non-academic context
• to demonstrate effective time management;
• to work in a team.


1st Learning Cycle: CASE STUDIES

Case studies, implemented in the first PEOPLE project's Learning Cycle (2017/2018) in all four partner countries: Slovenia, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Czech Republic. More

2nd Learning Cycle: CASE STUDIES

Case studies, implemented in the 2nd PEOPLE project's Learning Cycle (2018/2019) in all four partner countries: Slovenia, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Czech Republic. More.


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