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


“Thinking Aloud”- What significant benefits would L&D professionals obtain through a postgraduate qualification?

‘Thinking Aloud’

This is my first official blog outside the confines of the University system and has been some weeks in gestation, for various reasons. The theme of the Blog is prompted by a series of tweets, blogs and comments, during and after CIPD HRD13, from connections in my twitter network.

A post by @mervyndinnen piqued my interest with his article questioning whether many in the L&D industry had a real ‘passion for learning‘. Mervyn’s view was that people had a poor view of attending programmes and that L&D conferences followed a well trodden path in terms of what was presented and by whom. The next post came from guest blogger for CIPD @sukhpabial who was clearly underwhelmed by what he had heard at the same event asking the question, Has L&D stalled? I responded by saying that, in my experience, the Google example is not the norm by any stretch of the imagination ergo it is innovative and different. As for in company programmes, I have reviewed over 30 in recent years and whilst the quality is often sound there is very little to distinguish between them in their use and critique of theories. If I had a pound for each of the organisation’s that use Honey and Mumford learning styles, Blanchard’s situational leadership and/or Whitmore’s GROW model, actually I would have about £40 but my point stands. I don’t have a problem with people using the models per se, I DO, however,  have an issue when they are used incorrectly, definitively and without critical evaluation of said theories.

A recent example of groupthink, bad theory and pure rubbish is the endless reports on Generation Y, they range from how to manage, train, communicate bore bore bore…… The topic has particularly vexed @mervyndinnen, @hr_gem and @perrytimms, to name but a few. I loved their Blogs on the subject because they demonstrated through superb deconstruction and critical evaluation that it was all utter rubbish, therefore they debunked the theory and refused to countenance such sweeping generalisations. All of this led me to ask the question below.

Do L&D Professionals need a specific postgraduate qualification?

I have no idea whether the people mentioned above have a Masters qualification or not, they certainly demonstrate the knowledge and skills required at such a level, however (might be controversial for an academic to say this) learning at higher level doesn’t just happen in the walls of a University and I expect they are well-educated (formally and informally) and extremely experienced.

There are a multitude of HR  and OD qualifications offered by professionals bodies, Universities and private providers at various levels (Level 2-Level 8 i.e. NVQ through to Doctoral study), however there is a paucity of specific qualifications for L&D professionals and few that I can find a postgraduate level (Level 7 or M level).

I will leave the architecture, content and mode of study for further posts (hopefully crowd sourced by fellow enthusiasts) and attempt to outline the generic skills, regardless of subject, M-level study (postgraduate study) would provide.

The Generic Skills at Masters Level Study

There is a robust process for developing and maintaining University standards through the use of University benchmark statements, which enable us to develop qualifications; in contemplating the question posed above I thought that it would be worthwhile sharing the generic key skills a learner on a Business and Management qualification should have upon completion. In the current system HR, Organisational Development and Business etc come under the Business and Management Benchmarks (download here, if suffering from insomnia).

I have selected a few of the skills that successful candidates need to demonstrate, which I believe would help address some of the issues outlined by Mervyn, Perry , Gemma and Sukhvinder. On completion we would expect that learners have:

  • a critical awareness of current issues in business and management which is informed by leading edge research and practice in the field
  • creativity in the application of knowledge, together with a practical understanding of how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to develop and interpret knowledge in business and management
  • conceptual understanding that enables the student to:
  • evaluate the rigour and validity of published research and assess its relevance to new situations
  • extrapolate from existing research and scholarship to identify new or revised approaches to practice

In essence the above knowledge and skills would allow our L&D colleagues to become lifelong, independent learners with a passion for personal and professional development. They would be able to read an academic article, a Blog or a piece of research and evaluate the veracity, validity and applicability of the topic to their workplace. They wouldn’t accept lazy theories or sweeping generalisations, instead they would take the best from a variety of resources and creatively apply the newly gained knowledge to their problem or issue at work.

My utopian view of a potential programme

I imagine it being very flexible in design, delivery and construction, it would have standard outcomes but the route to achieving the outcomes would be personalised and flexible with recognition of prior experience. Social and informal learning would be widely used to source, curate, assimilate and evaluate the latest thinking and to HACK dated and stale management theories.

Modules might include:-

  • Slaying the Generation Y myth
  • How to train your dragon (I mean a leader)

I could go on but feel this is probably already too long (and boring?) for a first Blog. I would love comments from the ‘L&D community of passion’ on the post and your views on the question posed as I passionately believe the L&D community could develop new skills which would help to dramatically improve the way we do what we do and regain credibility and relevance.

I look forward to your comments!

What significant benefits would L&D  professionals obtain through a postgraduate qualification?

PS I’m not saying everyone should do an Masters but would love people to have the skills outlined above.