PG Cert AP: Day 9

Back to the core module today, and in the morning session we discussed learning theories and how they are applied. One of my colleagues brought up research that people have a bias towards teaching in the way that best matches how they learn – something to be aware of. The learning theories we discussed can be grouped into four broad categories – behaviourist, cognitive, humanistic, and biological, and it was noted that while most of the work on learning theories has been done in the context of children’s learning, much of it also applies to adults.

The behaviourist school says that learning is built on previously learned behaviour, and should feature frequent and timely rewards and reinforcement. Notable theorists include Watson, Skinner and Pavlov. Cognitive theories argue that learning is a complex process that is constructed by the learner themselves, using new information to develop and transform existing knowledge. The work of Piaget was discussed, before moving on to social constructivism, the current hot trend. Building on previous cognitive theories, social constructivists argue that an individual’s learning takes place within their wider social and cultural group. Vygotsky’s concepts of scaffolding and the ‘zone of proximal development’ were discussed, followed by Kolb’s learning cycle. The humanistic category was discussed briefly, as a reaction against behaviourism and the need to encompass the whole of one’s life as a learning experience. Biological theories were not discussed at all as being outside the practical application of this course, and the morning ended with a brief debunking of the concept of learning styles, citing the work of Coffield and others.

The afternoon was about different approaches to learning – surface, deep, and strategic. Surface learning is superficial, with students learning only the minimum they need to complete the task at hand and often forgetting it straight away. For this reason surface learning is generally viewed as inappropriate. In my own work I see this all the time, with academics only interested in the bare minimum they need to do as they know they can, for example, call my team twice a year when they need to set up new assignments in Turnitin. What I would like to do is find a way to fully engage them so that their learning becomes embedded, just part of their knowledge and experience – deep learning. The new VLE should help with this by being more intuitive and user friendly. The strategic approach to learning is one that combines elements of both, choosing the best approach for the particular time and context. Perhaps our troublesome academics would argue that they are merely being strategic?

Session 1: Induction and Academic Skills


This first session of Leading from the Middle provided us with background and context of the course, including how the course has been designed and developed from what has gone before and the experience the CaPE team have gained in providing leadership and change courses for private enterprise over the last few years. Also covered were academic skills and writing conventions, resources available from the Library and HR, and what is expected from us as students, particularly around assessment.

The course has a single, two part assessment which comprises a 5,000 word narrative report which demonstrates personal transformation throughout the course, built around a work-based project, and a separate portfolio of evidence, around 1,000 words, which backs up the narrative report and is mapped to the learning outcomes.

Given the reflective nature of the assessment, a large part of the session was devoted to reflective practice and introduced us to concepts including Dweck’s growth and fixed mindsets, and Kolb’s learning cycle. The image above shows Snook and Nohria’s ‘Knowing, Doing, Being’ model where ‘Knowing’ is your education and experience, ‘Doing’ is your skills and competencies, and ‘Being’, a commonly neglected area which describes your beliefs and values. Also discussed were some common management styles – the seagull, the mushroom and the plate spinner – and the place of middle managers which we identified as both the most difficult position to be in, having to keep different layers happy, but also possibly the most influential.

The specified aims of the programme, as quoted from the module guide, are:

  1. Personal development of students;
  2. Develop transformational leadership;
  3. Lead and manage change;
  4. Transfer learning into the workplace.

There are detailed learning outcomes broken down into knowledge and skills, but there is also a more concise summary in the module guide which is it also worth quoting:

  1. Increased confidence in undertaking management responsibilities;
  2. Self awareness of preferred leadership style and preferences when communicating with, and influencing others;
  3. Understanding leadership theory and the principles of leadership, particularly within an HE environment;
  4. How to work with your staff to create a high performing team;
  5. Be equipped with skills and knowledge to hold conversations with a purpose such as providing feedback and communicating during times of change.

With regards to the work-based project, some initial thoughts I have are the implementation of a call logging system for the team, something I’ve wanted from day one but which could be difficult for political reasons, as the university does actually have a system in place but it is just not suited to our needs and so doesn’t get used; something around making improvements in accessibility of the VLE and learning materials, something I am already involved with but it could be firmed up to become a proper project with definitive outcomes; or developing some bespoke learning materials for our Oculus Rift, something I would like to do but it would need an academic partner and have some real pedagogic benefit to warrant the development time that would be required. HR will be approaching line managers during January to discuss possibilities and scope as it is a desirable aim of the project to get some concrete benefit for the university out of it, though from the perspective of the course the outcome of the project is secondary to how it is managed and how we change and use what we are learning in the delivery of the project.

A very positive session on the whole, and I hope that the more I learn the more I will be able to resolve the tension I have between being a developer and wanting to make things and help people, and being a manager with a duty to lead my team and take responsibility for all of our work collectively.

Finally, as a piece of ‘fun homework’, we were asked to think of a song that describes our management style. I think I have failed in this exercise, but I do think that Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ does a great job of describing the position of middle managers in general!