Doing PD Differently:Creating Knowledge Together With Group Learning Forums

Dragonfly LogoDRAGONFLY Consultation, Counselling & Research

Our priority at Dragonfly is to practice in ways that are in line with our beliefs and values. This means regularly examining what we are doing as individuals, professionals, groups. organizations and through structures, discourse, systems within society. This process includes reflection, reflexivity, critical thinking and casting a “critical” gaze (challenging the taken for granted assumptions and status quo). Stay tuned for a blog on this topic in the near future.

Professional and Personal Development is one area we have committed to focus on in our work. There is enormous potential in the field of development – personal and professional- to facilitate knowledge transfer and mobilization, deep learning and understanding and building capacity. Yet mainstream professional development falls very short in creating the context for the above to happen. I don’t want to inundate you with research or commentary on research (well not in this piece!). Instead I will present a few key points on why Professional Development these days doesn’t cut it for us at Dragonfly and reasons why we prefer to facilitate Group Learning Forums.

Traditional Professional Development Formats:
◾Knowledge and expertise is seen as residing in single people- often referred to as the expert.
◾There is a knower and knowledge producer – the expert AND consumers of the knower’s knowledge –the workshop participants.
◾Content is pre-determined, delivered via pre-determined timeline with pre-determined activities and processes. The emphasis of these formats is transmitting knowledge, the loudest and most prominent voice is the “facilitator” or the “speaker” – the expert.
◾This type of self-help or professional development event is often delivered in one-shot formats (one or two days). Minimal pre or post work is done. What is done post-workshop tends to be information gathering designed to provide feedback or promotional materials for the facilitator and not the participants.
◾Participants are for the most part passive receivers of information, beyond individual or group activities inserted to keep attention and facilitate further listening.
◾Participants leave workshops with some handouts and tip sheets and their personal notes.
◾Professional Development one-shot formats create reliance on “professionals”, “entrepreneurs” & “experts” to continue to teach and share information.
◾Reinforce and reproduce lecture and didactic methods of teaching and learning.
◾One-size fits all approach – doesn’t recognize the unique strengths and needs of individuals as learners.

Group Learning Forums

The emphasis is on process and dialogue
◾People constructing knowledge through dialogue and through relationships
◾Assumes and firmly believes that all people have knowledge to share (we are all teachers) all people can learn from others (we are all learners).
◾Through discussion, dialogue, personal critical reflection, and metacognition (thinking about how you think) activities and processes are developed to assist in generating, translating, sharing and integrating information and knowledge.
◾Bringing together individuals from different disciplines, different social locations, different “professions” provides opportunities for group members to integrate information in new and sustained ways.
◾Homogenous groups build capacity by bringing together group members from the same profession within the same setting. This way colleagues can have ample opportunity to collaborate, build in on- the-job structures and processes for ongoing coaching, support and mentorship in sustaining learning.
◾Learning is lead by the group, group members are active participants (beyond flipcharting and role-playing!) and will take on more or less active roles depending on chosen topics. Group Members chose to interact with the content in ways that are most meaningful for them as they pursue analysis, synthesis and integration.
◾Meanings, truths, facts, information are negotiated by individual members and the group to explore deeper meanings.
◾Participants may experience more questions when they leave a forum but with opportunity to explore it further, apply information or tools they have learned and process at the next forum.
◾Simultaneous outcome is to build capacity within the individuals and the group so the process of learning forums can be utilized to facilitate and sustain future learning – without the facilitator.
◾Participants learn to participate in and run learning forums as they explore a specific topic – they don’t have to rely on an outside expert. Vital financial resources used to pay “experts” to inform can be kept within the organization or system.
◾Create a network of professional (and potentially personal) supports for group members.
◾Provides intimate setting (group size is limited) where group members are seen as unique individuals.
◾Value and demonstrate through process, that participants’ experience, knowledge, ideas, creativity and skills are vital and key sources of information and integral to individual and collective personal and professional development.
◾Pre-forum work with group members involves identification, creation and/or augmentation of structures, systems, processes and resources within their environments that will facilitate the sustainable implementation of key learning into their professional/personal practices.


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