An action guide to action learning

Erik de Haan
Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2004


The era of learning with colleagues

A book about learning with colleagues is entirely in keeping with the spirit of our times. Both the content and role of ‘work’ have changed radically in the West in recent decades. Where we work can no longer be predicted on the basis of family background and education. How we work changes almost from month to month, if only due to new developments in the field of information and communications technology. What we expect from work is no longer clear either: for most of us, it is not just about earning a living. Work now serves other purposes, for example satisfying our more personal needs such as recognition, influence, self-expression and self-fulfilment. As a result, we now expect more and more from work and, by the same token, work has come to ‘expect’ more of us. Our working lives are gradually becoming more exciting and more interesting. It is becoming increasingly difficult to take refuge behind unique expertise or customised approaches – instead, we now have to find a tailored solution for every job or client, to show more of our personal side in our work and to make that personal side ‘effective’. ‘Work’ is becoming more like ‘school’, in two respects:
  • In the contemporary sense of school: a place of training, centre of education, learning environment, independent study centre. A place we go to seeking self-development and self-fulfilment.
  • In the original, Greek sense of scholè: leisure, rest, pleasure and, paradoxically enough, idleness and ease. A place we go to find ourselves, to reflect and to spend time doing things that really matter to us.

Not surprisingly, many people find that the boundaries between the work and private spheres are becoming blurred, and increasing numbers of us feel we are more our ‘true selves’ at work than we are at home.
In line with the spirit of the times, we want to learn at work and are keen to embark upon training courses and personal development activities directly connected with our work. We feel a greater need to talk to colleagues about our personal development, and even to work with them towards that development.
That is the basis of learning with colleagues, which does not mean training periods, skills training or on-the-job training. Learning with colleagues goes much further than that and involves:
entering into a deeper relationship with your colleagues in order to learn from them;
being vulnerable and openly discussing your strengths and weaknesses;
finding the limits of your expertise and exploring the territory beyond those limits together with your colleagues; and
seeing this process of searching and exploration as an integral part of your work.
If you don’t do this, how are you to stay ‘professional’ and what are you going to learn from as a professional? Textbooks, which are outdated almost as soon as they reach the shelves? Clients and customers, who themselves aren’t sure what questions they want to ask you?
In my view, peer consultation is an activity that fits in with both meanings of school; the learning environment and the place of leisure. Of the numerous ways in which you can develop yourself as an individual, peer consultation has the advantage that you organise consultation sessions with and for colleagues, they can be held close to your own place of work and, in many ways, they offer the much-needed peace and concentration. This book therefore starts with an introduction to peer consultation as a way of learning with colleagues. Later on, Part IV introduces other forms of learning which establish a closer link with your own work and place greater responsibility for learning on your own shoulders.


table of contents
Preface XI
Introduction: professionalisation through joint reflection
Peer supervision and action learning: similarities and differences
Peer supervision: the profession at the centre
Action learning: the professional at the centre
Peer supervision and action learning: the main difference
Who or what is at stake?
The art of asking questions
Closed and specific questions
Open questions
Questions to be handled with care
Structuring and summarising
Consultation methods
Brief introduction to each method
The supervision method
The feeding-back method
The problem-solving method and the Balint method
The learn-and-explore method
The dominant-ideas method
The U method
Learning from success
The ten-step method
The five-step method
The gossip method
The clinic method
The storytelling method
The hologram method
Organisation constellations
5 Choosing the right method
6 Preconditions: fostering peer supervision and action learning
Relevance of issues

Introduction: facilitation of consultation groups
7 The role of the facilitator
Who assumes this role?
Facilitation of peer supervision
Facilitation of action learning
8 Methodical structuring of the facilitator’s role
a. Getting started and choosing a method
b. Contributing issues
c. Asking questions
d. Exchanging ideas, views, problem descriptions, etc.
e. Consultation
f. Evaluation
Creating conditions for mutual learning
Deferring judgment
Striving for an open approach
Exploring the relationship between issue holder and issue
Reversing roles
Giving feedback
Keeping an eye on the mirror
a: Through the eyes of the issue holder: what are we looking at?
b. The topic becomes the focus of recognition
c. Reflections of there and then
d. Lack of focus: diffuse scatter
12 Encouraging development
Encouraging consultation work
Encouraging group development
13 Handling difficult moments

Introduction: authorities on learning
14 Some concepts and definitions
15 Four learning styles
Single-loop learning
Double-loop learning
The full cycle of experiential learning
16 Learning to learn better
a. Meta-learning
b. Self-managed learning
c. Facilitating learning
17 Upward spirals: life-long learning
18 Downward spirals: fantasies and limitations
The unpleasant and unpalatable aspects of learning
Attempts to break out of the spirals

Introduction: the boundaries of peer consultation
19 Peer consultation as a complement to training and practice
How does peer consultation fit in with Kolb’s learning cycle?
What are the advantages of peer consultation?
What are the drawbacks of learning in peer consultation groups?

20 Extension I: short-cycle learning
This book Learning with colleagues as an example of the EPCS model (Experience, Problems, Concepts, Skills)
Application to peer supervision and action learning
21 Extension II: project-based action learning
What do we mean by project-based action learning?
The main principles of project-based action learning
Salient differences between project-based action learning and peer consultation

22 Extension III: self-managed learning and learning networks
What do we mean by self-managed learning?
What do we need to establish self-managed learning with colleagues?
Learning networks as an example of self-managed learning
The main principles of learning networks
Salient differences between self-managed learning and peer consultation and project-based action learning

Appendix A Observation forms
A.1 Binary observation form
A.2 Multiple choice observation form
Appendix B Log books
B.1 Participants’ log book
B.2 Process facilitator’s log book
Appendix C A mnemonic device for giving feedback: the four Gs
C.1 Critical feedback
C.2 Constructive feedback
Appendix D Learning style inventory
Appendix E Survey of peer consultation:
How do participants learn?
Definition of the problem addressed by our survey

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