With the digital age heralded as the end of expertise, Mayvin's Dr James Traeger considers what new possibilities this brings to Practice-based Learning.
The day after Rob Warwick and I went to Pagham Harbour - where we stood on the spit of pebbles, that felt like it was miles out to sea - and commissioned our new project around Practice-based Learning, I went to see my dental hygienist for my regular six-monthly check-up. Or at least I thought it was going to be my hygienist, but it turned out that my usual one was ill, and a stand-in had been found who could see me at the last minute.
Now, I don’t know anything about how to be a dental hygienist, except of course from the point of view that I have been on the receiving end of a fair few of them over the years (which may, of course, be germane here, as you will see).
I duly submitted myself to having someone I’d never met before, whose face was obscured by a mask, dig around in my mouth for half an hour or so. I have had the same hygienist for a few years now and I suppose I had grown used to her touch. I hadn’t, in fact, realised this until the new person started to do her work. I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say she was faster and rougher. As I lay there, staring at the ceiling, I wondered whether it was my place at all to say anything. (Not that this would be easy). It occurred to me that it might be useful to her if I gave her some of my advice. But who am I to do so? The job was done efficiently enough. She didn’t do any lasting harm and my teeth feel as well cleaned as ever. But it got me thinking again about practice, learning and the readiness we have to accept the craft of the expert. As someone on the receiving end, literally, of their craft, what right did I have to give feedback?
Bringing this back to my own practice, it suggests to me that essentially I could learn from at least three constituencies:
- People who have deep experience of my practice world (i.e. the ‘experts’)
- People who are on the receiving end of my craft (the ‘clients’)
- People who take an interest from a relatively dispassionate position (peers, for example, but also anyone who may be interested enough to be looking or sharing an interest in my world of practice)
I am not someone who advocates the post-Trumpian end of expertise. There will always be technical knowledge that is best taught (or at least caught) by pupils, from adepts. But when it comes to refining one’s craft, how far does the inexpert have a useful view?
This and other related questions bubbled around me as I considered our conversation about practice-based learning. It also struck me that, in the digital age, the proliferation of data and web-based knowledge means it becomes much easier to access stuff that could be useful to enhance learning about our ‘craft’, whatever that might be. The latter group of the three I mention above is particularly enabled by a digital capacity. I can now both passively (through my own surfing) or actively (through networking and connecting) access the views of an extraordinary community of practice, beyond anything that could have be dreamt of at a time when the pioneers of action learning or self-managed learning, such as Reg Revans or Ian Cunningham, were developing their thinking.
A quick google proves my point: https://microcopydental.com/blog/entry/10-great-blogs-and-bloggers-for-dental-hygienists
So as we embark upon this new inquiry into the future of practice-based learning, I am inspired by my slightly heavy-handed, be-masked friend standing over me as I lay back in the chair, saying ‘agh!’