Self Managed Learning: Theory and Practice - Mike Peckham
Cunningham (1) has defined self-managed learning as “…idealised adult action learning”, which to most of us may be meaningless. Few writers have managed to produce an understandable explanation of the term and yet, paradoxically, it is based on common sense.
PSA’s own definition is based on work by Cunningham (1), Rogers (2), Rowlands (3) and others. Self-managed learning is a developmental process in which adults take on full responsibility for their own learning. This sounds incredibly simple, and you may even be thinking, “so what does the tutor do?”
Unfortunately learners in our care rarely take on this responsibility and, therefore, it is the role of the tutor to make a subtle change happen. Donaldson (4) has suggested that knowledge becomes understanding when things matter; so in terms of learning it is the role of the tutor to enable learners to understand that it does matter and that therefore they need to take on that responsibility. Sometimes this task is earlier said than done!
The learning style which PSA uses is based on the following simple principles:
People learn best from experience; their own or sometimes other people's.
People learn things differently.
People need to learn different things.
The best learning happens when we feel in charge of it, when we have responsibility.
People cannot be forced to learn.
How can people become self-managed learners?
While it is wrong to generalise, it is true to say that most people regard development as something done to them rather than something they do for themselves – so how do people become responsible for their own learning? There is much in Donaldons’ statement about making things matter – so how does this happen? Unfortunately, to misquote a well known proverb, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it gather moss”! The difficulty has been that developers have tended to assume that it would be easy.
I believe there is a continuum which both developers and learners undergo in order to achieve self-managed learning. Early in the relationship learners are dependent on the developer and take low responsibility for their learning; in this ‘infant stage’ learners look to the developer to provide structure and context. Ultimately, in a mature relationship, this should reverse, with high learner responsibility and low dependency on the developer.
Before this point is reached, however, there is a transition period, in which learners start to take on the responsibility while tutors let go. This ‘adolescent’ phase can be challenging for both parties – difficult for learners as they find their feet and hard for the egocentric tutors to ‘let go’.
I hope this sounds familiar s it is the same challenge which developers face with managers – I spend a lot of my time trying to help managers ‘let go’ of their traditional roles, delegate responsibility and empower their staff. This continuum is shown in Figure 1.
Self-managed learning can be related to Revans’ (5) famous equation..
‘L = P + Q’ or,
Learning = Programmed knowledge + Questioning insight.
Revans defined ‘programmed knowledge’ (P) as the information that we are taught, often in an abstract way and generally using a fairly didactic style. ‘Questioning insight’ (Q) is the additional element that represents the learner challenging and questioning the ‘programmed knowledge’ to create real learning (L). The advent of the ‘Q’ represents the factor of what ‘matters.
So by relating this equation to the above continuum it is possible to interchange ‘tutor dependency’ for ‘programmed knowledge’ (P) and the ‘responsibility for learning’ line for ‘questioning insight’ (Q). Hopefully, this will help to make more sense of Ian Cunningham’s earlier quoted statement about self-managed learning.
What about the practice of self-managed learning?
In practice, it is the role of the...
References: Cunningham, I., "Self managed learning", The Journal of Management Education and Learning, Sage, London, 1992.
Rogers, C., On Becoming a Person, Constable, London, 1967.
Rowlands, S., The Enquiring Tutor, Falmer Press, London, 1993.
Donaldson, M., The Human Mind, Penguin, London, 1993.
Revans, R., Action Learning, Chartwell Bratt, London, 1982.
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