A New SML Resource is Being Developed

The same team of Ian Cunningham, Ben Bennett and Graham Dawes that brought you (or maybe not you, specifically, if you didn’t buy one) the ‘Exercises for Developing Coaching Capability’ (Institute of Personnel and Development Publications, London. Published in USA as ‘The Coaching Skill-Builder Activity Pack’ by the American Management Association, New York) are at work on the ‘Handbook of Work-Based Learning’ for Gower.

The phrase ‘work-based learning’ has become the overarching term for all manner of approaches which, as it says on the can, are based on learning in the work context. All the methods pre-dated the existence of the term but now the term provides a home for those wayward children that were counterposed to academia. Today, such approaches find a place in academia, as routes to qualifications, through being given entrée to the academic fold in the name of work-based learning. Perhaps of most significance, the recognition of work-based learning is indicative of a broadening in the way in which learning is being conceived of today.

This is hugely important and, while all of us in the CSML network are advocates of learning, we must remember that the idea of learning is, for many, still tied to disaffecting school experiences and thus is distinctly unappealing. At the same time, organisations, albeit more in protestation than practice, are increasingly recognizing that learning is the only surfboard on which to ride the waves of change. To switch around that old saw about ‘sink or swim’, the real choice, when facing change, is made earlier: it is a matter of ‘learn to swim, or sink’.

The ability to learn is the barely tapped mother lode in organisations. That’s where the gold comes from.

To help organisations and individuals mine that gold, the handbook will present material on three levels: Strategy, Tactics and Methods. As those labels suggest, the intention is to cover the territory, showing what work-based learning has to offer at the level of the big picture and long time horizon, what tactics are available to implement the strategy, and the methods through which the rubber hits the road.

An example of a link from strategy to tactics to methods might be the following. You are fortunate enough to be allocated a mentor who works with you over a period of time to support your development. You and your mentor may come to realise that you need to broaden your experience in order to progress your career. An idea that may come up is to undertake a project at work which will take you out of your normal duties. The mentor is here behaving strategically with you and the project may prove to be a useful tactic as part of your overall learning strategy.

However you might find that, in pursing the project, new learning needs are thrown up. Hence you may need to consider the methods by which you will learn them For instance you might need to learn project management skills – and there could be a range of learning methods open to you. There may be a computer-based package that you can use, or a video tape to watch, or a book to read, and so on. The diagram below shows the progression through the levels diagrammatically.

How will the handbook be useful for SML?

It is in what the handbook will provide to the individual that it will be most useful for SML. Having chosen SML as an approach would be a strategy decision in terms of work-based learning and, indeed, SML features among the strategies covered in the handbook. And within that strategy the use of learning contracts is a tactic. However, when a learner has established learning goals there is that learning contract question, How will I get there?

We have always said that, at that point, you step into a universe of endless possibilities, limited only by the limits of your imagination. At the same time, we also talk through with participants a range of things that can and have been used by learners on their journey from here to there. The examples we give are just the kind of things that will appear in the tactics and methods sections of the handbook.

The advantage for those running SML programmes is that by giving participants this handbook they are, effectively, giving them a whole host of ‘how-tos’ on which to draw for their journey.

Graham Dawes