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From Self-managed Learning to social, Practice-based Learning

Dr Rob Warwick, University of Chichester, introduces his latest research project with Mayvin's James Traeger: Practice-based Learning.
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Dr Rob Warwick, Reader in Management and Organisational Learning at the University of Chichester introduces his latest research project with Mayvin Director Dr James Traeger: Practice-based Learning.

Ideas are bubbling up for a new research project. And one keeps coming back to me and it is this: what might Self-Managed Learning (SML) look like in the 21st Century? This begs two initial questions: 1) what is self-managed learning (SML) and 2) what is so special about the 21st century.

In summary, SML was developed by Ian Cunningham (Cunningham, 1999) whereby participants had greater control over defining what their learning goals were to be and how they would go about demonstrating their learning. This was in contrast with most programmes with fixed learning outcomes, exams and other ways to demonstrate knowledge. Here SML challenges participants to think carefully as to what they want to achieve and why. As for the 21st century, we are clearly living in a faster-paced world that is less stable with daunting existential threats such as climate change.

In bringing these two together questions and ideas swirl in my mind, some of which will survive time and scrutiny, others will not. To give myself a chance I am looking at postgraduate study in the fields of leadership and the development of organisations. To emphasise, I am making a clear link between the individual and their social working melee, both are a part of each other.

The first question I come to is: what counts for knowledge for learning and organisations now? This question is too big; perhaps better described by what it is not, or rather how things are shifting. In organisations, there was the ‘go-to’ lert, often senior with longstanding. Similarly, in academia, there is the peer-reviewed journal for example, expert authors with expert reviewers behind the scenes. But how are we to make sense of fast-moving fleeting knowledge that relates to one context but less so of another, yet avoiding the trap of ‘fake’ in its often contested nature. And having understood what is around us, how do we build on this with others and communicate something useful. Similarly, how we understand and contribute to other’s knowledge work. In this sense, critical thinking becomes less of the individual and more social.

In this situation what might be the role of developers and universities be? This is particularly important if we are seen less for our expertise? In addition, how might this be recognised in a qualification programme such as a Post Graduate Certificate? How do we explicably recognise the three-way role of the participant, the organisation and university or developer more explicitly, given the slipperiness of understanding and knowledge? Perhaps what I am really interested in is Socially Mediated Learning?

Hot from the publication of our book, Organisation Development: A Bold Explorer’s Guide, this is a project that I’ll be working on with James Traeger. This week we met to make a start with a walk on the deserted winding beach at Pagham, a small harbour village on the south coast of the UK. Here we began the process of shaping what defines and interests us about the topic. I have laid out my initial thoughts and these will change and grow in the conversations we will have, as James’s views will do likewise. In fact, to catch the shift in thinking we are starting to talk about this as practice-based learning. And very soon we will be having conversations with others. In short, to start the process of socially mediated learning.

Reference: Cunningham, I. (1999). The wisdom of strategic learning: The self-managed learning solution. Oxford: Gower Publishing Ltd.

Read Dr James Traeger's blog on Practice-based Learning in a Digital Age

Read more from Dr Rob Warwick's on his blog Mêtis Exploration: thoughts on leadership, people and organisations.

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