A couple of years ago, I had the priviledge to facilitate learning processes in the context of an international classroom setting. In those years I started a blog space called Walks and Talks, inviting experts and international students to contribute their perspectives. Reviewing some of these blogs I realised how advanced these ideas were and how relevant still today. The last contribution to Walks and Talks came from Mulugeta Dejenu, at the time an expert in Self Organised Learning from Ethiopia. While asking Mulugeta if he would be okay with republishing his contribution he responded: "I forgot how and when I wrote the bove. I read it through and still preserved the warmth it had a few years ago. .Self Organized Learning is an area that I enjoyed and wanted to expand. (...) It is a course that has to be supported in the future to challenge our robotic behaviour of learning."
In a struggle to give shape to learning processes, Mulugeta and his colleagues were far ahead of many of us working in development cooperation. These are voices from the past that are worth reconsidering and put to use today counting on the possibilities of tomorrow.
By Mulugeta Dejenu
Capacity needs have systemic roots and are not isolated or standalone problems but rather interconnected parts reinforcing each other. This implies that capacity needs are interconnected and have to be addressed from a systemic point of view and not unilaterally based on a “wish list” of donors. How do we do that? What capacity is lacking? What are its systemic roots? How can effective learning being enhanced? How can we stimulate effective learning? These important questions will lead us to the basic philosophy of human learning.
Over the last decade partner capacity assessments were done at different times, formally and informally with the purpose to identify key areas of support. The assessments that were done were mostly linear in their thinking, heavily focused on assessing gaps and suggesting unilateral solutions despite the capacity problems being systemic. Assessments often end up with endless wish lists. Those wish lists are often given to comply with or make happy those who made the request for them. The wish lists may not necessarily represent what the learners want. Solutions to capacity gaps are often addressed mainly through trainings, the topic, design and delivery of which were decided by the assessor of the capacity needs and not by the learner himself. This often leads to learners attending learning events that they do not want. From stakeholders perspective the impact of such training was not often as effective as needed.
Capacity development is not about imparting skills and knowledge only but changing behaviours and practices to sustain them. It is the understanding of the key drivers of capacity development (CD) that makes the difference. Capacity Development is finding the right foci and a model that works and finding the right tools to support the modality, sustain it and scaling it. Again the drivers of CD inter alia are the intrinsic motivation people have to learn, where the energy and the desire come from the activity of learning itself and not from outside where it is extrinsically pushed. It is the liberty that learners have to be given to decide on their learning purposes (choices) and strategies that bring about change of behaviour and practices in human learning and not deciding what is best for them from without.
"our learning purposes are negotiated from within our workplace, private or social life and determined based on their relevance to us as we see them fit and not someone from outside deciding for us"
Learning is about being aware of one’s processes (task or learning processes), putting our customized behaviour of learning into conscious awareness. The freedom and choice to learn challenges our usual learning skills and enhances adaptive and reflective learning practices. This is because, our learning purposes are negotiated from within our workplace, private or social life and determined based on their relevance to us as we see them fit and not someone from outside deciding for us. Not only is the purpose of learning determined by the learners but the strategy and the evaluation criteria that they develop to monitor their own learning (the outcomes) and the review that they make at the end of each learning cycle.
This brings us to the Personal Learning Contract (PLC) that the learner develops as opposed to the “wish lists” that do not in the majority of cases seem not to have direct relevance to what the learners want to learn about. The learning conversation that the learner makes within his mind and with his colleagues brings out his mental model “schemata” for others to critique it and in the process of which new insights and new meanings (learning) are formed.
Learning is about a change of schemata or mental representations. It is an inference with evidence from experience, behaviour and can be nurtured through learning conversations and continual support. It is personal and can be accessed by the learner himself and to others when it becomes explicit during learning conversations. The learner can always access training as a resource in the pursuit of his own learning deciding which training courses he would like to attend (not imposed on him) and may also be shown in his strategy (PLC) of acquiring new skills in preferred fields. Those may not necessarily be the same as the external stakeholders have in mind.
What a thought-provoking piece that would sit ery well with today's development debate around localization, shifting the power and decolonizing aid. A refreshing perspective from the so called South, challenging the North not to push their own agenda's when doing capacity development or strengthening civil society for that matter. A plea for self-determination also in terms of what to learn about and for what purpose, which results from actively negotating the individual, social, economical, political and moral. It is aimed at acquiring knowledge that builds on lived experience, embraces academic expedience and furthers sustainable and inclusive development.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.