Economics Magazine

After Action Reviews in Self-Managed Learning

Posted on the 27 July 2011 by Combi31 @combi31

After Action Reviews in Self-Managed Learning

Teaching, in my opinion, as I have mentioned in numerous blog posts has a very limited efficacy rating and is almost ineffective and inefficace in an adult learning setting.

Adult learners – that is, those that take learning in any way serious cannot be stimulated to learn through teaching, except, perhaps, in some very exceptional cases.

Teaching does not encourage deep learning, but rather fosters surface learning that can be attractive to learners who are unwilling or unready to engage in any form of self-development that would fall into the category of learning. Teaching deals with content, that is dependent on discrete and specific context, whilst facilitation focuses on process and the ability to adapt learning to multiple and ever-changing contexts.

In order for facilitation to take precedency over teaching in a learning setting it is necessary that the learner engages in their own learning process, outside of the training room.

Training is what happens in a training room – this sounds pretty logical!

Learning is what happens outside of the training room, whether it be by way of application or through Self-Managed Learning (SML).

What is Self-Managed Learning?

Self-Managed Learning (SML) is the work that a learner does in between training events or prior to the application of learned skills in a practical setting – at work etc.SML, is an integral part of Lifelong Learning, the notion being that if a learner interacts with their own learning, as opposed to being a part of the wallpaper, and actually learns by doing through experience, then learning will take place.

Now, we should make a clear distinction between what can be perceived as homework and that which is SML. Homework is a task given, usually by a teacher to a student or a pupil to be later checked and graded as part of a curriculum of work.

SML is a completely different thing. Tasks can be given to a learner, at the outset, especially if autonomy of the learner is low, but this is, generally, a temporary situation.

Adult learning should be more about learning contracts by way of learning objectives, set jointly between the facilitator and the learner and agreed upon, at this point SML kicks in.

Self Managed Learning is exactly what it says on the tin: Managed by the learner in as much as the learner has choices, Where they work, When they work and to a greater extent, How they work and What they work on.

The ‘How’ aspect is something that can be enhanced and improved upon by working closely with learners, taking into account that each learner will have their own preferences in the When, How and Where and the questions are not as simple as they may seem.

It is important that learners are able to effectively evaluate, When is the best time to learn, in terms of the day or the times of day – we all have our own learning Prime Time and Down Time – when we are receptive, aware and able to absorb knowledge. It is of no use trying to swim against the tide here – if, after a day at work, you are too tired to effectively work on your learning – then do not do it, find another time that works for you.

The same is true of where you work on your learning – some people need utter silence, others can work with a level of background noise.

I would consider it important for myself to be in a place where there is a source of natural light during the day, that the room is warm and comfortable too, and this may be a similar choice for many people.

Variety is important when learning, so too is the opportunity to test the learning out – to evaluate what we have learnt, to be able to evaluate our progress or retention of principles and knowledge.

Self managed learning is not about leaving learners to their own devices, autonomy is not this neither, it is about informed choice and the freedom to exercise choice in learning.

Metacognition – Thinking about thinking

One of the most important facets of Lifelong learning is what is called Metacognition, put simply, Thinking about our thinking, which is a vital aspect in SML in order to actualise and streamline our own learning process and one useful way to engage in theis is by thinking about what we are doing. The idea being that – if what you are doing is not working try something else, or more accurately, try doing it in another way.

After action reviews (AAR)

are very useful in providing a framework to do just that, an AAR in a knowledge management situation, is simply the following:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why were there differences?
  • What can we learn from that?

For self-managed learning we can use this framework and adapt it to go deeper into the subject by customising the outline into three phases thus:


Phase 1

  • What did I set out to do?
  • What did I do?
  • Why is there a difference?
  • What can I learn from this

Phase 2

  • Why did I set out to do this like I did?
  • Why did I end up doing it like this?
  • What did I learn from this that I can re-use?

Phase 3

  • How can I improve on what I did?
  • Will I try it again like this? (Y/N – why? why not?)
  • What have I learnt from doing it this way? (Positive / negative aspects all have worth)
  • What have I learnt that I didn’t set out to learn?

Metacognition entails a certain level of introspection through self-questioning, which can be further enhanced by questioning from a facilitator, with the desire to help actualise the learning process and to learn by what has been carried out.

An interesting facet of learning, which is so often overlooked, is ‘serendipitous’ or accidental learning – learning things that we didn’t set out to do, be it from the content or about ourselves as learners.

It is important that there is traceability of the AAR, that can be compared and contrasted to further enhance continual lifelong learning at a later date and that is built seamlessly into the learning process as a critical thinking tool that helps learners take a meta-stance concerning their own learning, with the aim of constant improvement.

An AAR can really help in this process and can help learners to achieve their full learning potential in terms of the work carried out in SML, but I had just better add, to avoid any confusion, that SML on its own does not work and will not work as learning is a social practice.

We can perhaps learn some things on our own, but the application of the fruits of learning is usually implemented in a social context – at work, university etc.It is vital that learning is facilitated and ‘activated’ by a facilitator in order to ensure the transferability of the learning, to anchor and consolidate learning.

SML and Lifelong learning require change, that can sometimes be difficult to embrace as we may have to confront our own received ideas and that of our past experiences of learning that can be uncomfortable in terms of rethinking the past, in terms of learning, and then changing.

Actually giving up routine and habits for the new, is very difficult to do, there also has to be a realisation that it just will not happen overnight, it is a very long, sometimes painful, but inevitably extremely rewarding process.

As with anything that is ultimately worthwhile, there are no shortcuts and instant gratification is just not part of the agenda – at least at the initial stages.

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