Back from the wilderness-Learning through reflection

Thanks to @sukhpabial for accosting me, in a nice way, at Learning Live to follow up my one previous blog. I claimed busyness and blogging at as an excuse, however I could see from Sukh’s response he wasn’t buying into the corporate blogs as either an excuse or a way of engaging him.

Anyway here goes……

I have been reflecting on my practice a lot since Learning Live where I experienced some excellent sessions that had clear structure and contemporaneous use of technology (in the form of a twitter wall) to stimulate debate, share what was in the room and show off that they knew how to time their tweets to reinforce their points. A neat trick I will use in future.

I also attended some poor sessions which were less stimulating and didn’t particularly engage me. Not one to waste a learning opportunity the sessions got me thinking about how they, and indeed I, design learning. For example did they have a clear understanding of the audience and their needs?

Reflecting on Learning Live- Pedagogy versus andragogy

The best sessions were interactive, engaging and stimulating. From a teaching and learning perspective this was andragogy in action i.e. we were treated as adults who could explore the topics with minimal input from the facilitators. Of course the context was set and we were provided with a broad structure, but how we formed and what we discussed was largely free flowing and determined by the group. It was interesting to watch experienced L&D pros looked confused by the lack of direction and rather broad objective set by the facilitators.

Are we so conditioned to learning through direction that we, learning practitioners, feel uncomfortable when someone asks us to reflect on what we know? We were asked, in more than one session, to share experiences and solve problems by forming rapid communities of practice. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t land as expected but overall we were a rich source for each other and we brought different expertise to the discussion. In educational technical terms the experience was andragogical i.e we were treated as adults with our own experiences that enabled us to learn from each other.

I don’t want to dwell on the negative too much but not all sessions were as inclusive, engaging or thought provoking.  Instead I experienced a didactic ‘show and tell’ approach where we, the learners, were dependent upon the instructor to share their wisdom with us. Don’t get me wrong they had wisdom and interesting stories but my learning experience was superficial and lacked depth. I was left with the following questions:

  • what do I do with this?
  • how could I use it in my practice?
  • was there a better way they could have shared their knowledge?

One particular ‘show and tell’ espoused the benefits of a new API that enabled e-learning content to flex across multiple devices, very interesting and new. How did they share the technology? They showed it on a huge screen! If the technology was so great why didn’t they get us to access it via phones, tablets or laptops? The learning experience would have been greater and we could have become advocates or potential customers.

Designing with the audience in mind

I like Knowles perspective on adult learning built around 6 principles outlined below.

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

How many of us embed the above principles in our programme design?

Certainly, when teaching UG students, I am much more directive; the learner is dependent on me to share my knowledge and guide them through the subject at hand. In educational terms we call this pedagogy. As you can see from the table below pedagogy denotes a more directive ‘teacher’ led approach whilst andragogy adopts a more learner centred approach.

I should heavily caveat that defining pedagogy and andragogy as simply child and adult learning assumes a ‘generic’ learner with similar levels of expertise and characteristics. In many instances a learner centred or facilitator led approach will be influenced by the teacher’s values; in my practice I deal with UG, PG and Corporate clients and often find myself moving along the continuum within sessions and as a general approach to the programme. For me the context of learning, the learner’s knowledge and characteristics will influence my approach. Perhaps for another blog but a recent leadership programme for a major engineering company encompassed facilitator led, self-directed and co-coaching approaches.




5 approaches I use when designing sessions

1. Understand the audience in terms of experience, knowledge of topic, educational background and motivation for being in the room
2. Make sure I and the learners understand ‘why’ what they are learning is important and relevant to them. What’s in it for them!
3. Build in time for reflection, application and action.
4. Work with what’s in the room as the basis for inquiry to stimulate critical thinking and intelligent questioning.
5. Have a destination in mind but be flexible in how we get there and be cool with the destination changing according to need.

I omitted mentioning the development of learning objectives/outcomes which was hotly debated on other Blogs last week. I obviously see the need for them but in certain circumstances believe they can be too restrictive or not aligned to what actually happens. In formal academic courses we are bound by very tight learning outcomes at module and programme level with often unimaginative assessment practices to demonstrate how the outcomes have been met, however we have a lot of autonomy over how we aid and facilitate learning.

It has been good to reflect on my practice and my experience at Learning Live, it has enabled me to bring my values back into focus. I try and put myself in the learner’s shoes and ask myself what would a great learning experience feel like. Time is precious and as L&D practitioners we should never waste our own or that of our learners.

Hopefully you found this Blog a good use of your time! I’d love to hear your comments.


Knowles, M. S. (1989). The making of an adult educator: An autobiographical journey. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass