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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Learning with peers: a descriptive study of Hope Cancer Health Centre Rae, Jean Berkeley


Self-help groups have emerged as a system of care for groups of people sharing a common problem or condition. Most of the interest in research came from professionals in mental health and social services. Educators have traditionally viewed self-help groups as outside their domain. The focus of this study is the phenomenon of personal change within self-help groups. This is viewed as “learning with peers.” The subject of the study was HOPE Cancer Health Centre, a non-profit community based self-help organization in Vancouver, B.C. Appropriate to the study of phenomena in their natural surroundings, data collection methods were qualitative in nature. Fourteen in-depth interviews were carried out with members and leaders of the self-help group. Two introductory workshops were attended for participant observation and several pertinent documents were reviewed. A full description of HOPE Cancer Health Centre as a self-help group and as a context for adult learning was developed. To clarify the description of HOPE, a framework of characteristics of self-help groups was developed. It was used to organize data collection and analysis. Compilation and analysis of the findings created a description of HOPE that adds to the understanding of self-help groups as organizations in a larger system of care provision. It also adds to the understanding of HOPE as an organization with the purpose to assist cancer patients who are interested in actively participating in their cancer treatment and recovery. In order to enhance understanding of adult learning in the context of a selfhelp group, three perspectives from the literature on adult learning were selected for their potential to organize and explain the resulting data. Four important themes emerged from the data on the learning experiences of the members of HOPE. First, the ideology of HOPE, “self as participant in healing,” is the framework of learning and within that frame there are four forms of learning, the forms of transformative learning being the most significant. Second, for the learners of HOPE, the basis of knowledge is their personal experience; therefore, processes of experiential learning are important as well as those of perspective transformation. Third, the affective dimension of the experiential learning process was found to be integral in the process of learning. The fourth theme is “learning with peers,” the innate characteristic of self-help groups. All members interviewed placed high value on their experiences of learning with peers and of learning at HOPE. Meaningful interpretation of the data resulted from application of concepts and theoretical propositions from three perspectives on adult learning: experiential learning, transformative learning and situated learning.

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