SML v2.0 – practice based learning

20180605_133520Ideas are bubbling up for a new research project. And one keeps coming back to me and it is this: what might Self-Managed Learning (SML) look like in the 21st Century? This begs two initial questions: 1) what is self-managed learning (SML); 2) what is so special about the 21st century. In summary SML was developed by Ian Cunningham (Cunningham, 1999) whereby participants had greater control over defining what their learning goals were to be and how they would go about demonstrating their learning.  This was in contrast with most programmes with fixed learning outcomes, exams and other ways to demonstrate knowledge.  Here SML challenges participants to think carefully as to what they want to achieve and why. As for the 21st century, we are clearly living in a faster paced world that is less stable with daunting existential threats such as climate change.

In bringing these two together questions and ideas swirl in my mind, some of which will survive time and scrutiny, others will not. To give myself a chance I am looking at postgraduate study in the fields of leadership and the development of organisations. To emphasise, I am making a clear link between the individual and their social working melee, both are a part of each other.

The first question I come to is: what counts for knowledge for learning and organisations now? This question is too big; perhaps better described by what it is not, or rather how things are shifting. In organisations there was the ‘go to’ expert, often senior with longstanding. Similarly in academia there is the peer reviewed journal for example, expert authors with expert reviewers behind the scenes. But how are we to make sense of fast moving fleeting knowledge that relates to one context but less so of another, yet avoiding the trap of ‘fake’ in its often contested nature. And having understood what is around us how do we build on this with others and communicate something useful. Similarly how we understand and contribute to other’s knowledge work. In this sense critical thinking becomes less of the individual and more social.

In this situation what might be the role of developers and universities be? This particularly important if we are seen less for our expertise? In addition, how might this be recognised in a qualification programme such as a Post Graduate Certificate? How do we explicably recognise the three-way role of the participant, the organisation and university or developer more explicitly given the slipperiness of understanding and knowledge? Perhaps what I am really interested in is Socially Mediated Learning?

Hot from the publication of our book, Organisation Development: A Bold Explorer’s Guide, this is a project that I’ll be working on with James Traeger. This week we met to make a start with a walk on the deserted winding beach at Pagham, a small harbour village on the south coast of the UK. Here we began the process of shaping what defines and interests us about the topic. I have laid out my initial thoughts and these will change and grow in the conversations we will have, as James’s views will do likewise. In fact, to catch the shift in thinking we are starting to talk about this as practice based learning. And very soon we will be having conversations with others. In short, to start the process of socially mediated learning.

Cunningham, I. (1999). The wisdom of strategic learning: The self managed learning solution. Oxford: Gower Publishing Ltd.

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Organisation development: a bold explorer’s guide

Capture ddThis month sees the publication of the book that James Traeger and I have been working on over the last year or so. It has been a project where we have been keen to put the art of everyday interaction at the centre of organisation development (OD). We wanted to write a book that gave confidence to people who might ask themselves the question: ‘is it just me, but …’; particularly for those puzzled by the messiness, politics and sheer difficulty in getting anything done when set against the simplicity and step-by-step instructions implied in many other OD books and articles.

Think for a moment when we meet a senior director informally, moments later an idea can take shape with new avenues to be explored. On the other hand, another idea is quashed. What are our responsibilities to the organisation and its people in these moment-by-moment interactions? And how do we know? In this way OD is not a series of set piece of events, it is a continual process of everyday interaction. Some of these are high profile and carefully planned, others not. So, how do we pay attention and talk about OD in a different way? We have chosen to put the curious OD practitioner at the heart of their own development. We use narratives and fiction a reflexive prompts between our worlds and yours. Finally, we draw on some theory of process and interaction to draw some wider themes together.

If you are interested in buying a copy, use the Discount Code JW18 to obtain a 20% discount when bought online from our publishers – here is the link.

Shining a light on critical action learning with the work of Pierre Bourdieu

pbA couple of years ago I became intrigued by the interaction between the theory of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and the practice of action learning, a process of facilitated group coaching. In other words, how the theory of one might shine a light on the practice of the other. The aspects of Bourdieu theory that I was intrigued about was habitus and field. Habitus being a generative process of habit and repetition, but not one that implies an automatic reflex; instead it is a condition of practice that short cuts the numerous options available to the novice to a narrower range of reasonable contextual possibilities. This being dependent on field, an array of externalities and relations in which one has to move. Each player whose relations constitute the field of a particular practice has their own internalised expression of habitus. This gives everyone in the field an individualised sense of their next step, sensible or not, that needs to be reacted to by others. The field is therefore a complex dynamic affected by power, reputation, tradition, gestures and so on. In short, the ordinary goings on of organisational life of what we might see as common sense hitting a brick wall of unfathomable objection that makes us ask the question: why? Or as we have called it ‘social friction’, a process of noticing between our taken for granted practice and how this is reacted to by others who have their own assumptions and practice too.

Over the past year it has been great to work with Janet McCray and Douglas Board to explore these ideas drawing on interviews with nine medical consultants having gone through and action learning based leadership programme. Following a number of conferences (a notable highlight being the British Sociological Association’s first conference on Bourdieu last year) and workshops our work has now been published in Action Learning: Research and Practice.

To read our paper click here.

Action Learning: creating organisational impact

chichester-1Over the last few years I have become intrigued by what action learning can offer. It is a process where a facilitated group of people, curious in each other’s practice and problems at work, enables each other to move forward. Whilst it supports people to find practical solutions to knotty problems that don’t seem to go away there has been a larger question on its wider organisational impact. In other words, how does the impact of those private conversations in the learning set comes to ripple out to change and improve the wider organisation. Over the last couple of years this debate has been enlivened by those interested in ‘critical action learning’ and has become the focus of my research too.

In December 2016 I am holding a seminar here at the University of Chichester’s Business School (pictured) where similarly curious people are welcome to attend, details can be found here.

If you want to read more about action learning here are some useful places to start:

  • Pedler, M. (1997), What do we mean by action learning? A story and three interpretations. Action Learning in Practice, Gower Publishing Ltd, Aldershot, 3rded.
  • Pedler, M. (2011), Action learning in practice, Gower Publishing Ltd, Farnham.
  • Revans, R. (1980), Action Learning: new techniques for management, Blond and Briggs, London.