Monday, 25 August 2014

The significance of Eraut’s ‘Non-formal learning and tacit knowledge in professional work’ for researching professional development in higher education.

Michale Eraut is University of Sussex and SCEPTrE Senior Research Fellow, University of Surrey. Here is a photograph of him. I don’t know how recent it is. 

The article ‘Non-formal learning and tacit knowledge in professional work’ by Michale Eraut (British Journal of Educational Psychology (2000), 70, 113–136) is not a very recent article, but it presents very significant views for the Structure, Culture and Agency project. It would be a disservice to oversimplify this article in order to summarise it here. For this reason I am rather providing the author’s own abstract:

Background. This paper explores the conceptual and methodological problems arising from several empirical investigations of professional education and learning in the workplace.
Aims. 1. To clarify the multiple meanings accorded to terms such as ‘nonformal learning’, ‘implicit learning’ and ‘tacit knowledge’, their theoretical assumptions and the range of phenomena to which they refer. 2. To discuss their implications for professional practice.
Method. A largely theoretical analysis of issues and phenomena arising from empirical investigations.
Analysis. The author’s typology of non-formal learning distinguishes between implicit learning, reactive on-the-spot learning and deliberative learning. The significance of the last is commonly overemphasised. The problematic nature of tacit knowledge is discussed with respect to both detecting it and representing it. Three types of tacit knowledge are discussed: tacit understanding of people and situations, routinised actions and the tacit rules that underpin intuitive decision-making. They come together when professional performance involves sequences of routinised action punctuated by rapid intuitive decisions based on tacit understanding of the situation. Four types of process are involved – reading the situation, making decisions, overt activity and metacognition – and three modes of cognition – intuitive, analytic and deliberative. The balance between these modes depends on time, experience and complexity. Where rapid action dominates, periods of deliberation are needed to maintain critical control. Finally the role of both formal and informal social knowledge is discussed; and it is argued that situated learning often leads not to local conformity but to greater individual variation as people’s careers take them through a series of different contexts. This abstract necessarily simplifies a more complex analysis in the paper itself.

This paper is so important for researching professional development for several reasons:
1. It sets out very well the role of the immediate environment for learning and professional development, and why the immediate work context is so important
2. It explains why an individual learns both from formal programmes and informal settings, thus that both are important and require attention in strategies to enhance professional development
3. At a more theoretical level, the article discusses the value of ‘deliberative’ or more overt, explicit learning, as well as the value of more tacit learning. There is a tendency sometimes to emphasise the value of theory and explicit learning and criticize the role of non-formal or experiential learning, and vice versa, to overemphasize informal learning. A particularly deleterious outcome of the latter, is the statement, heard often in universities, that academics do not need to be trained to teach, as they have been doing it all these years. I find this polarization of views particularly unhelpful, and don’t believe that it advances our understanding of how academics learn to teach.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Concept of Rurality

I have just read a chapter on 'rurality' and students and higher education in the United Kingdom. Obviously the context in the UK and South Africa, with regard to rurality is different, but this is still a useful resource for our project, with regard to context. The focus is more on students than on academics. We have three universities in rural areas, albeit with different levels of resourcing, different histories and so on. We plan to talk about 'rurality' as one of the inputs at a panel we have planned for the annual Heltasa conference in November later this year.

The chapter, entitled Rurality and Higher Education: A conceptual analysis is by Neil Moreland, Joyce Chamberlain and Kepa Artarez. It is in Maria Slowey and David Watson (Eds) Higher Education and the Lifecourse. Maidenhead: SRHE/OUP.

The writers do not define rurality, but they do describe it as follows:

There is a diversity in rural areas; the dispersal of rural exclusion and poverty is often found amidst affluence (Rowntree Foundation 2000). As the Rowntree Foundation Report says: The main axes of inequality in rural Britain are social class, gender and age. The principal groups affected by exclusion are older people, young people, low-paid people in work, self-employed people, people detached from labour markets, and women . . . Other factors which are more important in rural than urban areas include low pay, inadequate pensions, poverty in self-employment, lower levels of benefit uptake, and fear of stigma in small communities. (Rowntree Foundation 2000: 4) Such factors are not likely to be addressed by free markets in educational provision at higher education.

I wonder if there are more recent writings on this issue, and whether there are some pertaining more specifically to South Africa or similar resource constrained contexts?

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The S, C and A group has been busy - latest news

Completion of Phase One

We have now completed all eight institutional case studies. We have started compiling a full report on the basis of the eight studies, and hope to have the report complete well before the end of this year. Our recommendations at this stage include the following:
  • that research be conducted into the ways in which history, resources, conditions of employment and geography impact on teaching;
  • the discourse, science and art of teaching needs to be uplifted nationally; 
  • the status of teaching and learning should be recognized; 
  • time and resources need to be made available for professional development;
  • the findings indicate a binary between research and teaching which should be addressed;
  • communities of practice should be supported as the data indicates that academics seek assistance from colleagues for teaching; 
  • the capacity, image and status of professional developers is variable across institutions, and should receive attention.
Latest Publications

Our two most recent publications are:

  1. Leibowitz, B. 2014. Conducive Environments for the Promotion of Quality Teaching in Higher Education in South Africa. Cristal, 2 (1) 47 - 73. 
  2. Ndebele, C. and Maphosa, C. 2014. Voices of Educational Developers on the Enabling and Constraining Conditions in the Uptake of Professional Development Opportunities by Academics at a South African University. International Journal of Educational Science, 7 (1) 169 - 182.  
Writing Retreat and Future Plans

18 members of the project participated in a very productive writing retreat at Montefleur, near Stellenbosch. We wrote, we walked and we formulated plans for the future. The plans include: a panel and several papers for the 2014 annual Heltasa conference; a colloquium on professional development, including on the findings from our project, which will be held the Cape in the last week of July 2015; and an edited volume on quality teaching and professional development with a focus on the social and relational aspects. 

Here are photos from the retreat: