Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Learning for Organisational and Individual Change: A Process for Real Outcomes

In previous papers and blogs, I have banged on a bit about the difference between the acquisition of competences (knowledge and skills) and what, for the want of a better term just yet, real learning. Competencies are essential for being able to function but may or may not be applied, synthesised into our repertoire of cognitive and emotional functioning. Real learning involves this synthesis and results in change. Learning involves understanding the world in different ways, in being able to apply competencies in novel circumstances rather than just the familiar, and there are behavioural consequences. Learning is a dynamic process and more than the sum of its parts.

On the face of it this may seem inconsequential, perhaps, but in my world it is a serious distinction. Most of my work with organisations and individuals (as a coach or therapist) involves the need for change. As you would know changing behaviour, ingrained habits, is no easy task for a whole host of reasons, which I can go into another time. At the heart of change is real learning, it is beyond knowledge and skills.

Didactic, teacher-centric approaches, just don’t cut the mustard when it comes to change and real learning. Again, I won’t go into the details because the evidence is overwhelming that didactic teaching does not lead to learning except in rare circumstances-certainly if it is the main modus operandi.  I need to reassure you that this approach is alive and well in training rooms and in educational institutions around this vast globe of ours.

Enter stage left, self-determined learning or heutagogy. Competencies, knowledge and skills are important, it is the content that provides a basis for action. But the learning for action involves a more complex process.

Based as it is on the idea of human agency, the approach to change has to be learner focused, problem focused, intent on the questions that the learner has and subsequently develops. Coupled with a search conference approach my change designs collect information about the needs of the learner first. Then the workshop is shaped around a conversation, a dialogue. The sand continually shifts as the learner learns, is baffled, fails and finds themselves. This is a flexible adaptable curriculum.

But the baby doesn’t go out with the bathwater. Resources are provided either directly or through links to the Internet. Content and skills come up, and I have a clear list in my mind of what is essential and I build it in as we go. As one participant said to me in a workshop, ‘You said you don’t have an agenda, but you do because we covered all the competencies by the end even though we meandered everywhere today’.

And there is a list for the learner too, so they understand what competencies are required. But like all learning experiences there are always content and skill gaps that the learner fills for themselves in the face of need. The key is to ensure the inquiring mind is able to find what it needs. Most learning occurs later, outside the formal training/education experience.

This is no approach for the faint hearted. You need to know your stuff and need to be able to facilitate. There is no Powerpoint to use as a cheat sheet and no program times except for morning tea and lunch. You need to be able to work in an ambiguous environment that the ‘classroom’ becomes. Control shifts to the learner and to change rather than revolving around the myth that if I tell somebody something then they will do it or be able to do it.

These are dynamic experiences and great fun. You can go to to see what heutagogy or self-determined learning is all about or to and look at the blogs about heutagogy. Or just check it out by searching on heutagogy in your browser.

Or we can run a workshop for you on how to design exciting and real learning experiences for change at

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