Posts Tagged ‘ELC’

Skills for Growth

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

I got on the train at Harrogate. I sat behind a man who got up soon after we had pulled out of the station – he went to the toilet. The train pulled into the next station which is only about a mile from Harrogate Station, and he suddenly left the toilet and got off the train. He hadn’t left himself much time, I thought. Then he looked back into the train from the platform – he seemed to be looking at his seat. Why did he go to the toilet directly before the station he was getting off at? Why was he rushing? Why did he look back at his seat? I had so many questions.

Some of us sit happily in the ‘Reviewing the Experience’ stage of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) or are shown to be strong Reflectors having undertaken Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles questionnaire. For others, this reviewing or reflecting is not a strength, not something that comes easily or naturally. As you can probably tell from the first paragraph, it sits very comfortably with me … or should that be too comfortably?

What is this process? Rowntree (1988) says reflection is, “… studying one’s own study methods as seriously as one studies the subject and thinking about a learning task after you have done it”. Unless you do this, he says, the task – as a learning experience – will almost certainly be wasted. In any learning situation, he adds, you should prepare for it beforehand, participate actively during it, and reflect on it afterwards.

Donald Schon (1983) suggested that to reflect “on action” so as to engage in a process of continuous learning is one of the defining characteristics of professional practice. He argued that the model of professional training which loads students up with knowledge in training schools so that they can then discharge it when they enter the world of practice has never been a particularly good description of how professionals “think in action”, and is quite inappropriate to practice in a fast-changing world.

The cultivation of the capacity to reflect “on action” (after you have done it, retrospective thinking) and “in action” (while doing something, thinking on your feet) has rightly become an important feature of professional training programmes in many disciplines. It can also be argued that effective reflective practice needs another person such as a mentor or coach, who can ask appropriate questions to ensure that the reflection goes somewhere, and does not get bogged down in self-justification, self-indulgence or self-pity.

If the student can be coached to identify the feelings they have experienced and the thought processes they have used – to reflect on his/her own learning – then learning will continue at a much swifter pace and ultimately with less support from the coach or mentor.

As the makers of the man’s iPhone say, “Think Different”.

Enabling a person to initially reflect ‘on action’, and subsequently reflect ‘in action’ is the key to sustainable self-development. Due to its importance, trainers, coaches and facilitators have a responsibility to ensure that this is a golden thread throughout all their contact time.

Returning to the man on the train … I got to ask him all the questions I listed above. That’s because having seen him looking back into the train, I had a look around his seat – and I found his iPhone.

When I returned it to him a couple of days later he explained that he had fallen asleep. When he awoke he needed the toilet, but didn’t realise how close to his station he was.

If he had reflected in action – as opposed to on action – he may well have not gone to the toilet, and thus not lost his phone – a significant potential return on investment! And whilst I accept that most of us are not at our most effective when we wake from a sleep, the more practiced and engrained reflection is, the more likely it is to become the default position, and so just happen.

It all made me reflect on how my son had left his iPhone on a bus a year or so ago – he also spoke to the person who found it, but they didn’t return it. Not all reflection is helpful …


Losing Equilibrium and gaining learning

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

I was running a coaching session with a senior executive a couple of weeks ago and they got angry at me. In fact, I can’t remember anyone getting quite that angry with me for quite a while. I think the last time was when I was running a session with an intentional affective methodology. It involved some powerful music to demonstrate the potential impact of poorly delivered feedback, and then how to deal with a recipient’s negative emotions.

On this occasion, however, it was very different circumstances. The coachee has given me permission to talk about the experience in my blog, but I will not go into specifics. Suffice to say I asked a question, they answered it and then there was a realisation as to how uncomfortable they were with the particular value they realised that they held. And, not unexpectedly, they got angry at me. And it was ‘at’ me rather than ‘with’ me.

Half an hour later, everything was fine – no, it was better than fine. They had accessed some powerful learning, our relationship had developed further and I had a real sense of achievement. And it was all down to the Adult Learning Cycle (ALC).

This is a model that is little known about as far as I can see. Having Googled “Adult Learning Cycle”, I got pages of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC). And whilst the two can be linked, they are very different. Having then Googled “Adult Learning Cycle Taylor”, I got a few hits in amongst all the ELCs. That’s because the model was developed – reasonably recently, in 1987 – by Marilyn Taylor.

Similarly to the ELC, the ALC has four stages. It is usually drawn in the form of a circular clock face with arrows pointing in a clockwise direction between each of the stages – and the stages are Equilibrium (12 o’clock), Disorientation (3 o’clock), Exploration (6 o’clock) and Re-orientation (9 o’clock). If that doesn’t help you picture it, here’s a link to a blog by a guy called Harold Jarche who has skills I do not have – he managed to create and post a diagram of it!

Going back to my coaching session, we had started happily in Equilibrium. What happened when I asked the question and my coachee suddenly realised about their potentially limiting value, was they moved quickly into Disorientation. It’s not a comfortable place to be for the person experiencing it. The coachee isn’t expecting it and so they can become confused, anxious – or angry at the source. And in a coaching situation, the source is often initially seen as the coach as they asked the question that prompted it. Hence why I said earlier that they were angry ‘at’ me rather than ‘with’ me.

Most people experiencing this want to get back to Equilibrium as quickly as possible – because it’s more comfortable there. Furthermore, they didn’t expect it, they’ve been caught by surprise and can feel vulnerable. If they do that, they ‘short circuit’ the model (by missing out the Exploration stage), and gain no learning.

This is the point at which the coach needs to support the individual, help them with their self-esteem and work with them regarding their motivation to explore the issue. The more that can be elicited from the Exploration of the matter, the more learning there will be. What was driving the Disorientation? What were the reasons for it being so impactive?

Once the Exploration has been completed, the Reorientation is where the coachee reflects on their findings and starts to make sense of it all. In the specific example of a couple of weeks ago, my coachee decided to change some of their work practices and prioritise aspects of work differently due to the learning. And then they are back in Equilibrium – but a slightly different person from the one they were when they were last in Equilibrium.

Due to the emotions involved, individuals working through the whole of the Adult Learning Cycle are often emotionally drained. It is worth helping them understand what they have been through – and the model really helps – so that they can see it is not an unusual process, and that it is how we can develop deep learning. Having said that, I generally only spend a short time on it at that point, and spend a longer time on it when we next meet – when they are less tired. If the person understands the process, there is more potential for them to be able to work themselves through such issues in the future – or assist other people.

It really is a great model. And as Taylor herself explained, “In my experience, many more learners are at the threshold of change than realize this fact. Even those who start out saying, ‘I just want a piece of paper’ or ‘I need this for my job’ often find that what they really wanted was to look at their life choices in new ways”.

So really, you never know when it’s going to happen!