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School of Business Management, Graduate Program in Business and Project Management

Fundamentals of Experiential & Reflective Learning


Ali Jaafari, PhD Professor of Project Management Preamble Experiential and reflective (reflexive) learning is the foundation for professional development. This is sometimes referred to as clinical learning since learning and development of competencies take place as a result of active engagement in learningful activities under mentoring. One of the core competencies gained is the expertise to source, create, assemble, validate and engineer knowledge to respond to the challenges faced. Figure 1 shows the generic process, which is common across many fields. Professionals are thus increasingly knowledge crafters and integrators for the purposes of meeting specific objectives or creating strategic advantage or developing wealth-creating assets. This is particularly true of project management. Research skills underpin acquisition of this type of competency.

Databanks/ Own Research

Process/ Interpret

Information Preparation

Process/ Interpret

Knowledge

Process/ Interpret

Application 1

Application 2

Application 3

Figure 1: Knowledge Engineering and Management Process

. Copyright 2000-2007 Prof. A. Jaafari, all rights are reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced without permission.

School of Business Management, Graduate Program in Business and Project Management

Under a combined experiential and reflective learning students are organised into self managing and self learning teams to work on a given brief. There are normally two aspects of the work which indicate how students are developing, viz. the quality of work done as part of the brief and the reflective learning (self referential) combined with continuous performance measurement and improvements. Quality of work It is principally judged on the basis of the brief and terms of reference (TOR) contained in the brief. Assessment will be based on: Understanding and interpretation of the brief/TOR for the assignment; The extent and relevance of research/fieldwork and the quality of data, including interpretation, validation and classification of information obtained; The efforts in development of a conceptual framework for solution, including a model/hypothesis, scenario development, criteria for assessment and introduction of measures to validate the model; The application of the model to the data, interpretation of the results vis--vis the requirements and creative extension of the information; and The conformity of the resultant documentation to the Brief/TOR and the demonstration of the cost effectiveness of the solution as well as validation that the requirements have been met in full. Combined reflective learning and team quality management Reflective learning is at the core of project management competency development. It is both a skill and a process to professionalism, that is, in terms of professional competencies (comprising in this case project management, organisational, socio-cultural and leadership competencies. It is about learning from active and conscious involvement in the learningful activities within the team structure, and developing new competencies. There are two distinct parts to focus on: (1) total quality management (TQM) approach to teamwork (i.e. team performance assessment, feedback & continuous improvements); and (2) individual reflection on the work done, expertise gained, competency gaps identified and measures taken to self development and appraisal. Team expertise must as a whole match the spectrum of competencies needed to tackle an assignment professionally and it is the individuals responsibility to assess and improve their teams core competencies vis--vis the expertise required to deliver the brief. The team needs to establish performance assessment & feedback loops so that the teams performance can be enhanced (higher result for less effort). It involves designing performance indicators as part of the workplan, frequent performance assessment, re-focus on the objectives (or client/users requirements), as well as development or refinement of the work methods used. In the case of intellectual tasks it is harder to apply TQM concepts due to their non-repetitive nature and the evolving nature of the workplan (i.e. execution of an activity may generate new knowledge which may require adjustment of the entire workplan). The individual reflection will be on the performance achieved, methods used and results delivered by the team, including what has been learnt by the individual from the whole exercise and how she/he might approach the same sort of assignment in the future more efficiently. One of goals of reflective learning is for the individual to provide evidence that he/she has internalised the relevant knowledge and applied it judiciously to derive an optimal solution. Another goal is to know how the person is managing to become smarter, learning research and investigation methodologies, self learning and development techniques/skills and so on, as well as a focus on the professional development needs and how these will be satisfied. Thus, a thorough and deep analysis of the activities undertaken is essential as the focus is to be highly conscious of own competencies and the relationship of these to enhanced self and team performance. Generic approach to creating learning teams The recommended approach to creative teamwork and development of continuous learning teams is shown on top part of Figure 3. It is based on a four stage approach, viz. initiation, conceptual & fieldwork, synthesis and presentation. Initiation
. Copyright 2000-2007 Prof. A. Jaafari, all rights are reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced without permission.

School of Business Management, Graduate Program in Business and Project Management

Initiation is about planning the teamwork. It is a study of the brief and terms of reference for the work under consideration. It includes a proper interpretation of the requirements, stakeholders interests, scoping of the assignment, strategies for effective and efficient delivery of the objectives and scope, development of the activities to deliver the scope, validation against the requirements, control measures for both performance measurement and quality assurance of the entire process and deliverables. Conceptual & fieldwork This stage involves theoretical study (literature review), development of appropriate hypotheses and or evaluation framework/context, or development of analytical models, setting of criteria for evaluation of the results, fieldwork, data collection and verification/validation and other related tasks. The essence of this stage is to ensure that a thorough analysis of the background knowledge and associated techniques is made vis--vis the objectives and requirements, as well as setting boundaries and criteria for validation of the results. Data collection, formatting (to suit the relevant hypothesis/model) and verification of the same will also take place concurrent with the conceptual work. Synthesis Synthesis is about derivation of results and or solutions, including application of creativity to ensure that the solution is indeed optimal vis--vis the requirements. The solution often involves constructing a new reality (hence synthesis) from the deep studies gone beforehand. It also involves developing the solution to the degree which can prove that the requirements will be satisfied in full and that a reasonable compromise can be struck between the interests of the relevant stakeholders. This process may involve generating fresh ideas and creatively exploring these in repeated cycles of consulting, planning, testing and evaluation, all structured within the context of the assignment (Fig. 2). It also involves developing the selected method further and fully verifying that indeed all the requirements can be met in full. Remember that the object of synthesis is to create an intellectual asset via creative assembly and integration of information in ways that has normally not been thought of before, as well as development of the same to a stage which can be documented and presented properly. Presentation Presentation is about structure, contents and impact of the teams deliverables and whether or no these will satisfy the requirements of the brief in terms of the specification for the documentation and content classification/presentation. It is always a good idea to present the results visually, and succinctly, including the most important items of information in front pages of the documentation. Presentation may also involve development of physical and or virtual models, animation, process simulation and a whole host of other methods to communicate the outcome of the work achieved. Remember that assessors are always in search of that originality of the underlying concept/ideas and degree of ingenuity in relation to the goals and requirements of the assignment. One of the most important aspects of presentation (though not the only one) is to clearly spell out the worth of the work undertaken in terms of (a) knowledge gained by having gone through the various stages; (b) the potential application of this knowledge; (c) what should be done with the resultant output of the study; (d) who owns the project deliverables; and (e) who owns the underlying intellectual property content or the new knowledge created as a result of the study.

. Copyright 2000-2007 Prof. A. Jaafari, all rights are reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced without permission.

School of Business Management, Graduate Program in Business and Project Management

Objectives Opportunities Generate Ideas Waste Bin (Rejected Ideas) Constraints

Melting Pot

Successful Synthesis

Possibly Documentation & Implementation

Objectives Achievable? Yes

No

Develop to Terms of Reference

Fig.2 The Creative Process

Integration of work with reflective learning Figure 3 shows how the two processes sit side by side and integrate with one another. As seen from this Figure, there are two deliverables at each stage of the project: the first one relates to the brief requirements, the second relates to the acquisition of target competencies. Figure 3- is intended to convey a simple message, viz. each assignment needs careful planning and employment of the most efficient and cost effective delivery framework, tools, procedures and creative thinking. The plan must include points at which frequent reviews can take place in order to re-focus on objectives and evaluate performance to ensure that all the requirements will be met optimally. Table 1 provides criteria for combined performance appraisal and competency assessment by individuals in a team structure. Performance criteria defined in this Table are provided for guidance purposes and are not intended to be prescriptive. Additionally, the criteria should be read in conjunction with the module learning programme. Module requirements take precedence over the guidelines given in this note. Quality Assurance and workplan One aspect of team performance improvement is frequent review of what has gone on before, evaluation of team performance and continuous improvement of the team in terms of both team chemistry and work methods. In the case of an assignment, clearly the team must develop a method to assure that: 1. A system has been set up (e.g. Quality Assurance) which when applied effectively it will result in a set of deliverables that will meet the requirements in full (as per brief); and 2. The system has been deployed fully and where non-conformances have occurred these have been dealt with as per the relevant procedures in the system.

. Copyright 2000-2007 Prof. A. Jaafari, all rights are reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced without permission.

School of Business Management, Graduate Program in Business and Project Management

Initiation
Interpretation of Brief/Workplanning/QA

Workplan/QA Final Deliverables Methodology/model/hypothesis/ data

Start

Conceptual & Fieldwork


Set up Methodology/Model/Hypothesis Data collection/verification

Creative solution/design

Presentation
Report evaluate vis-a-vis requirements
Compile results, format & documentation as TOR

Project Brief (Requirements)


Stage 1
Cycle 1, Assess requirements, workplan & performance indicators

Stage 2
Cycle 2, Measure performance & adjust workplan

Stage 3
Cycle 3, Measure performance & adjust workplan for remainder of activities

Stage 4
Cycle 4, Measure performance & adjust workplan for remainder of activities

Competency acquisition plan


(Personal plan on using project activities to gain competencies targeted)

Competency acquisition review


(Identification of gaps and development of strategies to address these)

Competency improvement
(Gaining of new competencies & development)

Competency validation & documentation


(Holistic professional development)

Figure3: Generic process in experiential and reflective learning

. Copyright 2000-2007 Prof. A. Jaafari, all rights are reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced without permission.

Finish

Synthesis

School of Business Management, Graduate Program in Business and Project Management

The system and procedures for implementation and verification of the work of a team can be as simple as that in Table 2 of this document or as elaborate as a 100-page-plus QA plan, depending on the work under consideration. The scope, complexity of the work and terms of reference in the brief will give a good indication of the level of sophistication necessary to ensure quality teamwork and continuous improvement. Table 1: Typical Reflective Learning & Performance Assessment Criteria
Stage 1. Initiation Performance Criteria Current personal position, based on existing knowledge and competencies, in relation to the project brief Personal plan to satisfy the requirements of the project brief while gaining competencies targeted Evaluation of teams plan to satisfy the requirements of the project brief; team competencies needed and how these can be delivered Definition of project success criteria from a personal and team perspective Evaluation of personal and team methods and performance in defining the problem/developing a hypothesis or analytical model and the like Personal performance improvement plan, and evaluation of teams plan, for remainder of project Personal competency targets, and evaluation of self learning & development Assessment of the extent that personal and team results and/or solutions satisfy defined performance and success criteria Provision of constructive feedback to team members Demonstration of individual and team application of continuous improvement principles Personal competency targets, and evaluation of self learning & development, gaining of new insights into creative reflective practice Verification that all the requirements of the project brief are satisfied Reflection on personal and team learning and performance enhancement techniques Proposed improvements to the approach to the overall project based on lessons learnt Personal competency targets, and evaluation of self learning & development, new insights into creative reflective practice, reflection & evaluation of competencies gained

2. Conceptual and fieldwork

3. Synthesis

4. Presentation

. Copyright 2000-2007 Prof. A. Jaafari, all rights are reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced without permission.

School of Business Management, Graduate Program in Business and Project Management

Table 2. A Simplified Approach to Workplan Schedule incorporating quality checks


Responsible Person Planned Start date Planned Finish date

Code

Activity description

Moderator

Actual Start date

Actual Finish date

Acceptance ?

. Copyright 2000-2007 Prof. A. Jaafari, all rights are reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced without permission.