Tuesday, June 23, 2009

These four stage models

Yesterday I was holed up in one of the university libraries reading dissertations and theses and such. One of the most useful ones I found includes a beautiful, three-layered model of development which owes much to the Kolb four stage learning diagram thingy. I can't reproduce it here without the author's permission, but...

In the centre are four stages: information, analysis, preparation and implementation. In the next concentric ring we have 'describe focus' attached to information; 'explain', 'evaluate' and 'explore' attached to analysis; all the 'w' questions attached to preparation; and 'execute' attached to implementation. The third consecutive circle is slightly more difficult to describe, so I will omit it here. In any case, it has no real bearing on what it is I want to draw out of this.

I have often said that I have a tendency to leap about those Kolb diagrams. I don't enter neatly and obediently in one quadrant and then follow the stages compliantly. When we discussed the Kolb diagram during a lecture a couple of years back, I raised a few eyebrows with this claim. It wasn't the first time I had encountered the model or felt this disconnect, so I had had a few years to think about why there was a disconnect. To be fair, it wasn't the first time any of the others had encountered the model, either. It would have formed part of what they learnt at university the first time around.

The thing is, most of the people present were school teachers who had gone to university straight from school and then started teaching. They would have learned the theories before going out to practise as teachers. I practised as a teacher (of adults in the workplace) before I learned the theory. I wondered to what extent this impacted the way we viewed things.

Perhaps the rest of the class could see how practice included all the elements of the theoretical model and this confirmed to them that it was valid. While I came in with a head full of recollections drawn from practice, and could just see all the ways in which the model didn't fit. Or perhaps I am just more perverse.

Yesterday, as I was working through the material, especially the neat little flow diagram of development which followed, it dawned on me why it is that I don't think this model works.

Collaborative learning. Network learning. Social learning.

In this space, I pick up an analysis from one person on a piece of information I didn't previously have. I look briefly at the information to gain an overview. I read up on how someone else has done the preparation bit, and the implementation bit. Person A describes their focus. I read it and think, "Yup. That works for me." (or not, as the case may be). Someone explains, evaluates and explores their view of things. Someone else chimes in and tells them it's bunkum and this is why. I read all of this. I think "Hmmm. I wonder how...?" I share that question somewhere. Person B points me at Person C's shared perspective. Person C and I have a conflab. Several other people chime in. Person D explains how his implementation failed because of such and such a point. We all take that on board. I go back to the information and have another look at it.

So why am I not an obedient little follower of the Kolb learning cycle? Well, because of you, really. Because I like to discuss things with people. Because learning is and always has been a conversation for me. Before social media blipped on my radar, the conversations were face to face.

I regularly visit a nursery school classroom which has a poster listing the rules and habits of a good listener. It seems you need to sit quietly in your desk, look at the speaker and keep your mouth shut. I hate that poster. I also hated school! I was always in trouble for not abiding by those good listener rules. I wanted to look at a diagram or an article in front of me, and listen to what the teacher was saying, but then I might notice something amiss. I wanted to say "But, but, but...." Or maybe a penny dropped and I wanted to say, "Hang on a sec, so..."

In this space, I can do all those things! I can look at your diagram, read your blog post, follow your tweets, and say "But, but, but...." or "So what you're saying is..." I can say "No wait, that doesn't make sense..." And - hopefully - someone will answer me.

Isn't it cool?


Mark said...

"They would have learned the theories before going out to practise as teachers."

Oh, really? I don't know many teachers who know anything about education theory - apart from those around child development.

Very happy to be proved wrong, though!

Karyn Romeis said...

@Mark How disappointing! Most of the people in my cohort were teachers (I was the corporate anomaly) and they all had a working knowledge of learning theories. Sadly, they had a far greater knowledge of (and adherence to) learning styles, but hey ho.

I did the first half of a PGCE a few years back and we certainly covered learning theories there. So those who have done subject specific degrees and then gone on to do a PGCE must surely have covered them. Whether they subsequently 'know anything about' them, of course, is an entirely different matter!