Learning Advisers Workshop – Weybridge 4-5 May 2005

Weybridge is not a place I would normally stop at, and given the huge volume of trains that passed through when I was trying to make a phone call from there, I guess this is a feeling felt by many! On this occasion I did stop and along with 4 others spent a stimulating 2 days exploring the role of the learning adviser with Ian Cunningham.

Like the others in the group I am an experienced trainer/facilitator and there was part of me that wondered if two days was really necessary because the role of learning adviser did not seem that dissimilar to other roles I had taken in the past. What surprised me about the workshop was how much I learnt about the role, and how much more I feel I need to learn until I feel fully competent.

The role of the learning adviser is a shift for me away from directive styles of group working. I am going to need to learn to give control back to the group rather than to keep all the control myself. That may not sound that hard but it is difficult to break habits that you have developed over a number of years. Being a learning adviser is a different pace of work to the frantic pace that I have developed under increasing pressure to squeeze group sessions into shorter and shorter time spans. Fundamentally the role is about process and not content. I was reassured when hearing about Ian’s time as a group adviser to a group of technical experts at Eriksson and how he could still probe and challenge them even though their skill areas were completely alien to him.

During the two days we did some practical exercises to help us to develop the skills of an adviser. The most challenging was when we had to write our own learning contracts. It had been relatively easy to critique someone else’s contract but writing my own was much more of a challenge. I fell into the trap of writing business goals rather than learning goals; and this from someone who had read the books on self managed learning and completed a CPD record for the CIPD Upgrading process! I realised how conditioned I was to a particular style of goal setting. I also noticed how reluctant I was to move from the theorising about learning to the practical exercises; how often must learners feel this reluctance and how often do I allow the group to stay in its comfort zone, discussing theories and ideas rather than “what will I do/say”?

The fascinating feature of the workshop was that there was no real timetable. We had a beginning time, an end time and lunchtime but apart from that the agenda was created by us as we went through the two days. This felt to me like a recipe for a vague and unfulfilling event but if I look back at the outcomes that were suggested for the workshop I recognise that we covered each of these during the two days. The lack of prescribed structure meant that we could start where we wanted to in the process and cover those items that were of most concern to us. The frequent consultations about our progress against our initial aims, which we stated at the beginning of the workshop, ensured that we did cover everything we wanted and didn’t just drift into aimless discussion.

The great thing about the workshop was how much I learnt from the experience and the exciting thing about the workshop is the realisation that I have a new role to become competent in, just as I was starting to think that I had cracked this whole group leader business! Being a learning group adviser rather than a trainer is a new journey and one in which I will be leaving some of my previous skills in the left luggage department rather than trying to carry lots of unnecessary baggage with me to my new destinations.

Christine Bell – Bellthompson Team