Management is a practice, learned in context. No manager, let alone leader, has ever been created in a classroom. Programs that claim to do so promote hubris instead. And that has been carried from the business schools into corporate America on a massive scale. (Mintzberg, 3-16-09. America’s monumental failure of management)
Practice is what we do. Context has always been important for learning about practice and transfer has always been a problem for learning as it relates to practice. Does this make education all hubris? Two responses
The metaphoric response: Becoming educated is like becoming a gardener. Knowledge and ideas are the cuttings that we hope to grow into beautiful mature plants. Practice is the field that we cultivate by matching the appropriate cuttings with conditions we find (soil, climate, etc. . .).
The institutional response: Everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarden, but that only helps me if I can carry kindergarden around with me everywhere I go because learning once never seems to be enough. Because learning is lifelong, people need lifelong learning resources, not just a degree.
My best response: I like the idea of action learning as a response to the above challenge for the following reasons:
It orients learning towards action and problem solving. My Vogotskian instrumentalist background leads me to the conclusion that knowledge and ideas are about doing things. Mintzberg’s challenge is right on the mark. What you learn in the classroom is about being a good student, not a practice leader. Being a practice leader takes learning with an orientation to acting in the context of practice and the problems of practice.
It places learning in the contexts of diversity, peer learning and distributed cognition from the way that it places learning in groups or teams.
It fosters a questing disposition (see my 3-28 post). Action Learning’s questioning and reflecting process seems like a scientific and research orientation, but not in a narrow sense. It is about scanning the horizon for data to help frame the problem and then scanning the horizon for data relating to solutions. I would place more emphasis on research methodology (all varieties).
Coaching; It does not leave the team alone, but provides them with a resource person. This looks like potential role for the university services that extend beyond the classroom. Hopefully the coach / resource person does not stand alone, but has institutional resources that they can bring to bear to help support specific team learning problems.
I’ve already mentioned a need for research methodology as a resource to team learning. To this I will add measurement. I believe the questioning and reflecting methodology can be expanded to the benifit of this process.