I’ve recently been reading up on the subject of reflection… so here’s a reflection on what I’ve recently read.
Some background: When we talk about enabling informal, just-in-time learning through the use of learning suites or other forms of self-directed, self-provisioning strategies, there is one niggling worry. Simply put, learners don’t always know what they don’t know. As learning moves more and more to the informal domain and we relinquish control of learning (if we ever had it), how can we at the same time help learners to understand what it is they need to learn? Should we be directive at all? And if so, how does that fit with constructivist thinking?
In an article in Productive Reflection at Work, Per-Erik Ellstrom makes a succinct argument for providing some kind of groundwork for informal learning. His thoughts provide some guidance on how to support informal learners. He says:
Informal learning at work “presupposes a workplace designed to promote learning as well as employees with sufficient knowledge and skills to be able to identify and make sense of the experiences and opportunities for learning encountered in relation to the work process…. The first priority of management should not be to allocate time for learning which is separate from everyday practice. Rather, the focus should be on putting development and learning issues on the agenda, and ensuring that the organizational members have the necessary knowledge and skills to be able to identify and deal with these issues as an integral part of ongoing activities.” *
Mmm… That got me thinking! I have agreed with many who say that reflection is key to learning at work. (My all-time favorite learning quote: “Reject the myth that we learn through experience and accept the reality that we learn by reflecting on experience.” – Kent Seibert) And Ellstrom further argues that we cannot benefit from time for reflection if we have no basis on which to make sense of the experience. (Blinding flash of the obvious.)
For example… that foundational course in instructional design that we offer to new designers at my place of work may not – certainly does not – teach them everything there is to know on the subject (despite it’s unheard-of 55-hour length). But it DOES lay the groundwork for making sense of all of the experience a designer gets engaging in the work on a day-to-day basis. It gives them a framework for understanding the process and a sense for what is important. With that as background, their experiences begin to click into place. Again, blinding flash of the obvious.
So here’s something I’ll be thinking about further… We can’t just create a fertile learning environment and hope for the best. We have to set a learning agenda in collaboration with learners (because setting it without their buy-in also does little good). How do we do that effectively?
Your thoughts and comments welcome!
* Quotation source: Ellstrom, Per-Eric (2006). Reflection in informal learning at work. In Productive Reflection at Work, Boud, D., Cressy, P. & Docherty, P., Eds. (First part of quote, p. 43-44, second part, p. 51)