I’ve been reading around the topic of professional development/continuing education/continuing professional development… (and the combinations go on and on).

One of the areas that I’m still trying to tease out is why therapists appear to value the more formal learning over informal learning.  I write on this topic in my Frances Rutherford Award Lecture (hyperlink of article to follow one day when its published in the New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy).  I suggested that therapists in describing their best learning experiences will talk about an informal learning event – ie something that happened in their practice which they have had the opportunity to discuss with someone else, to question their thoughts and actions etc.  They describe  real events, where learning was essential for their practice (known as situated learning, or authentic learning).  However, when I ask what was their last professional development activity they will often tell me of a seminar or workshop they went to…. so it doesn’t add up.  Clearly for most the learning that occurs in the workplace is really valuable, but it isn’t the activity that comes to mind when asked a question posed at professional development.

Why might this be?  I suggested in the lecture several reasons.  The first was that we are like novice learners… we expect that someone has the answer somewhere and its just a matter of finding who it is.  Going to seminars or conferences would provide that magic ‘answer’.  I also suggested that we may behave in this way because we are in fact a young profession (almost 60 years old in our country).  the first therapists who worked in New Zealand came from overseas, our first school was staffed initially by people who had trained overseas, and more latterly most of the research and therefore publications/journals come from the US, UK and Australia.  Does this lead us into thinking that only external experts can provide us with the knowledge we need?

Tonight I was skimming a text called Creating a Learning Culture. Strategy, Technology and Practice edited by Marcia L. Connor and James G Clawson in 2004.  Chapter 8 by Cross, Abrams and Parker provided me with some other cues.  They agree with theorists such as Siemens and writers such as Stephenson that knowledge resides in our community, in the people they know.  Cross et al (2004) suggest that “other people are critical to our ability to find information, learn how to do our work, and develop professionally” (p 152).  This kind of makes sense.. after all if we get ‘stuck’ in what we are doing, most people would normally turn to their networks before checking out the net or their books on their shelves (more of us perhaps are turning to their networks on the web though!).  They go on to say that the make up of your network as a definite impact on your learning and decision making. As part of this they also go on to say that the quality of the relationship affects the potential for learning…

“In a trusting relationship, we are likely to listen to and believe more firmly in what the other person is saying; that is, we trust the person’s competence and will allow him or her to influence our thinking” (p 153) and another quote…

“gives us the freedom to ask questions that reveal our lack of knowledge because we trust the person’s benevolence”( p153)

This next quote really resonated with me… is this the reason we appear to value seminars/workshops/conferences?

“I believe that you know what you are talking about; I am confident that you have the correct information” (p 153)

This way of thinking would seem to fit with our interest in hearing what the international experts have to say… that is we ascribe them the control – you are the expert, you are invited to give lectures elsewhere, you research and publish – therefore I will believe that you are knowledgeable and I want to hear what you are willing to share…. This of course prevents critical though does it not?

Will be interested in seeing what comments come back – do you agree with me?  Do try the exercise – what has been a good learning experience for you, and in what way did you learn this – was it from your own experience, or was it from an expert telling you what to do???