All posts by Shabnam Tashakour

Amplifying Learning Through Fostering Critical Reflection

I have written previously about the tendency we have to limit future learning based on previous learning. This tendency has aptly been termed by Mezirow as the central learning problem of adulthood: “that we fail to notice that failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.” In Transformative Learning literature a central method advocated for overcoming this learning problem is critical reflection. Critical reflection is the act of becoming conscious of our beliefs and assumptions (Where do they come from? Are they valid? What are their limitations? etc.) and either expanding, validating or discarding them.

Stephen Brookfield has written extensively about critical reflection and the following is a brief summary of a part of a chapter he wrote in a text on adult and continuing education entitled “The Concept of Critically Reflective Practice.”

Brookfield outlines Four Traditions of Criticality found in different fields:

Ideology critique

It is based on a premise that uncritically accepted and unjust dominant ideologies are embedded in everyday situation and practices. The purpose of ideology critique is to examine these assumptions in order to effect change at the social and institutional level. An example of this kind of approach to learning is found in the work of American popular educator Myles Horton. As the founder of Highlander Folk School, during the civil rights movement he started literacy program for African Americans. Study groups would learn to read while engaging in ideology critique in their own lives and communities using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a the text.

Psychoanalytic and psycho therapeutically inclined critique
These are traditions that work on identifying and reappraising limitations created through childhood traumas. This tradition advocates individual and group therapy for personal learning and development for the purpose of integration of all aspects of self.

Analytic philosophy and logic
This is the tradition that for most is closely associated to critical reflection. Here critical reflection means to recognize logical fallacies and see the difference between bias and fact and opinion and evidence, and become effective at using different forms of reasoning.

Pragmatic Constructivism
This tradition is based on the premise that reality is perceived, that is, we construct our own meaning out of experiences. The focus here is how people interpret their experience v.s. universal and recognizable truths. There is also a strong emphasis on creating new realities together.

Brookfield proposes that to engage in reflection is not the same as engaging in critical reflection. His understanding of critical reflection is centered on ideology critique rooted in the pragmatic constructivist approach. Renowned Brazilian educator Paulo Friere speaks of a similar process by which adults “achieve a deepening awareness of both the sociocultural reality which shapes their lives and… their capacity to transform that reality through action.” Ideology critique is rarely used in the work place. For the most part a culture of conformity and obedience is promoted by organizations.

Brookfield presents a picture of what the process may look like: “The adult educator’s task is that of helping people articulate their experience in dialogic circles and then encouraging them to review this through the multiple lenses provided by colleagues in the circle. On the basis of these collaborative critical reflections on experience adults reenter the work to take critically informed actions that are then brought back to the circle for further critical analysis.”

To engage in collaborative critical reflection based on a rhythm of action and reflection is not only a process of building collective knowledge and consensus, but also strong foundations for both trans formative learning in the work place and thriving self-organized teams. It is also a way to discover appropriate forms of metrics because it helps people apply multiple lenses of analysis to their work.

Critical reflection should be taught to teams through modeling. For example the coach disclosing his/her won process of critical reflection. Critical reflection should no be associated with self berating and putting others down or the culture of “telling it like it is” without regard for others.

Try the list of questions in the extended text to get a sense of how your work as an Agile practitioner (or whatever work you do) can be enhanced by critical reflection.

Continue reading Amplifying Learning Through Fostering Critical Reflection


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Salutogenesis and Agile

Twenty-five years ago American-Israeli Medical Sociologist, Aron Antonovsky developed the theory of salutogenesis. As opposed to the traditional pathogenic model of medicine focused on the study of disease, salutogenesis is the study of health. Since then, his work has been integrated into the field of public health and health education. This asset or strength based type of approach to individual or institutional development has been found in other fields such as organizational development and community development. In organizational development the field of Appreciative Inquiry and in community development the Asset Based Community Development model share the essential premises of salutogenesis. Quoting Garmezy, Antonovsky highlights the medical professions focus on deficits:

our mental health practitioners and researchers are predisposed by interest, investment and training in seeing deviance, psychopathology and weakness wherever they look.

This type of approach to work based on weakness and deficit can be found in most of our organizations. It seems to me that although Agile exposes inefficiencies and problems in organizations, it’s focus never-the-less is to build on strengths and assets. It is in this light that I have been thinking about Antonovsky’s work and what it can offer to Agile.

Antonovsky came to this theory of salutogenisis when he carried out a study on Israeli women going through menopause. He found that there were a number of women who, according to all indications of the pathogenic model, should be suffering severe symptoms (because they faced severe stressors which cause illness). But they were not suffering at all. To his surprise he discovered that these women happened to be survivors of concentration camps. He found certain qualities in these women that resulted in what he called a higher “Sense of Coherence” than the other women.

Sense of Coherence is made up of three factors; comprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulness.

Comprehensibility means that whatever happens to a person, she is able to make sense of it and understand it, that is, the challenge is in some way “structured, predictable, and explicable.” Manageability means that either the resources are available to one to meet the demands posed by the stimuli,or one has a way to find them. Meaningfulness involves having a sense of meaning in the important areas of one’s life or recognizing “these demands are challenges, worthy of investment and engagement.”

Antonovsky found meaningfulness to be the motivational factor of the three, although he also found that all three mutually reinforce one another. For example if one has a high sense of comprehensibility but is low on the other two, one ends up not having the motivation to find resources and soon after this causes comprehensibility to be lost. If one is high on meaning and missing the other two, Antonovsky explains that there is a good chance to find the other two.

The theory of Salutogenisis may provide researched and proven reasons why Agile is so empowering for people. This research may also provide more insight into how to deepen Agile experiences to higher levels of empowerment. Agile methods help people to make sense of the market place by allowing for iterative delivery and adaptive planning, thus increasing their level of comprehensibility. Iterative delivery, adaptive planning and the concept of amplifying learning are all conducive to increased sense of manageability. Because people spend most of their time at work, it is quite important that they feel a sense of meaning in their work. The concept of empowering the team and the practice of self-organized teams and appropriate metrics can contribute to increased sense of meaning in one’s work.

Salutogenic food for thought for the Agile practitioner:

Antonovsky associated comprehensibility with consistency which he defined as “the extent to which one’s work situation allows and fosters the clarity of seeing the entire work picture and ones place in it, provides confidence in job security, and supports communicability and feedback in social relations at the workplace”.

How can the concept of consistency be promoted in Agile projects?

Manageability is related to under load/overload balance which is defined as “the availability of resources to the individual and to the collectivity within which there is interaction to get the job done well” and “…the extent to which the work situation has room for allowing potential to be utilized in substantively complex work.” The opposite of the former results in overload and the opposite of the latter is a situation of under load.

How can Agile projects guard against overload? How can an Agile coach and Agile teams fully utilize the capacities of its members?

Meaningfulness is closely associated with participation in shaping outcomes. Antonovsky explains beautifully the relationship between these two concepts:

When others decide everything for us-when they set the task, formulate the rules, and manage the outcome-and we have no say in the matter, we are reduced to objects. A world thus experienced as being indifferent to what we do comes to be seen as a world devoid of meaning.

In light of the concept of meaningfulness how can the principle of self organized team and shared decision making be deepened in Agile work?

Reference:
Antonovsky, Aron (1988). Unraveling the Mystery of Health: How People Manage Stress and Stay Well (Jossey Bass Social and Behavioral Science Series)


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Asset Based Community Development and Agile

http://www.stfx.ca/institutes/coady/text/about_publications_occasional_citizens.html.

What Is ABCD?

It is an approach to community-based development, based on the principles of:

* Appreciating and mobilising individual and community talents, skills and assets (rather than focusing on problems and needs)
* Community-driven development rather than development driven by external agencies

It builds on:

* Appreciative inquiry which identifies and analyses the community’s past successes. This strengthens people’s confidence in their own capacities and inspires them to take action
* The recognition of social capital and its importance as an asset. This is why ABCD focuses on the power of associations and informal linkages within the community, and the relationships built over time between community associations and external institutions
* Participatory approaches to development, which are based on principles of empowerment and ownership of the development process
* Community economic development models that place priority on collaborative efforts for economic development that makes best use of its own resource base
* Efforts to strengthen civil society. These efforts have focused on how to engage people as citizens (rather than clients) in development, and how to make local governance more effective and responsive.

http://www.synergos.org/globalphilanthropy/02/abcdoverview.htm


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Agile, Cognitive Scripts and Diversity

Steve L. Robins, Professor and Diversity Trainer speaks about Unintentional Intelligence:
M1 (mindlessness) + M2 (multiple redundancy messages) = UI (unintentional Intelligence)

He explains that cognitively we can only do one thing at a time. Our brain writes cognitive scripts for what we do, so we can be efficient by not having to spend time thinking carefully about everything. We do this for anything from breathing, brushing our teeth and driving. We have very good cognitive scripts for complex tasks.

M2 (multiple redundancy messages

Because of this state of mindlessness, if we get the same message over and over again we have no defense against it. We can brand products, concepts, professions (i.e. a nurse is a woman a doctor is a man)… we brand people, race. We can get 13 year old girls to want to kill themselves because they are not thin enough.

Robins did the following experiment with us to demonstrate this point: He told us to repeat the word “top” ten times and after the tenth time he asked us the following question, which we were supposed to answer without thinking: “What do you do when you get to a green light?” We all said stop. He went on to point out that if with such a simple exercise he could get us to give the wrong answer, when we all knew the right answer, then a lot of different kind of beliefs about different races can also affect us even if they are not true.

Robins went on to talk about how to change these pattern: Neurons in the brain are connected by synapses, every time we act the body releases a protein in the synapses that when repeated solidifies the pattern down in our brain. In order to form new patterns a person has to have a chance to practice that pattern over and over again.

In our working cultures we have all kinds of cognitive scripts related to how we see and value diversity and these are formed partly by the multiple redundancy messages sent to us by our culture, our own lack of knowledge and experience of different perspectives and ways of seeing the world (because we tend to naturally associate with people who are like us) and our organizational culture that generally tends to value a certain kind of personality over another.

So what does this have to do with Agile? Well, so much of agile is about innovation and amplifying learning. Corporate cultures are not typically examples of thriving places that value diversity (and I don’t mean just having affirmative action programs, but beyond that, having a working culture that allows people to bring their diversity into the work place and rewards it). Diversity is a direct challenge to our mindless orientation towards work. It can challenge us to be more mindful, and mindfulness is an important basis of amplifying learning and being innovative.

I find the concept of cognitive scripts a helpful one for my own approach to Agile Work. Part of the work of a Process Facilitator is to help people to become conscious of their cognitive scrips, nurture diversity in the group so that cognitive scripts can be challenged to give birth to innovation. The key to this kind of change is for the Process Facilitator to work closely with team members to create repeated opportunities for this kind of interaction so that new cognitive scripts can be written.

It is helpful for the Process Facilitator to work with team members to reflect on the relationship between multiple redundancy messages as they relate to Agile Work. For example when starting an Agile project, beginning by reflecting on the fact that Agile Work transforms our competitive orientation towards work into a collaborative orientation. An examination of the multiple redundancy messages we receive in popular culture and corporate culture about these two orientations may be very useful for team members to become conscious of, if they are to make this shift in thinking and practice. As an exercise, a Process Facilitator could simply ask the team to list examples of corporate and media messages that support competition and those that support collaboration.


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Notes from The Sixth International Transformative Learning Conference Michigan State University Oct 6-8, 2005

Steve L. Robbin, Grand Valley State University, Professor and Diversity Consultant

His mother married an American Serviceman in Vietnam in the 1970’s and came to America. It was a bad time to come from Vietnam. He used to get beaten up at school. She never commented on this but when she would be cleaning him up the tears would be rolling down her face. She had come to America in hope for a better future for herself and her child and this was not it.
One time when he was away at university she called him saying that she had bought new furniture for her house and the store had delivered old furniture to her and refused to take it back. So he made a fake lawyer letter head and wrote a stern letter to the shop and soon after they delivered the new furniture with a dozen roses.
Soon after he married his mother called him and said that you have your wife to take care of you now. One week later he got a call from the police that she had hanged herself in her home.
When he had his first child he started to reflect on these experiences and to question some of the views he had about race and racism. Up to this point he had held conventional stereotypes of lazy Blacks, Hispanics etc.

Are we interested in diversity training or diversity education. Ask anyone with kids which they would prefer for their children: sex education or sex training?

You grow up in a middle class neighborhood with professional parents who tell you that you can do anything if…? “you work hard”. At the conceptual level we believe American society to be based on a meritocracy but at an operational level other realities affect the degree of success a person achieves: wealth, connections and access.

An African immigrant to America (a workshop participant)shared her experience of what the concept of working hard meant for her: a black person can work 10 times harder, losing her soul in the process and for what? To get to the top and be hated by whites for it.

“Truth is the condition that allows suffering to speak.” Cornell West
From the lens of “if you just work hard” truth and suffering looks like whining and complaining.

Sense of entitlement
The same workshop participant told the story of having worked for many years as a nurse and several other jobs at the same time and finally bought a house. She invited her white neighbor who was kicked out of his home to live in her house. After some time of supporting him (cooking for him and cleaning up after him), because of the demands he was making on her she asked him to leave. He refused telling her that she is only an immigrant to this country and that he is entitled to stay in her home because this is her country and she has benefited from this.

The American dream of solving the problem of poverty through material gain (working hard) has become intolerant of suffering and hardship. If you don’t overcome this suffering you should not talk about it.

Attribution Theory
1) We live in a just world and you reap what you sow
2) Fundamental attribution error: internal locus of control (they are there because they did something wrong)
3) Ultimate attribution Error: external locus of control (she got the job because of affirmative action)

People like Condoleezza Rice and Tiger Woods, Opera etc are held up as the rule and not the exceptional successes that they are.

Who here considers themselves nice?
N.I.C.E not inclined to critically examine

What is racism
Racism is a sociological idea
Any ism is a system of values, beliefs, behavior. What do you need to create a system? Power.
A Racist is: racial prejudice + power + discriminating action

Now Orleans situation:

Myopic – view things not in context of historical racism… problem to see things in perspective because people in power explain things away very well
“Racism without racists” De Silva the idea of this book is that you don’t even need racists anymore to have racism because of the systems of society.
“White washing race: the myth of a color blind society.” book to read

Shift from the manufacturing economy to knowledge economy is taking poor people out of the economy. In the past poor people could work in factories, earn better salaries and improve their material condition.

1995 the human genome project- one human race
In America one can change race depending on what state one lives in.
A mathematician spent a lot of time calculation how removed people are to each other and found that the farthest removed one person can be to another is 52nd cousin. Concept of race is very problematic
you can change your race based on what state you live i.e. one drop rule or one eight, or one sixteenth makes you black.

The first case in American history challenging the concept of all white men having rights was a Japanese man arguing that he should have the same rights as a white man because his skin is white. It was ruled that one had to be Caucasian and white to have rights. The next case was brought forward by an East Indian man who said that he was Caucasian but he lost because he wasn’t white enough.


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Authenticity in Teaching

By Dr. Patricia Cranton

“I value and see myself as an authentic teacher. To me, authenticity means three things: the expression of the genuine self in the community, understanding how others are different from us without attempting to make them into our own image (helping others discover their authenticity as a way of fostering our own authenticity), and critically participating in life—questioning how we are different from the community and living accordingly.”

http://www.stfx.ca/people/pcranton/


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Notes from The Sixth International Transformative Learning Conference Michigan State University Oct 6-8, 2005

From a Talk by Jack Mezirow, Founder of Transformative Learning Theory

Serious shortcoming of our culture is freezing people into positions. I have been a liberal democrat all my life and it’s very reassuring to share those biases with others… the hardest thing to do in adult learning is to step outside of this and to listen to others.

Transformative learning is learning that transforms problematic frames of reference to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, reflective and emotionally able to change. Such frames of reference are more likely to generate beliefs and opinions that will prove more true or justified.

Some transformations are out of the realm of understanding or conscious experience. Unless transformation also takes place in terms of critical reflection of epistemological issues it is not transformative learning.


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Notes from The Sixth International Transformative Learning Conference Michigan State University Oct 6-8, 2005

Debra Langon and Ron Sheese Professors at York University

They have a transformative learning research project with their first year sociology and psychology students. Their focus is on incorporating transformative learning into their practice as educators.

Principles:
Engagement, deep learning v.s. surface learning, reflection, caring and at the center of all this is collaboration

Old approach to learning is just a critical thinking approach. They use the work of Thar Bacon on constructive thinking “Playing the believing game” beyond just logic.

They prize listening as much as speaking so that quiet students are not marginalized.

They have been surprised that simply stating a value like caring in their project has affected the students and also changed their own inward orientation towards their work. Students have repeatedly reported that feeling cared for in the classroom has enriched their learning experience. The focus on caring has also rejuvinated their work as professors.


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Notes from The Sixth International Transformative Learning Conference Michigan State University Oct 6-8, 2005

“What Might Education for Transformation Look Like?”
Dr. John M. Dirkx, Michigan State University, Oct 8

Ego and rationality are servants of the education process. Learning centered on text (i.e. books, students writing, teachers writing and dialog between, or individual etc…) therefor forming a dialogical relationship of teachers, students, subject and context.

Jung speaks of pulling us out of the womb – individuation- this is about having a sense of self so that one can experience union and communion with others.

Create an opening

Engage the interest of students in the subject by activating the emotions, cognition and memory. Learning is fundamentally connected to emotion. Emotion is essential to the process of thinking, analysis and synthesis.

Construct and hold together patterns of information gathered around text. Use text as basis and have student re-story (that is, students use the text to create their own story).

Cultivating creative and critical thinking

Encourage analytic critique and synthesis and imagination. Foster the dialectic of intuition and analysis.

Fostering understanding – seeing the world through the “eye of the heart” heartfulness…building connections… deep relatedness or intimacy with subjects

Nurturing wisdom – learning to act wisely
Stay with ambiguity, cultivate a sense of wonder, put aside quest of certainty. Discovering the nature of the self “the transcendent self.” Deepening what it means to be in the world. Find out what we love.

What is transformative learning?

Holding the tension between:
Feminine and masculine
Agency and communion
Autonomy and interdependence
Will and willingness
Intuition and analysis

Transformative Learning has to be:

Experience based
Subjective
Depth instead of breadth
Reflective
Use of story
Imaginative and symbolic
Embodied (how the body takes on what it feels, for example when I am teaching my body also comes alive)

Further Reading:
“Nurturing the Soul in Adult Learning.” John M. Dirkx
“Strategies of Transformation Towards a Multicultural Society.” David Ablos
“Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood”. Jack Mezirow
“From Information to Transformation: Education for the Evolution of Consciousness.” Tobin Hart


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Agile, the Adult Educator and Ethical Considerations

A review of Tara J. Fenwick’s “Limits of the Learning Organization: A Critical Look” (article found in Learning for life: Canadian readings in adult education).

This article is a critique of learning organization literature (as presented in the works of Peters, Senge, Watkins, Marsick, Argyris, Schon and others). I chose to do a review of it because learning organization literature can and does inform the work of Agile practitioners. The writer, Tara Fenwick, offers a critique of this literature as an academic and practitioner in the field of adult education. Even though the language and tone of the article is judgmental and at times affronting to the corporate trainer audience, it is never-the-less challenging and valuable because she raises interesting ethical questions that can serve as cautions against potential trends that can distort agile practice. I will summarize her argument in the some of the areas most relevant to Agile practice.

Fenwick’s summary of the model of learning organization found in the literature, is an organization that: “creates continuous learning opportunities, promotes inquiry and dialog, encourages collaboration and team learning, establishes systems to capture and share learning, empowers people toward collective vision and connects the organization to its environment.”

The following is a summary list of some of Fenwick’s critiques:

Who’s Interests are Served
Although the learning organization literature holds great promise for a more humanitarian and egalitarian workplace, it has the potential to distort learning “into a tool for competitive advantage” and in turn, exploit people as resources in the pursuit of profit. To explore this idea she asks a valuable question: “Who’s interests are being served by the concept of learning organization, and what relations of power does it help to secure?” She argues that learning organization literature tends to serve the interests of educators working as trainers in organizations and managers interested in their own self preservation.

How Learning is Defined
Learning, in learning organization literature seems to be defined as that which benefits the organization, all other learning falls into the dysfunctional category. This perspective negates other ways that people create meaning and learn and potentially causes a person to become “alienated from their own meaning and block flourishing of this learning into something to benefit the community.”

Assumptions about Learners
The learning organization literature subordinates employees by seeing them as “undifferentiated learners-in-deficit”. Educators and managers are the architects of the learning organization while employees are busy “learning more, learning better and faster” trying to correct their knowledge deficit. In the learning organization workers become responsible for the health of the organization without the authority to determine alternative ways to reach that health. The fear of being left behind in a quickly changing market environment is used to create anxiety and fear as motivations for learning. All of these factors serve to put serious limits on the potential of people to learn in the work environment.

Diversity and Privilege Overlooked
Perspectives of race, class and gender -which research has shown affects the way people learn and collaborate- are lacking in the literature. Fenwick challenges the notion of achieving a democratically ideal situation for open dialog -that the learning organization literature calls for- when all people in the work place do not “have equal opportunity to participate, reflect, and refute one another” (for example because of the status of ones job, character, gender, class, age etc.)

Fenwick sheds a clear light on where the good philosophies of the learning organization are found wanting. The Agile community can benefit from asking some of the same ethical questions she asks in relation to our work. Her critique is a good challenge for Agile practitioners. It challenges us to:

  • Continue to strive for higher levels of ethical excellence in our work
  • To consider issues of power in our work
  • To become conscious of how we use our own power
  • To give thought to what voices are included / excluded in the creation of the learning organization
  • Pay attention to how we motivate learners
  • How to foster collaborative environments that are conscious of the privileging of some over others
  • Think about who decides what is valuable knowledge and learning and how that affects the knowledge creation process

Reflecting on these issues will go a long way to contributing to the development of agile practice.

The full text of an old version of Fenwick’s article can be found here.


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Transformative Learning and Agile

It seems to me that most people who have had any kind of success on serious projects, or in life, can probably point to a profound collaborative experience at the core of that experience. In my last posting, “tools vs. capabilities” I said that because Agile is fundamentally a process of collaboration and our culture is fundamentally is a culture of contest, we need to recognize that learning Agile requires a transformation at the level of character more than methodology. Despite the fact that we may have had profound experiences with collaboration, because we are also deeply influenced by our environment, there are limits to what we can understand about it. We need not look further than the agile disciplines to see how most of our working and social practices are not supportive of Agile perspectives. For example empowering the team and the concept of self-organizing team is a direct challenge to most of our social, economic, cultural, community and familial structures which are essentially hierarchical. The discipline of amplifying learning is a direct challenge to the practice of excessive specialization which manifests itself in the form of expert elitism. How can any one of us ever hope to have a culture of learning and innovation if we come from a culture of expertise and hierarchy based on that expertise?

This is where transformative learning comes in. Agile requires of us not just an ordinary, but transformative learning experience. When we learn, we take something new and fit it into an old category or assign an old meaning to it. Categories are ways in which we organize our learning, they can also be called frames of reference. If we encounter an experience for which we have no category it is hard to understand it. For example have you ever been in a conversation or taken part in a course where what you were learning was so foreign to you that you didn’t even know what kinds of questions to ask to help you understand it?

Our frames of reference are shaped through the influence of our culture, language, and experiences, which all interact to set boundaries to future learning. This is because outside of these categories it is impossible for us even to register something new, let alone seek out its reality in an unprejudiced manner.

How often do you find yourself in a new learning situation where you feel overwhelmed, frustrated or even angry? It is possible that at those times you may be at the threshold of a transformative learning experience. You can have two reactions: one would be to dig deep and try to figure out why you are disturbed and see what insights you are led to and the other would be to just give up on the idea and find arguments against it.

Another way to recognize a potential opportunity for tranformative learning is to reflect on the following question: have you ever had an experience where you were faced with some new learning and because you have had a similar experience or because for some reason you see yourself as an expert in that field you have not been able to derive the proper learning from that experience? You may have realized this at a later time after numerous interactions with a similar experience where you slowly started to recognize gaps in your own understanding.

In order to derive the full benefit of a new experience that doesn’t fit into the realm of our experience we must have a transformative learning experience. A transformative learning experience is an experience that requires of us to examine the values and limitations of our old categories and assign new meanings to them. This does not mean that all of our previous learning is invalid. A transformative learning experience allows us to expand our frames of reference to allow for more complexity and at times possibly to integrate two previously perceived dichotomous approaches.

For a detailed introduction to transformative learning theories, its thinkers and history check out this link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transformative_learning on Wikipedia.


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Tools Versus Capabilities Approach To Agile Training

Which approach is most valuable in training that fosters collaborative work for the purpose of optimizing the performance of an organization: a tools / methodologies approach or an inner capabilities approach? The typical orientation that most organizations take is often external and rule-based. This consists of creating methodologies, rules, boundaries, systems and processes to enhance collaboration.

These external approaches ultimately fail to have a lasting effect on people and the culture of the organization because they don’t address change at the level of habits of mind. People then work in the new structure with the same patterns of behaviour. Behind this kind of surface approach to change are assumptions about human nature. At worst this consists of a belief that people are base (greedy, selfish etc.) by nature. At best that people are fundamentally good but cannot improve except through external measures. It is true that we need external systems and structures to give expression to our inner capabilities, to test, foster and develop them in action. However all the investment that companies make in tools, systems, methodologies are obviously not enough. We need both external and internal approaches to training people in collaborative processes. Systems and tools provide only a framework that then need to be filled in with character. At the core of Agile there are disciplines (such as Empower the Team, Amplifly Learning) without which the methodologies would have no life. The practice of the disciplines fostered by the development of inner capabilities infuses life into the Agile methods and at the same time the methods act on and reinforce the inner practice of the disciplines.

As Agile champions (coaches, facilitators, practitioners) we must invest energy on fostering -through modelling and coaching- the development of inner capabilities. The Agile community will benefit from an identification of core capabilities required and a deep exploration of how to foster their development in individuals, teams and organizations.

Although it is our nature to organize in groups and we may have much experience with collaboration, we nevertheless live in a culture of contest and individualism. Out of this culture comes a set of belief systems which are so deeply rooted in our lives that we are not fully conscious of them and their affect on us. These belief systems cannot change easily through the introduction of external structures alone.


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Personal Philosophy of Adult Education

The following is my approach as an educator to my work in community and organizational development. I have come to this understanding mainly through experience, a great deal of mentoring and study.

Please note that when I use the term “teacher” in this document I also mean consultant, mentor, coach etc. The term “student” is also interchangeable with organization or community. The term education is interchangeable with organizational or community development consulting.

Validation: a starting point

Education should start from, affirm and validate the experience, insights and knowledge of the individual. This is a foundation for education that honours and respects the student. Recognizing the nobility of the student allows her an active role in her own learning. The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning by drawing on the experience of the student, to build on that experience through the acquisition of new insights, knowledge and skills.

Learning must be self-directed. The teacher may have a number of wonderful things to teach, but if the student does not believe that they are relevant to her, she will not be engaged. This is especially true for teachers who are working in communities that they are not a part of. The teacher must engage in careful investigation in order to understand the situation of the student, which includes attentive listening, as well as a genuine interest in the needs of the student, before proceeding along any line of instruction. Taking her cue from the students, the teacher must work with the individual / group to create a learning environment in which everyone takes responsibility for their own learning. In this kind of environment the teacher is not an expert and does not do the students’ learning for her. The teacher can use questions to assist the student to understand, instead of delivering answers. The teacher should also encourage an environment of learning that recognizes mistakes as part of the learning process. The learning environment should create in the student a hunger for the acquisition of knowledge, insights and skills beyond the direct experience with the teacher.

Encouragement: the key to self-directed learning

Once the experience of the student has been validated and her needs established, education should be challenging but not obtrusive and challenges must be presented with respect and encouragement. Encouragement versus excessive criticism leads to individual initiative instead of paralysis. The natural result of an encouraging and challenging learning environment is self-discipline and self-correction instead of external discipline (control) and constant external correction.

A transformative, holistic approach centred in humility and service

The learning environment should foster humility in both the student and teacher. Most contemporary approaches to education are materialistic; the student pays, studies, receives a degree, becomes an “expert”, etc. The whole educational experience, from the teachers to administrators, cultivates in the student a sense of self is that is based solely on the expertise and knowledge gained. The “Expert” attitude in the community development environment is often not useful because the work in the field is so complex. Many stakeholders have keys to the process, as a result, the “expert” attitude devalues the knowledge of others and tends to taint the path to solutions with conflict and ego. Another consequence of the expert mentality in the community is dependency; people are divorced from the solution to problems that they all contribute to and to which they all hold the keys. Instead of drawing on the knowledge of the stakeholders, the expert renders her own knowledge most valuable which in turn causes them to discard volition and succumb to a state of perpetual dependency on one expert after the other. Community members or institutions are robbed of the ability to play a central role in their own lives as a direct result of being robbed of opportunities to play central roles in the decision-making process of their community.

With humility at the centre of all learning, the purpose of education becomes transformation. We learn so that we, our communities and our institutions can improve and change for the better. Also as learning is applied to community efforts, individual capacity unfolds and is developed. Learning for its own sake is valuable, but learning for positive social change, makes the acquisition of knowledge, skills and insights relevant and engaging in the face of community development challenges. Learning then becomes intimately connected with action and is corrected and refined through action. This infuses a powerful sense of purpose and meaning in the learning process, especially as successes are realized.

Principle-based approach facilitates ownership

Education should cultivate a sense of personal ownership in the learning process and community life. Fostering a sense of personal ownership comes with educating students to have a mature perspective about their own learning as well as the changes they desire to implement in the community. It involves helping students learn the capability of ‘becoming’ the change that they want to see, as well as finding positive starting points in desperate situations and building on them. A mature outlook demands that students have a principle-based approach to problem solving versus a rule-based approach. Education then becomes not only a process of acquiring knowledge but centred on capacity building for individuals, institutions and groups. Fostering the development of capacities needed to overcome obstacles also requires a principle-based approach, embodying principles such as perseverance, human rights and dignity, building unity in diversity etc.

Integration and balance of methods essential

Education should be methodical and balanced. It should aim to acknowledge, validate and employ different learning paradigms: those of science, spirituality, culture and the arts. Systems of education that value science above the arts or spirituality are destructive to the individual and community as they create an imbalanced view of the world and rob people of a diversity of perspectives and tools that they need to face complex challenges. An educational program should strive to address the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical needs of students and not focus too much on merely one dimension of life. This is especially important in communities that have experienced extreme marginalization (colonization, oppression) where healing and wellness must play a significant role in the learning process.

Modelling Change

A key ingredient to success in transformational education is the example of the educator. As people, naturally we do what we know and what we have experienced. In order to change our patterns of behavior we need to begin having fundamentally different experiences than what we have known. The educator must be able to assist in the creation of such experiences. To do this she must be capable of modelling what is being taught and through constant critical self-reflection strive to exemplify in every action empowering ideals.

Summary

Learning and education are indispensable to all community efforts for positive change. The job of an adult educator is to assist individuals, the community and its institutions to adopt a posture of learning. This begins with working with the experience of the student, fostering self-directed learning and follows as the teacher interacts with the student to challenge and assist her to new levels of learning. With humility at the centre of all learning efforts, dependency on “experts” can be replaced with volition and independent decision-making. The potential of the individual further unfolds as she applies her learning to service to the community. Attention to capacity building and cultivating a sense of personal ownership -in the process of learning and community building- deepens the experience and truly engages the student in taking an active role in the development of her life. Utilizing all systems of learning in the education process ensures balance of methods and helps cultivate the infinite and diverse capabilities of human potential. Ultimately the success of an educator rests on the degree to which she is able to model the change she is fostering.


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