Tag Archives: action learning

What Have You Learned?

What have you learned in the last week?

This is the question our professor asks us each week. It’s a legitimate question, and one you might expect in a classroom environment, but surprisingly, it’s not always an easy question to answer. Not because we haven’t learned anything, but because sometimes it’s hard to put your learning into words.

Real Woman Drive Stick ShiftIf you learn a new skill — how to drive a stick-shift car — that’s easy to articulate. But what does it mean that you can now drive a stick-shift car? Does it mean you can buy the sports car you always wanted? Does it mean you can drive a friend’s car and get her home safely when she’s had a few drinks and shouldn’t be behind the wheel? Or does it mean you have a better understanding and appreciation for how an automobile works? Is it enough to ask what you’ve learned, or is the real question how does what you’ve learned change the way you look at or think about things?

It’s this second layer of what we’ve learned that’s hard to articulate. For example, during my recent interviews with the staff at UMFS, I learned about all the different roles the teachers take with their students. In addition to the not-so-small task of providing effective instruction, they must also be counselors, therapists, disciplinarians, and negotiators. But how does this knowledge help me assess the overall learning culture and needs at UMFS, which is the task our class is charged with this semester?

First, it illustrates to me that in addition to standard teacher certification requirements, these teachers are also required to learn and implement Collaborative Problem Solving techniques and the MANDT system for de-escalating volatile situations. They need to learn how to employ Plan B scenarios with students in order to keep the class on an even keel. They need to be ready to assist a fellow teacher by coaching him through the appropriate steps to restrain a child and keep her from hurting herself or others. It means that these teachers really need their down time to re-energize, but does it also mean that they need or desire more or different professional development opportunities?

We are still wrestling with these questions (and others) as we sort through all of our interview data. We’ve learned a lot, but what does it mean? How do we use that learning to provide ideas and recommendations?

We trust the process of Action Learning: Great questions always lead to great reflection.  Great reflection always leads to great learning. And great learning always leads to great action.

I believe we have asked some great questions — both in our interviews with people at UMFS and of each other in class. I think we were all struck by the power of the question Melissa wrote on the board Thursday night — are we trying to shape the learning culture or to shape culture through learning? As I look back through the notes I took in class, I see a lot of great questions. Time now to reflect on these questions to discover what we’ve learned and how to turn that learning into action for our client.

“The questions that heal us and offer hope for authentic change are the ones we cannot easily answer…”
~ Peter Block

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Posted by on March 22, 2014 in Capstone



What I Found Out

My first post this semester posed the question about the connection between consulting and education. Change seemed to be the commonality, and while I do still think that facilitating change is an important part of the role of both the educator and the consultant, I now see other connections, too.

During my first class in this program, I came to the realization that it was not just the students who had the opportunity to learn — that as a teacher / facilitator, I had the chance to learn something from each class, too. I was reminded of this when I read Ward Mailliard’s story in Block’s book. Ward brought Block’s ideas about flawless consulting to the classroom in a way that gave his student more control over their own learning. In turn, he wondered, “What could I learn from my students that would allow me to be more effective in the learning environment?” I wondered the same thing when I was designing a volunteer training program and decided that I “have the opportunity to learn from each session in ways that I can use to rework the program for the next time around.”

Block writes that “our job [as consultants] is to be a learning architect. At our best, we design settings that lead to insight, resolution of differences, and change” (p. 300). This reminded me of what Maryellen Weimer wrote in her book Learner-Centered Teaching that faculty should be “instructional designers who put together challenging and complex learning experiences and then create environments that empower students to accomplish the goals” (p. 18). For me, though, it’s not just the shift from a teacher-centered environment to a learner-centered environment. I hope to take it one step further to create a learning-centered environment where we all have the opportunity to learn from each other.

So how does one create such a setting? It seems to come back to dialogue and asking the right question: why?

The questions that heal us and offer hope for authentic change are the ones we cannot easily answer… the why questions are designed for learning and change… It is in the dialogue about these questions that change occurs (Block, pp. 305-307).

The ‘why‘ question is a powerful intervention because it often forces the client to focus on something that he had taken entirely for granted and to examine it from a new perspective (Schein, p. 51).

Getting an honest answer to the Why? question… controls your responses to all the [instructional] design questions that follow…We ask the Why? question before determining appropriate content and learning objectives… Inattention to this step in design can result in inappropriate or irrelevant content (Vella, pp. 33-34).

So asking the right questions is the key to learning. Wait, I think I’ve written about this before. Yes, it was in a post about Action Learning. Great questions always lead to great reflection. Great reflection always leads to great learning. And great learning always leads to great action. So now, not only do I have a better understanding of how learning about consulting skills can enhance my role as an educator, I have also discovered ways in which being in the consultant role can provide me with learning opportunities, too.

Bring on the Capstone class!

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Posted by on December 8, 2013 in ADLT 610


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Ready… Set… ACTION!

Photo sourced from Manatee School for the Arts

Photo sourced from Manatee School for the Arts

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve started to explore the concept of action learning.  It is a bit of a preview of the capstone course I’ll be taking next spring, so I’ll be curious to come back to this post then and see if or how my thinking changes.

As a way of quick introduction for those not already familiar with action learning, it is a way to approach problem solving that goes beyond just providing a solution, but seeks to explore the problem more deeply through questions and reflection, thus not only resulting in a better solution but also providing learning to those involved.  I have to admit, I approached this idea with a fair bit of skepticism.  It seemed time-intensive and academic, and I immediately jumped to reasons it would never work in my current workplace.  But then I realized, that was exactly the kind of behavior (jumping to conclusions) that action learning can overcome.

Last night, I viewed a video of Michael Marquardt’s keynote address to the Virginia Association for Adult and Continuing Education on action learning.  When I woke up this morning, I realized that one point in that talk was still rumbling around in my head.  Great questions always lead to great reflection.  Great reflection always leads to great learning.  And great learning always leads to great action.  I am on board with most of that, but I am still reflecting on that last part about always leading to great action.

Marquardt talked about the type of problem best addressed by action learning.  He said it must be urgent.  I suppose it is that urgency that comes into play that drives the learning into action.  I wonder if the instances I’m thinking of that did not result in great action were caused by (a) not enough good questioning upfront to define the true problem or (b) not enough urgency to require action.

Dog questionsIt’s said that things happen in 3s.  Last fall I was introduced to contemplative meditation, asking a series of why questions to get at the source of your beliefs.  A few weeks ago, we had a presentation in class about root cause analysis, a common business practice in which you continue inquiry until you discover the true source of the problem.  And now, action learning.  Taken together, these three cover my spiritual, professional, and academic pursuits.  I look forward to developing my questioning and reflection skills as I continue to learn more about each.

So in true action learning format, I shall leave you with a question, thus allowing you to respond with statements.  (Feel free to do the same in your replies.)  What experiences have you had where questioning led to reflection, which led to learning… that resulted in action?


Posted by on April 7, 2013 in ADLT 642


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