Definitions of learning on the whole seem to focus on outcomes, what the person does differently. Memories of both parenting and schooling may preclude any possibility of an individual actively recognising what is involved in learning. Learning is about change and for many the terms are too often associated with threat.
There are various theories about the importance of self esteem and its relationship to learning. This suggests that learning is a proactive process involving the learner as the main player. But first, it is useful to discuss some of the main theoretical approaches to learning.
This discussion is intended to invite questions about what happens when we learn and if we, or others can identify what that is. This first part of this chapter will consider two broad families of theories:
These theories of learning are based upon different assumptions or beliefs concerning either the essential nature of being human, or different views regarding what counts as knowledge and the purposes of knowledge.
Learning presupposes something being learnt and a subject who is doing the learning. It does not necessarily presuppose a 'teacher'. It depends upon whether the subject is conceived of as being 'active' or 'passive' whether or not some 'instrument' of learning becomes a necessity. That instrument may be a 'teacher' (human or computer, or divine as in the case of a 'prophet' revealing the teachings of a god). Or the teacher may be regarded as 'reality' or 'nature' which offers obstacles to desire and is the source of stimuli, pleasures and pains. If the subject is regarded as active, then learning may be driven by curiosity and not just problems posed by obstacles to desire; or learning may be driven by something like prior programming, or some pre-ordered rational structure of the mind. Or the mind is a blank slate upon which sense impressions leave their trace. Or, it can be argued that although we readily talk about a baby's ability to learn to walk, talk and manage the various social requirements that life demands, many of the ways in which babies and children are parented can partially or completely damage an innate ability to learn. The beliefs about how children should behave can limit curiosity and stifle creativity. Miller in the Drama of Being a Child writes most convincingly about this kind of damage.
Learning is a puzzle.
The first part of this chapter will provide an opening into some of these debates on learning, but will not close the debate or solve the puzzle. It will proffer the argument that the choice of learning theory underlying a particular educational strategy, curriculum or approach to personal and professional development has political and social implications. Thus each professional whether in the private or the public sectors, should be aware of what is at stake in adopting a particular approach.
The second part of this chapter will open discussion on the processes of learning in relation to personal and professional development starting from the premise that learning is a process of organising experience into meaningful structures.
1. Associationist, Rational Planning, Social Conditioning and Behaviourist Views
At its extreme, social conditioning views human nature as being infinitely malleable. The individual can be molded in any way that accident or reason dictates. This renders the individual largely passive, the result of accidental social conditioning or of deliberate rational planning. John Locke employed the metaphor of the blank slate (tabula rasa) and advocated the imposition of the rule of reason over the irrational demands of the body. The human being could be designed by reason since the mind was a blank slate and not pre-ordained to develop in any particular way. Only acceptable behaviours would be rewarded.
Such views influenced ideas concerning 'child rearing', 'parenting' and of course 'teaching'. Rational regimes could be worked out. One extreme example is provided by the case of Judge Schreber. His father was an influential educationist who wrote many books and pamphlets on childrearing techniques during the nineteenth century. His work was translated into several languages and was influential in the development of the German approach to education. The father advocated a system of total control over the child's posture, eating habits, physical education, sleeping position and reading. An account of the effect on the son's life can be read in Schatzman (1973). It is an account of what has turned out to be the most celebrated case in psychiatry. Judge Schreber was institutionalised twice, the last time until his death. His account of his illness Memoires of my Nervous Illness was later the subject of an analysis by Freud and has aroused considerable debate ever since.
Behaviourism, of the kind advocated by Skinner, has many uncomfortable similarities with the views advocated by Judge Schreber's father. In particular, Skinner's fictional piece Walden II describes a science fiction Utopia designed by behavioural engineers which reveals its all pervasive aims to control every little detail of the lives of individuals. The underlying unit of Skinner's theory of learning is provided in the formulaic relationship 'S-R' (Stimulus - Response). The aim is to associate some pre-defined stimulus with a desired response. The famous example is that of Pavlov's dog which was given food every time a bell was rung. Eventually, at the sound of a bell (stimulus) the dog would salivate (response). A mental association was formed by the repeated presentation of food and the sound of a bell. Thus, the approach draws upon an underlying theory that learning is associational. In particular, it assumes that the organism is in a continual state of activity and that this activity can be shaped by associating pleasures and pains with selected stimuli. Pleasures or rewards will tend to increase the likelihood of a given behaviour, while pains will tend to 'extinguish' that behaviour. The focus, then, is upon observable behaviours, identifiable stimuli and responses measurable by their frequency of occurrence or non-occurrence as a result of the stimuli.
Such theory underlies a wide range of learning materials and approaches, particularly the early attempts at 'programmed learning' (Gagné) and its current manifestations in computer-based learning software (c.f., Schostak 1988). It also underlies the 'token economies' which some schools, special schools and units have developed through which good behaviour is rewarded by the giving of 'tokens' or some other desired symbol (c.f. Rogers 1991). There is a clear parallel here between the underlying assumptions of a market economy and behaviourist procedures. In critiquing classical economists for the unrealistic nature of their assumptions regarding human nature and market conditions, Lane (1991) and others have been advocating a reconceptualisation more in accord with social and individual experience. In Lane's view work is a key experience for the majority of people, organising not simply a given day, but whole lifetimes, providing meaning and identity for the individual. Classical economics assumes that work is a disutility (that is, it is not pleasurable and people would seek to avoid it) which can only be compensated for by rewards. However, Lane regards work as the major process through which people engage in personal and professional development.
Behaviourist allied to classical market theories largely evade the problematic ethical issues involved by either appealing to some notion of 'rationality' or appealing to the norms and values of conventional social custom as its source of what is or is not desired behaviour, or desired social and learning outcomes. Its effect upon school and professional curricula is to translate 'knowledge' or 'information' into systems of measurable objectives, aims, skills that can be monitored, controlled. If it cannot be measured, it cannot be taught might be the motto of such an approach. Hence there is an emphasis upon testing 'outputs'. Curricula are constructed in terms of content to be learnt, basic skills required for a later stage. There is a powerful technical control exerted over the individual to bring about uncritical conformity to patterns of behaviour pre-defined by those in authority.
The radical form of Skinner's approach excludes the need to include the effects of there being a 'mind' which may 'decide', 'critique' and 'reject'. Only observable and measurable behaviours are required to explain the system. The mind (or organism), however, may be taken into account and placed within the formula:
This then, may lead to a theorization of the effects of the constitution of the organism, or consciousness, or 'mind' on the responses. There may be effects of prior learning, of the genetic construction of the brain which sifts information in pre-ordered ways, or of the general level of 'intelligence', or of the desires, needs and demands of the body's 'drives', 'instincts'.
In choosing a Skinnerian form of learning theory upon which to build a curriculum, the choices of the individual who is the subject of the conditioning may be considered politically irrelevant. The contents of the curriculum will be decided by say, powerful groups, or by custom. What are the implications of this for creativity, for social critique, for freedom? Skinner provided his answer in Walden II: the socially engineered society is better than all other alternatives.
Even if this were true, the 'science' of social engineering is at this point in time very crude. The number of stimuli that impact upon the senses are immense. How sensori experiences are organised into meaningful wholes is not adequately answered, learning takes place in a multiplicity of ways.
1.1. Learning as imitation
Bandura, Ross and Ross during the 1960s argued that reinforcement (the repeated association of pleasure or pain with a given response to a stimulus) may not be necessary to certain kinds of learning. Rather, learning could take place through imitation. The brain could encode the observed patterns and be imitated later in a similar situation. This leads to a consideration of social role models and the motivation to imitate.
Theories have been constructed which start with the child in the child rearing situation. The nurturing 'mother' it has been argued, drawing on psychoanalytic theory, establishes a dependency situation which together with instances of reinforcement through reward and pleasure may place the child into a dependency relation and thus produces a 'dependency need' (Seers) which motivates the child to imitate the 'mother'. Others suggested that power explains why children identify with certain individuals rather than others. The child identifies with the provider and controller of resources rather than the recipient. Those who have high status and power tend to be most frequently rewarded, thus the child may learn to identify with such people and to imitate their behaviours.
This notion of children identifying with the powerful, or those of high status provides a link with the more holistic views described in the last section of this chapter in terms of the 'imaginary' as developed variously by the symbolic interactionists (e.g., Mead, Cooley) on the one hand and the phenomenological, linguistic and psychoanalytically informed approaches of Laing and Lacan.
1.1.1. Assessing Professional Learning - the quantitative paradigm
This section is an extract from the ACE Final Report which focuses upon the relationship between competence and assessing competence. Taking a quantitative approach to learning involves analysing a complex body of knowledge or a process into constituent sub-parts such as 'skills', 'competences', 'behavioural units' or the items of 'knowledge' to be learnt. In the report the quantitative approach or 'paradigm' is discussed and critiqued. Three forms are identified: the quantitative rationale per se, which may then be reduced an analysis of observable behaviours, which may then be further confined to the engineering of conformity through a technicist approach. These are discussed as follows:
Assessment should not determine competence, but rather competence should determine its appropriate form of assessment. How competence is defined depends upon the methods, beliefs and experiences of the professional. Such definitions can be revealed through the kinds of texts they produce and the ways in which they talk about, support and contest meanings of competence. The definitions that emerge or can be drawn out (educed) from the range of texts and discourses provide accounts of how practical competence is seen. Within these discourses, it is frequently the case that quite distinct, even mutually exclusive views can be described. To mark such distinctions the term paradigm is often used.
The term 'quantitative paradigm' as to be employed here, refers to those discourses of science which involve throwing a mathematical grid upon the world of experience. Logical deductive reasoning, measurement and reduction to formulaic expressions are its features. The technicist paradigm as employed in this report is a particular kind of version of the more general quantitative paradigm which seeks measurement, observable units of analysis and logical arrangements. The technicist paradigm is reduced in scope in that it takes for granted its frameworks of analysis and its procedures and employs them routinely rather than subjecting them to the judgement of the practitioner. Although this characterisation is an 'ideal type' it has a basis in the data. Later discussions will report the sense of frustration some assessors and students feel in filling out assessment forms, in trying to interpret the items in relation to practical experience and in accordance with their best judgement. The typical complaint may be summed up as being that the key dimensions of professionality cannot be reduced to observable performance criteria.
The aims of the technicist paradigm can be seen most clearly in the 'scientific management' of Taylor (1947 ) and the developments in stop watch measurement of performance, the behaviourism of Watson (1931) and later Skinner (1953, 1968), the mental measurement of Burt (1947), Thorndike (1910) and Yerkes (1929) and programmed learning and instructional design (Gagné 1975). Here the emphasis was upon control and predictability through measurement and the reinforcement of appropriate behaviours to produce desired outcomes.
In making such a reduction, the technicist paradigm reinforces a split between theory (or knowledge) and practice by separating out the expert who develops theory (knowledge) from the practitioner who merely applies theory that can be assessed in terms of performance criteria. Also implied in this is a hierarchical relation between the expert and the non-expert whether seen as practitioner or trainee. In addition, within a quantitative/technicist paradigm, skills assessment models, and competency based education each assume the student initially lacks the required skill or competence. Through training a student then acquires the particular skill or competence required. A particular combination or menu of such skills or competencies then defines the general competency of the individual. This is most clearly expressed by Dunn et al in a medical context (1985:17):
... competence must be placed in a context, precise and exact, in order for it to be clear what is meant. To say a person is competent is not enough. He is competent to do a, or a and b, or a and b and c: a and b and c being aspects of a doctors work.
The essential 'messiness' of everyday action, the complexity of situations, the flow of events, and the dynamics of human interactions make the demand for a context which is 'precise and exact' unrealistic. The operationalisation of such an approach is exemplified in the programmed learning of Gagné (see Gagné and Briggs 1974) or in the exhaustive and seemingly endless lists of Bloom (1954, 1956). The issue raised at this point is not about the value of analysing complex activities and skills, but the use to which such analyses are put in everyday practice.
Schematically the relationship between the quantitative view, the behavioural and the technicist can be set out as follows:
The diagram represents the decreasing scope from quantitative to technicist which moves from a systematic method of investigating and comprehending the whole world of experience open to thought, to the reduction of scope to observable behaviours (as opposed, say, to felt inner states) and finally the reduction of methods and knowledge for limited purposes of social control or the engineering of performance.
1.2 Cognitive, Holistic or Gestalt Views
Behaviourist approaches, as discussed above, in their extreme form are linear. That is, stimulus is followed by response, behavioural unit follows behavioural unit. A desired behavioural outcome is analysed into its elements and the elements are ordered sequentially. The behavioural engineer designs a schedule of rewards in order to shape behaviour successively towards the desired outcome. In short, all the elements are eventually aggregated together to produce the desired outcome.
Holistic or Gestalt views are not viewed as a number of elements that can be added together, but rather as a pattern that is either given all-at-once or not at all. You either 'see' it or you don't. Learning takes place accompanied by an 'aha' experience where the individual suddenly 'sees' the solution, or suddenly understands. There is, in effect, a 'knowing subject'. Such theories are called cognitive. In the cognitive view, in contrast to associationist views, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The organisation and meaning of the elements are, in this view, essential to the learning process. For example:
This figure is seen as a circle. To describe it one might say, 'it is a circle with a small bit missing'. In order to 'grasp' it the diagram is completed. We tend to 'see' wholes.
K-öhler carried out experiments using chimpanzees, demonstrating that 'insight' is displayed in their solutions to problems. For example, some fruit is just out of a chimpanzee's reach. There is a stick available, but this is too short. Some longer sticks are available outside the bars, but these cannot be reached with the arm. They can be reached by using the stick:
Sultan (the chimpanzee) tries to reach the fruit with the smaller of the two sticks. Not succeeding, he tears at a piece of wire that projects from the netting of his cage, but that too, is in vain. then he gazes about him (there are always in the course of these tests some long pauses, during which the animals scrutinize the whole visible area). He suddenly picks up the little stick once more, goes up to the bars directly opposite to the long stick, scratches it towards him with the "auxiliary," seizes it, and goes with it to the point opposite the objective (the fruit), which he secures. From the moment that his eyes fall upon the long stick, his procedure forms one consecutive whole, without hiatus, and although the angling of the bigger stick by means of the smaller is an action that could be complete and distinct in itself, yet observation shows that it follows, quite suddenly, on an interval of hesitation and doubt -staring about - which undoubtedly has a relation to the final objective, and is immediately merged in the final action of the attainment of the end goal.
(Köhler, 1925: 174-75)
The learning process did not involve the development of habitual routines, rather, it involved the analysis of the problem into its elements and relationships in which a means is related to a goal. It can be argued that this kind of learning is better suited to problem solving in later, new situations. Thus, the similarities between the new situation and the old situation may be recognised and appropriate means substituted to reach the required goal. Where a stick was the means in the old situation, some other kind of implement that extends 'reach' may be required: a crane, a ladder, a hook and line, a programmed robot etc.
Clearly, this will result in a very different kind of 'curriculum' to the associationist approach.
Structuralist and Developmental views
The best known structuralist view which is also developmental is that of Piaget. In this view, the child's ability to learn is influenced by his or her developmental stage. The implication is, if a child has not yet reached the appropriate stage to learn something then he or she is not yet 'ready' to learn, that is, is not at the appropriate intellectual stage. Piaget postulated 4 stages:
The model provides a way of conceptualising the progressive move from the relatively uncoordinated movements of the newborn and its 'drives' or 'instinctual' behaviours towards the use of language and symbol systems.
One of the most recent applications of Piaget's theories has been by Lawler et. al. (1986) in the realm of computer aided learning. In their view, employing the aid of the turtle in LOGO, children can gain a concrete experience of mathematical relations and structures in a way which enables them to 'speed up' the developmental process. They 'take seriously Piaget's assertion that children learn about number by themselves more than they are taught by would-be teachers.' (p.39) They then attempt to describe the conditions of such 'natural learning'. They do this by closely observing the work of young children using LOGO. They present a strong case for the use of information technology in the tailoring of specific learning environments to individual children.
The structuralist approach leads towards a formalisation of cognitive processes in terms of logical operations (forming relationships, combining elements, substituting elements, employing deductive reasoning etc). As in common with most forms of structuralism the move is away from (concrete, particular) 'meaning' and towards abstraction. It involves a study of children's developing reasoning abilities. It is the ability to handle say spatial relationships, rather than what a spatial relationship might 'mean' to the child in particular contexts, or even what it means in the context of 'society' or 'social order'. The difference is perhaps between being able to employ logical operations to construct a building as distinct from experiencing the meaning a piece of architecture has for an individual or group.
Pragmatic, Humanistic and Phenomenological views
Humanistic and phenomenological views tend to focus upon 'meaning', motivation and the affective dimensions to learning. The pragmatic philosophy and psychology of William James influenced not only John Dewey's educational thought but also the sociology (symbolic interactionism) of G. H. Mead and the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. In the pragmatic view, habits form the basis of everyday life. People follow their taken for granted routines. It is only when a problem arises that the routine is disturbed and solutions to the problem have to be found. Thus, problems give rise to new knowledge or information. This translated into Dewey's notions of discovery learning.
The symbolic interactionism of Mead and those influenced by phenomenology placed the focus upon the meaning of behaviour. Learning is fundamentally social. Like behaviourism the role of the environmental, particularly social environmental, factors are given prominence. Where behaviourism ignores meaning, symbolic interactionism gives pre-eminence to the role of meaning and of social processes. Keddie (1971) taking a broadly phenomenological approach described how children in the bottom stream were categorised as dumb or slow, whereas those is the top class were considered bright and capable. Teachers interpreted the questions and responses of the bottom class differently to the same kind of questions asked by pupils in the top class. To understand the learning process one needs to set it within its social context. The labelling of children has an effect upon learning. Thus, learning is socially constructed. That is, it is the result of the social processes through which children are categorised and their work interpreted and assessed. A famous study by Rosenthal and Jakobson focussed upon the role of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Teachers were given the opposite IQ scores of pupils to their real test scores. It was found that the child wrongly given a high IQ score was assessed by the teacher in a way that was consistent to the high IQ. As Thomas noted in 1928, if something is defined as real, it will be real in its consequences.
Much humanistic work, following Carl Rogers (1969) has promoted the role of the learner as active, self-directive, self responsible, creative; and that learning should be meaningful, relevant. The role of the teacher is to facilitate and not to compel, to provide meaningful situations not rote learning of meaningless fragments:
We frequently fail to recognize that much of the material presented to students in the classroom has, for the student, the same perplexing, meaningless quality that the list of nonsense syllables has for us. This is especially true for the underprivileged child whose background provides no context for the material with which he is confronted. But nearly every student finds that large portions of his curriculum are for him meaningless. Thus education becomes the futile attempt to learn material which has no personal meaning.
However, the formation of meaningful units is not by itself sufficient. After all, unicorns, the flat earth, and phlogiston are all meaningful, and all without reference to reality. It is not just any pattern of meaning that is required but patterns which in some way allow us further insights into the 'real'. It is important, therefore, that the focus on meaning takes a critical turn. It does this, for example, in the work of Freire (1970) and Shor (1980). Here, the focus is upon the learner being empowered to understand the social conditions impinging upon his or her life and to take a creative standpoint to these conditions through engaging in cultural action. Learning, in this sense, is itself an act of emancipation.
This recognises that learning goes well beyond the confines of what happens in school. The vast majority of what is learnt is mediated today by the printed and increasingly electronic forms of communication. Television, cinema, pop videos, magazines, and their images of powerful figures in the community and the 'family' all provide not only 'role models' but also the 'knowledge', the 'values', the 'attitudes', the 'behaviours', the 'rationales' of everyday living.
Such learning is not simply a matter of imitation, although this may provide a powerful influence. For George Herbert Mead, learning and the construction of the self are inseparable. The self is constructed out of the responses that others make towards the individual, particularly 'significant others' (parents, friends, teachers and so on). The self that arises in this interplay is like a 'looking glass' self (Cooley 1956). It arises in the images of one's self that others present back, or reflect back to the individual.
Lacan, from a psychoanalytic point of view developed a theory of the imaginary. It refers initially to a stage in the development of the child which is said by Lacan to occur at around 18 months. It may happen literally or metaphorically. It occurs when the child looks into a mirror and sees his or herself as a 'whole' in relationship to other objects around. This 'mirror' may be an actual mirror, or may be a metaphorical mirror. Looking at the body of the mother, Lacan argues that the baby comes to a realisation that here is a way of unifying all the previously chaotic senori impressions of the body. The realisation is that the child has a body like the mother, that there is a unity, an identity. What happens in this process is that all the complex sensations are simplified into a unity. It is 'imaginary' in the sense that the unity is perceptual, and in the sense that the unity is imagined rather than 'real'. The mirrors of contemporary society are many: television, the press, cinema, video, computer-based virtual realities, as well as the more traditional ways in which images are circulated by word of mouth. What is learnt in this process is not only the identity of the self, but also the 'world' within which that self takes shape. The imaginary is a realm of fascination. That is to say, there is a self-reinforcing circularity as the child looks to the mirror sees the self reflected back as an identity, and so constructs the identity of the self in the image of the image! It is a closed circle. The book Dirty Marks describes and analyses in greater detail the imaginary of everyday life through which an individual attempts to organise his or her experience. It is a curriculum just as much as any taught in schools, colleges, universities or other professional bodies.
What then is the role of a formal curriculum: to supplement, to reinforce or to counter what may be termed the everyday social curriculum?
The Process of Learning and the Creation of meaning - from the perspective of 'neuro-linguistic programming
The early exploration of the child is totally self absorbed, forms a dance with his/her environment and is particularly involved with the main carer. The learning is concerned with noticing the relationship with the environment through a sensate focus. The baby is using its body mind and at this stage is not thinking. Interruption to the learning process at this stage can produce deep seated anxiety in individuals which is pre-reason and pre-verbal and affects future learning situations.
It is at this point we can begin to suggest that changes occur within the human organism as it attempts to manage the information both internal and external that impinges upon it during any given time.
A major approach in the last thirty years that considers this is neuro linguistic programming which is an amalgam of theories from Fritz Perls, Milton Erikson and Gregory Bateson. Like a baby that has only its five senses to make sense of its experience, neuro linguistic programming suggests that we continue to use the five senses as an initial point of reference for creating meaning of our experience. As adults we also have a belief system which acts as a filter to further create meaning.
It would be naive to deny the complexity of how we form our belief systems, the point being that the learning process cannot be removed from how we create meaning in our worlds.
Methods of helping people to learn, especially in 'traditional' ways and in institutions are frequently based on 'tell and teach'. The purpose being to produce a norm referenced outcome. This approach falls to recognise the individual nature of learning and can reinforce many early negative experiences, the result of which is that many adults know about being taught but not about learning.
The work of Kolb, Honey and Mumford has attempted to clarify learning as a process with their work on the learning cycle and learning styles. However, although this goes some way to recognise individuality and the necessity of creating learning conditions for people which facilitate learning, I would suggest that the state of 'not knowing' is one that is feared.
The emphasis on teaching, answers, and knowing means that a state of 'not knowing' is experienced fearfully. It is as if the learner should 'know' before they 'do not know'. Consequently the first stage of the learning process, that of confusion, is perceived as negative and the individual does not want to continue. They have still learned of course; they have learned again that learning is something that is frightening and reminders of feeling stupid, left out, and/or punished are reaffirmed.
The process of consciously questioning and exploring an experience to gain meaning is not then possible. The idea of the learning cycle as a single process does not bring learning in the sense of a change in behaviour. The individual has the experience, checks for past reference experience, affirms the belief and resists or moves away from the situation.
To activate a conscious learning process we need to consider 'double loop' learning as advocated by Revans and Mumford. This is where the individual goes through a review process to draw the learning from the first experience. This process is allied to the research experience through Action Research (See the Introduction to Qualitative Research in the course Reader). The review process needs to recognise the emotional component which is indicative of the individuals beliefs about learning. That confusion may be an exciting emotion leading to learning something new or different may be novel for many people!
2.1. Life Long Learning
The advent of National Vocational Qualifications and National Standards has highlighted the need for people to learn how to learn and learn from doing as well as understanding. This coupled with the thinking and resultant theory around management development has encouraged organisations to begin to recognise the importance of the learning process.
So we can say that learning is a journey which may or may not be consciously undertaken, and may or may not have recognised outcomes. It involved changes in the way we think, feel, see, behave and believe. Becoming conscious of the learning process can challenge cultural beliefs about change, maturity, teaching and work.
We would suggest that there is still a strong normative belief that 'when you reach a certain age you will know it all', and that "there is no point in bothering now you are x years old".
Learning within this context is seen as necessary for working and earning a living and is encapsulated in a particular time frame. For example the readiness theory that has been implicit in education putting learning between five years and sixteen years with various extensions through university, college, youth employment schemes and apprenticeships. One of the principles of vocational qualifications is that they are not time framed in this way. Equally they are competence based, criterion referenced and openly accessible. We would not suggest that they are an answer. However, they do appear to be breaking down some barriers when used in a developmental way. This encourages the debate about learning.
For some organisations they are being seen as the first steps to building a learning organisation by setting a quality framework for individual learning and development.
Part two of this chapter began with the proposition that we are born with the ability to learn and that is damaged in some way during childhood. The implication then is that part of our lives are spent re-learning how to learn. This is necessarily a different journey for each of us because of our different backgrounds. It would suggest managing our own ability to learn at the same time as the requisite learning for whatever role we are fulfilling at the time.
Reg Revans suggests that we need to acquire insightful questioning "What we require is questioning insight. Asking useful and discriminating questions in conditions of ignorance, risk and confusion. We learn through action and from each other". This requires an openness and trust to share what we perceive as mistakes as well as successes. It raises many questions, so maybe we can let go the need for answers, and build our questioning ability in such a way that our curiosity becomes as alive and vital as it was when we were children. We build up the need to 'look good' in our societies in different ways which match with how we will get approval. Part of the process of re-learning how to learn may be to examine these defence mechanisms and consider their validity in terms of learning. If looking good is about coping all the time, or getting things right all the time, or being permanently rushed and overworked, then our personal conditions for learning need to be reassessed. A challenging starting point for the journey.
Part of the challenge of re-learning how to learn is recognising that it involves the whole person and that learning can be fun. De Porter and Hernacki state 'Learning is a lifelong proposition that people can undertake joyfully and successfully. We believe that the intellectual, the physical and the emotional/personal - and that high self esteem is an essential ingredient in the make up of happy healthy learners'.
The focus on happy healthy learners is a reminder of the conditions that are important for learners. Body posture can determine your frame of mind. Your body usually takes cues from your mind, but you can also use your body to give cues to your mind. You can control your frame of mind by controlling your body. Perhaps the comment from school days of 'sit up in your chair' was not as unfavourable as it initially sounds, if stripped of its authoritarian social connotations.
Apparently simplistic notions about fun, comfort, and suitable posture can have a dramatic effect on the learning process.
The notions of accelerated learning confirm this contemporary view of learning. Rose states 'conventional teaching has assumed that learning should involve determined concentration and frequent repetition. We now know that this style of learning is not efficient, because it causes unnecessary tension and tends to involve just one half of the brain. Accelerated learning, in contrast, teaches you how to achieve a pleasantly relaxed yet receptive state of mind, and presents information in a new way that actively involves both the left and right brain.
2.3. Professional and Management Learning
Management development now has a focus on personal competence and self development. A key component of this focus is understanding learning processes. Pedlar, Burgoyne and Boydell suggest 'Lifelong education is especially vital for managers whose responsibilities demand that they cope with and manage accelerated change. Learning to learn is therefore an activity on which it is worth spending time.
The notion that people can improve their own learning is relatively recent for example, the work of the Industrial Training Unit, and the work of Sylvia Downs and Patricia Perry at UWIST which provides evidence that the development of learning skills by individuals can lead to improvement in the rate of learning.
Knowles suggests a new approach to learning which he calls the androgogical model as distinct from the pedagogical model. He sees the pedagogical (teacher led) and androgogical (adult independent) models as parallel, recognising that in some situations pedagogical strategies would be important where the learner needs to be dependant upon the teacher. However with adult learners he suggests that in most situations the androgogical assumption would be most appropriate especially if the adults were more self directed learners.
Awareness of the learning process appears to be increasing and with that a development towards learning being part of work and our everyday experience. This is reflected in current literature and methodology suggested for learning to be re-learned. Handy, in the Age of Unreason provides a readable account of a reflective approach to learning (p. 46). He sees learning as a wheel dived into 4 parts: starting with a question, generating a theory, testing the theory, reflecting on the results and then forming new questions. It is a simplified account similar to the more developed account of the Action Research cycle (chapter 4, section B). A more sophisticated account is given in the next chapter of the way learning, professionality, decision making and action integrate to produce a model of professional practice that can provide the basis for the development of the 'learning organisation'.
Towards Professional Decision Making and the Learning organisation
3. Professional Decision Making and Learning in the Work Place
Professional action is characterised by independent decision making. The decision making typically takes place within the context of a situation or process which demands some kind of solution. For example, ambulance professionals, nurses or doctors are frequently presented with situations that are unique, where information is incomplete and yet a decision is demanded as a matter of urgency. Unless a decision is made the client may die. Not all professionals are placed into such stark circumstances. Nevertheless, the essential features involving decision making in uncertain contexts remain much the same.
What the professional does is to draw upon previous experiences. Are there any which resemble the current circumstance. Yes, but not quite. There are similarities but also some differences which must be noted and monitored. The resemblances may be sufficiently similar to lead to the adoption of courses of action that previously proved effective.
The following diagram summarises the approach through which action may be informed in practical situations such as these:
This schema provides a framework for describing the processes through which professional knowledge is built up not only as a personal construct but as a public construct available for both sharing and for critical re-assessment.
3.1. The Learning Organisation
If the kind of reflective learning is to take place on an institution wide scale, it is necessary to build in the structures, mechanisms and procedures to ensure that opportunities arise systematically and no on a casual or ad hoc basis. In an evaluation of the professional education of nurses and midwives, Bedford et. al. (1993) described the development of an appropriate structure for a learning organisation. They developed the notion of reflective learning into dialogic learning as follows:
Where there is an assumption either that there is only one legitimate set of procedures for delivering care or only one persuasive theory of nursing or midwifery, reflection is largely uncritique(al), descriptive and anodyne. In organisations as complex as those in the Health Service, attempts to promote a single, unified perspective on what it means to provide health care inevitably prove unsatisfactory. Indeed, because Health Service institutions are essentially places where discourses are acted out and competing value-systems cohabit. It follows that in the course of their daily clinical work nurses and midwives will constantly have to identify and organise apparently contradictory information, analyse that information critically, make judgements on the basis of the analysis, and take appropriate action. Indeed, they can only be effective carers if their competence includes the skills, knowledge, values, and understanding necessary to do these things. It is essential, therefore, that the assessment of competence examines them. Post-event dialogue fosters the development of high quality decision-making procedures and the formulation of theoretically-informed principles for practical action in 'problem situations. Where it focuses on evidence collected during the event and is itself recorded in some way for further consideration it also makes accessible the knowledge and values employed in constructing those theories and action plans. By exploring the differences between their own version of what counts as competence and the version that others hold, students discover the dilemmas within their own professional rhetoric and the contradictions within their own practice. Through what Carr and Kemmis call 'committed, interested reflection' (Carr and Kemmis 1986), and what we are calling 'critical dialogue, the assessment activity is moved from being a survey of activities 'done and skills ' covered to a collaborative, analytical discussion about practice. Out of critique(al) dialogue informed by more than one analytical framework can come dialogic imagining about future action.
Reflective dialogue as a means of generating explanation about what is happening and what has happened is, we are arguing, essentially a co-operative activity designed to enable both analysis - which is reductionist, and understanding - which is holistic. On the one hand it invites the student and the assessor to 'examine the parts' of what they are doing, that is, the component skills, attitudes, and concepts. On the other hand it encourages them to resituate those parts within some form of coherent theory, however informal. Critique(al) dialogue, as suggested above, ensures an interplay between the parts and the whole by moving student and assessor beyond review to critique that examines underlying values and ideas. This is the activity of 'theorising'. Because it is a process which parallels what happens when professionals consciously enter a mutually educating relationship, it can act as an induction into that process. It is worth noting, then, that a comfortable and everyday medium through which many people in the practical professions reflect, construct holistic accounts, and further imagination, is story. Stories do not explain what is happening or has happened, but reveal meaning. They illuminate understanding.
(Stories) are analogical and symbolic; they do not point out meaning directly; they demonstrate it by recreating pattern in metaphorical shape and form
(Reason and Hawkins 1988 p.81)
Stories allow the teller to move from situationally-located account, through metaphor, to archetype, mirroring the move from the 'local' to the global' ...
Reflection, the formation of tellable accounts (or stories of what happened), sharing these with others, engaging in critical dialogue are all part of the learning process. The ACE Final Report argued that a learning institution is one where this dialogic process is structured into the institution:
institutional structures, work processes and reflective practitioners are all integrated in a research based cycle of assessment and education:
The diagram focuses on the cycle for the collection of assessment evidence through the structures and mechanisms established by an institution. These are then reflected upon by a) the student, b) the mentor, and c) the tutor. Each interpret the evidence according to their own particular discourses - the learning discourses of the student, the practice/work discourses of the mentor, the educational discourses of the tutor. If these are not placed into dialogue then each will take their interpretations individually and no integration will take place. If there is dialogue then this too can feed into the monitoring processes through which the assessment structures and mechanisms can be evaluated in terms of their efficacy for forming an appropriate evidence base. And the cycle begins again.
Essential to the process is structured dialogue.
Although the ACE Final Report focussed upon the initial education of nurses and midwives, the dialogic process can be translated for any other institution which seeks to create a culture of learning.
The implications of such views is that the curriculum (whether of schools or for professional development) can be built out of the motivations, curiosities, needs, interests and experiences of the individual. This stresses both a different kind of curriculum development and a different kind of role for the teacher, mentor or manager than has been traditionally the case. These views have been explored in relation to school by Schostak and colleagues (1988, 1991). Learning, to be meaningful, has to be set within a context of social and personal rights and responsibilities; it has to engage the active participation of the learner; it has to be placed within a context of social and personal relevance; it has to engage the feelings, curiosities, needs and interests of the individual. Otherwise, learning is just a synonym for social control at best, social coercion at worst.
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