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Action Learning: Some principles

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Presentation on theme: "Action Learning: Some principles"— Presentation transcript:

1 Action Learning: Some principles

2 Testing Experience Reflection Generalisation
Experiential learning Testing Experience The Kolb cycle Reflection Generalisation I think that most academics, certainly those (like me) who entered the profession in the 1990s were probably introduced to this model of experiential learning. All that I point out here is that we consider learning to be a largely inductive process – we develop knowledge from understanding special cases, from thinking about the common features of those cases, from developing a more systematic understanding through reflection, and then testing our new understanding by examining more empirical examples. I might refer back to Kuhnian notions of disciplinary practice at this point, arguing that this is a problem solving process, more likely to support micro innovations than macro ones,

3 Action Experience Planning Understanding
The learning process Action Experience Acting or trying out the plan in the situation Observing and reflecting on the consequences of action in a situation Planning Understanding Planning actions to influence the situation based on newly formed or revised understanding Forming or revising understanding of a situation as a result of experience Action learning uses a similar process. People come with experience, typically from their work environment, but in this case from academic study. It is perhaps worthwhile explaining to students that they have substantial experience of how to go about acquiring new knowledge already – they have all gone through extensive training to get to university. The process that we use in action learning is for a participant to try to solve a well defined problem – for students, it could be project work within a course of study, but they might be able to see that there is a larger project, the completion of the degree for which they are registered. So, students are expected to think for themselves about what they have been doing. With colleagues, in an action learning set, they will develop a deeper understanding of what they need to do, and then plan actions that will enable them to achieve their objectives more effectively. It is then left to individual students to try out the planned actions, and to draw further lessons from experience. Importantly, in action learning, the problem is at the centre, not subject knowledge. I think that this has important implications

4 The learning process (2)
Learning = Progammed Knowledge + Insightful Questions (Revans, 1973) Programmed knowledge What we usually deal in Conveyed through books, lectures structured learning Revans associated with poppycock platitude professor Insightful questions Asked at the right time Based on experience or attitudes to project work objective to drive work forward Revans associated with query quiz The learning process may be expressed as:  Learning = Programmed knowledge + the ability to ask `insightful' Questions, or  L = P+Q  Programmed knowledge (P) is conveyed through books, lectures and other structured learning mechanisms. It is an accessible format for knowledge, but it may take time to find exactly what we need, and in isolation is not sufficient to fulfil all learning needs. Revans argues that it is overvalued in management learning.  Insightful Questions (Q) are those asked at the right time and are based on experiences or an attitude about ongoing work projects, as well as creativity which goes beyond acceptance of ready-made solutions. Revans maintained that P is the domain of experts while Q is the domain of leaders who wish to drive projects forward by getting answers. Revans noted also that P was the initial letter of poppycock, platitude and professor, while Q initiates query and quiz.  Insightful Questions are the key to Revans' process. P will not take you very far unless you focus on the reflective side of what you do. Revans argues that it is not just `doing' but learning to learn by doing--Q is much more important.  Revans suggests that each participant should have the following (deceptively simple) questions at the forefront of their thinking.  * What are we really trying to do?  * What is stopping us from doing it?  * What can we do about it?  * Who knows about (understands) the problem being tackled?  * Who cares (genuinely wants something done) about the problem?  * Who can (has enough power to) get something done about it?  Action Learning requires solutions to be implemented, not just recommended. Because it demands probing and sensitive questions, it can also require levels of tact and diplomacy. 

5 Mutual support and challenge
Features of action learning Voluntary Participant experts Reflection on experience Empowering Gradual development Mutual support and challenge Holistic approach Perhaps the most important point to make here is that action learning is a holistic approach. I think that ideally, it would be adopted at an institutional level and inform the design of degree courses. Traditionally, participation in action learning is voluntary, typically a part of professional development programmes for staff in large organisations. This is not possible in a university environment, but my experience has been that students, at least once they have begun to participate in action learning, can see why it might be helpful and are willing to engage with it. The two important characteristics of the experience are the opportunities for reflection on experience and development of a supportive environment in which students challenge one another’s ideas. When I say that the student is the expert, that is because no one is in a better position than the individual student to identify and analyse the problems that emerge in completing work. Also, in many ways, it may be that students are better able to provide support for one another than staff. I have spent twenty years thinking about some of the problems that students are meeting for the first time. It is difficult for me to recall why I found them difficult when I first met them. I know how to solve them, but how do I encourage students to solve them for themselves? In describing the process as empowering, this reflects the change in the process of learning. One of the most common problems identified in NSS responses is students’ belief that they obtain insufficient feedback. In action learning, students provide feedback mutually. This is not a process that can easily be hurried – where I think that action learning has worked most effectively for me was in a class where it was provided during the whole of a semester, with students then writing project reports over a three week vacation. I think that it might work very well across dissertation work.

6 Implementation in final year
Action learning used in final year course, 25 students Class divided into three sets at the start of the semester Introductory workshop + ‘top-up’ reviews of process Involved students in setting syllabus and learning outcomes Possible problems Not understanding process of action learning Trying to solve each others’ problems Lack of subject knowledge

7 Implementation in second year
Action learning used in three courses (75, 70 and 35 students) AL sets combined for first two courses – eight sets Separate sets for third course (semester 2) Introductory workshop + some guided discussion Single sets met in my office Substantial differences in attitudes between semesters Possible problems Not understanding process of action learning Trying to solve each others’ problems Lack of subject knowledge Fear of sharing knowledge – perception of zero sum game Limited fluency in English Ownership of space – physical and intellectual

8 Student attitudes (1) Action learning required a different type of engagement A lot of your lectures are clean cut, this is the question, this is how we want you to do it, with a lot of coursework it was just answer this question. For a lot of your kind of exams and that stuff, it is very focused, so you don’t really have a choice of how you go about it.

9 Student attitudes (2) Action learning promoted deeper learning and reflection Initially you presented your faults and your progress and then others were asking through constructive questions to understand in more detail what you were actually doing….it was the first time I’ve done any such thing as action learning and initially I found it a bit challenging encouraged to do much more personal research and actually take our own initiative where we want to go and sort of do our own research, what topics to choose... and go really deep into them

10 Student attitudes (3) Action learning is a useful skill that requires practice [G]radually it became better as we all got deeper into the research questions or the questions we were researching because then it became much clearer who was keen on working and we started to ask the right questions because we knew a bit more [B]e the active member of the discussion and be sort of the one who can direct the speaker through constructive questions to help them learn and reflect on how they do their own research and how they go about doing their other coursework.

11 Staff expectations Students will use action learning sets to reflect not just upon the projects that they were ostensibly set up to support, but the much wider range of issues that they confront in their learning. Students would use action learning sessions to identify the resources that they needed in order to solve the problems that they had identified, and, especially in the context of project work, that this might include consulting a subject expert on the teaching staff. Students will approach their work in a semester as a project, and plan early on how they are going to assign resources across activities, so that from a given starting point, the desired outcome might be achieved.

12 Communities of practice
Final year students: established common knowledge and understanding repertoire of approaches to engaging in supporting each others learning believed this was necessary for them to learn effectively together

13 Communities of practice
You couldn’t have done it in second year. There’s no way you could have done it because there wasn’t the knowledge. Maybe in some other subjects you could have got away with it but I don’t think in economics you could have pushed it much earlier. The background knowledge is really really important for the success of the action learning. That you were actually able to give people enough understanding for feedback And to understand that we could sort of see where they were trying to come from rather than just listening for 10 minutes to something we hadn’t a clue about. We knew enough of the subject roughly to make comment on what they were trying to do.

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