Beyond Facilitated Learning Network Structures - An Exploration of Evolving Learning Communities in the Micro-Firm Tourism Environment

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Facilitated networks are regularly cited in the literature as a means to promote sustainable competitive advantage in small tourism firms. These networks function for a variety of reasons including marketing and innovation; however learning networks specifically seek to encourage learning among entrepreneurs. Once established, the question remains whether such networks can transition from facilitated cooperative learning strategies to become independent learning communities in the longer term. Little is known about the formation, maintenance or success of these types of learning relationships after facilitated learning structures and supports reach a conclusion. What is known is that these networks, labelled „Evolving Learning Communities‟ (ELCs) by the author, are devoid of formal structures and consequently autonomy in their structural and relational reasoning is required. This research sought: to explore the elements and relationships that influence individual learning in Evolving Learning Communities, once facilitated learning supports reach a conclusion. A comprehensive review of the literature revealed a number of key themes that were incorporated into a model of ELC learning. The ELC model maps the micro-firm owner/manager‟s learning development, from the autonomous business setting to the facilitated learning network environment and on to the independent learning network arena, illustrating the evolution of a learning community. From an interpretivist philosophical position, a longitudinal interpretive case study method incorporating sub-studies for the purposes of cross-validation sought to establish the potential of an ELC situated in the South West of Ireland, to transition from a Facilitated Learning Network (FLN) setting to an independent learning community. Supporting research techniques comprised observation, interviews, on-going ELC communication review and reflective diary maintenance. The key contribution of this research is the development of an ELC model, which explains the elements and relationships that influence learning at individual, sub-group and community level. The findings suggest that independent learning communities face quite unique learning and development challenges and require quite specific learning supports as a result. As such, the development of the ELC model was a legitimate research exercise. This thesis concludes with a chapter outlining the study‟s contribution to the existing body of knowledge, its research limitations and recommendations for further research.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Kelliher, Felicity, Supervisor
Publication statusUnpublished - 2011


  • Network structures, Learning communities, tourism


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