For this assignment, we have been asked to discuss two approaches to professional learning. Firstly, Dealtry (2004) describes the “the savvy learner” in terms of someone in a managerial context who has “learned to learn”. They have taken ownership of their own development and have figured out where to devote their time and energy to gain maximum benefit for themselves and their stakeholders.
By contrast, Clegg et al’s article (2002) is based on a study of academics enrolling on course and the way they responded. It aims to highlight the different ways in which people can make use of formal learning opportunities.
As usual, there are useful points to be taken from both studies. I very much like Dealtry’s general thesis that the aim of professional development should be “learning to learn”, being able to self-direct your development. Indeed, this is enshrined in the guidance from my own professional institute, which states:
“You simply need to complete as much development activity as you feel is required to remain competent in your role(s).” (ICAEW, 2011)
This may sound very woolly, and carries risks, but recognises that each individual is best placed to identify and deal with their own development needs. Indeed, this is part of what it means to be a professional.
However, beyond this, I struggled a little to apply the concepts in the article. In particular, we were directed to consider a table looking at different types of “strategic learning”:
(Table reproduced from Dealtry, 2004)
I think this is saying that it is risky to move outside your comfort zone, but you may learn more from it. This is true – I know it from experience, although what constitutes “new situation” may not always be clear-cut. But it is not really a startling insight, and I am not sure how helpful this really is in planning our development . Part of the problem here, I think, is that it is unclear what evidence the study is based on. Some empirical evidence would have made it more robust.
The article made me think of the work of someone with a similar sort of thesis who has grounded their work firmly on empirical studies. Henry Mintzberg, whose work I cam across through my teaching, is in my view one of all time great management thinkers. A sample of his views on learning for managers is as follows:
“What does exist about management is a good deal of tacit knowledge. But tacit means not easily accessible, which is why the practice has to be learned on the job, through apprenticeship, mentorship, and direct experience.” (Mintzberg, 2009)
Famously, he is very critical of the whole concept of MBAs (Mintzberg, 2004), believing that management cannot be learned out of context. Without going into detail here, his work offers plenty of help to those “learning to learn”.
The other article is based on a specific study and does, I think, pose an interesting challenge to some conventional thinking:
“The dominant model of reflective practice assumes that development is largely deliberative and linear, and that the relationship between reflection and action is transparent, with reflection-on-action leading to improvement and change” (Clegg et al, 2002)
The authors may be attacking a “straw man” here, since that is quite a simplistic description, and I doubt if many would accept it without some qualifications. Nonetheless, their research establishes a very different picture:
(Table reproduced from Clegg et al, 2002)
Their argument is that for certain people (whom they largely found were less experienced academics), there might be immediate changes they make as a result of the course. For others (in their study the more experienced ones), it may be that the course acts as a valuable source for reflection, rather than immediate action. For others still, the action or reflection may be delayed for various reasons. And these may all be legitimate, useful responses.
It is a good idea to establish that people may usefully respond to training in very different ways. In my own experience, this is true, and one of the key factors has been the nature of the training itself. Many years ago I attended time management training delivered by the guru Dave Allen (whose system I highly recommend by the way.) He offers a practical approach to managing your time and you need to leave his class, go back to your desk and start implementing some of his advice at once. The longer you leave it, the less likely you are to do anything about it, and that means the training was wasted.
By contrast, the learning on my current OU course is very different. It doesn’t, on the whole, cover practical tips, but theoretical frameworks, case studies and ideas. There aren’t “nuggets” that I am instantly implementing at work. It is more a case of reflecting on each stage and in the process becoming a more accomplished e-learning practitioner.
However, there is one point I would emphasise, which Clegg et al do not deal with, although I am sure they would agree with it. Too much training, in my experience, takes place in a vacuum, with no response at all required. This usually results in the training being a waste of time and money. Whether reflection, action or a combination of the two, some response is absolutely necessary for the training to have value.
Clegg, S., Tan, J. and Saeidi, S. (2002) ‘Reflecting or acting? Reflective practice and continuing professional development in higher education’ (online), Reflective Practice, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 131–46. Available from: http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14623940220129924 (accessed 2 December 2011).
Dealtry, R. (2004) ‘Professional practice: the savvy learner’ (online), Journal of Workplace Learning, vol. 16, no. 1/2, pp. 101–109. Available from: http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/13665620410521567 (accessed 2 December 2011).
ICAEW (2011) What is CPD? http://www.icaew.com/en/members/cpd/what-is-cpd (accessed 4 December 2011).
Mintzberg, H. (2004) Managers not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development, San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler.
Mintzberg, H. (2009) Managing, Harlow, Pearson Education.