Breakthrough learning – what lessons for staff development of academics?

Starting with a review by Will thalheimer I came across the book The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results by Calhoun Wick et al.

I won’t bother summarising the book. The review by Will thalheimer does a good job of that and the Amazon link lets you take a look inside the book.

Instead I want to pontificate/consider/reflect upon what the six disciplines are and what they might mean in connection with my thoughts around what needs to change about how university academics are supported in their course design and staff development.

The six disciplines are

  1. Define outcomes in business terms.
  2. Design the Complete Experience.
  3. Deliver for Application
  4. Drive Follow-Through
  5. Deploy Active Support
  6. Document Results

How well does traditional university-based staff development and course design fit within this model? Not real well. I’ll limit my comments to those that I’ve experienced. How general these observations are could be a topic for more research.

What I like about this model, or at least how I interpret the model currently and that this interpretation is not based on actually reading the book, is that it moves beyond the disconnected staff development process that focuses on some specific goal and is complete once the training session is finished.

Reworking some of these disciplines in line with where I’m thinking of taking the REACT process

  1. Define outcomes
    Combine organisational goals with those of heads of school, the individual academics and students (the addition of students is a new bit that I need to think about a bit more). Use those to define the outcomes of any given year’s round of “REACT” sessions.
  2. Design the Complete Experience.
    I’m not sure about this one. Not a fan of upfront design. Potentially replace this with a more emergent design. This concern may also be due to a difference of scale. The original might be limited to a single learning intervention. I’m thinking about a process that might last for a term or a year.

    In my situation, one of the first sessions would require participants to develop their goals, based on some of the above outcomes, and from that collaboratively identify the learning/staff development (and other actions) that are required.

  3. Deliver for Application
    The design of the subsequent development is aimed at helping staff implement specific plans for their courses. It’s designed to provide what they need to apply their plans.
  4. Drive Follow-Through
    I feel this is linked to the above and below points.
  5. Deploy Active Support
    The participants in this whole process are just not the staff developers and the academics. A broad array of other folk including senior managers/policy makers and “support” staff (i.e. the graphic designers, instructional designers, technology people, editors etc. that will help implement the plans). They participate to give input into designs and collaborate with the planning of implementation.
  6. Document Results
    Write these up in a fixed format and provide them via electronic means to enable sharing and reuse. And, go the next step, ensure the subsequent rounds are informed by previous results.

The other obvious part of “document results” is an evaluation of the results against the defined outcomes. Assessment/evaluation is a topic on which Will Thalheimer has somethings to say about including mistakes people make and a quick assessment audit guide

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