20 years ago – wrappping up the EMP project

20 years ago we were doing a roadshow on the outcomes of the NQF Pilot project for Engineering & Manufacturing Processes. Funded by the Department of Labour it’s goal was to try and provide a test bed for the proposed conceptual basis of the National Qualifications Framework – in this case primarily unit standards.

It had been a stressful process involving many stakeholders who had not engaged previously, professional bodies, unions, business – mostly in the form of trainers, education institutions (what we later started to call education and training providers) and an examination body (the Independent Examination Body).

From time to time I bump into one the alumni of that process – alumni because we all graduated from there having learned so much.

I often run a workshop exercise which asks the question – what was your most powerful learning experience. I always choose this one although it’s touch and go between that and eventually mastering the kink at the end of the main straight at the Lichtenberg race track. A story for another day.

What I learned during this project was to facilitate processes. There were no hand books or guidelines for facilitation. The World Wide Web was new. There was no Google, in fact very few search engines at all. I had to transition from WordPerfect to Microsoft Office, from DOS to Win 3.11.

We had two sets of working groups. One started on a Monday and worked through to 19:30 and then finished up shortly at lunch on the Tuesday. The next set arrived on the Thursday and left Friday pm after a similar long Thursday. Wednesday was recovery day.

I had to learn to manage conflict, steer people in the right direction, recognise when groups were headed for the edge of the cliff. And lead the development of taxonomies for essential embedded knowledge, skills and assessment criteria .

But what a rush – it was learning to race motorbikes all over again, switching from driving to racing.

We focused on learning in the workplace. So it was a pity SAQA never had any real interest in what we learned and achieved. And sadly they still haven’t got the message today, 20 years later. They still haven’t realised their first objective: create an integrated national framework for learning achievements

They still confuse teaching and learning. Poor benighted fools

Mindfulness

Yesterday I was having a conversation with a a highly stressed young professional. I suggested using mindfulness to reduce stress levels and described a few techniques she could try.

This, in turn, triggered a memory of a workshop that ‘went wrong’ in the early 2000s.

Freddy had attended a mindfulness ‘bosberaad’ -a meeting in the bush to discuss weighty matters-  and couldn’t stop talking about it. The concept was new. So, too, were the concepts of skills development & workplace learning. I used a pause as Freddy caught breath to get back to group work. I couldn’t get my head around the cognitive dissonance of mindfulness and a bosberaad. So I asked the groups to consider how mindfulness could be applied to workplace learning and skills development.

Initially the groups stuttered along. A couple of groups asked Freddy to explain a point or two and then, suddenly, the groups were firing on cylinders.

By the end of the session the groups were so enthusiastic and eager that each report back became an extended larger group discussion.

The overall conclusion was that skills development and workplace learning were a form of mindful practice. You, the novice,  had to give up thinking like “Blooms taxonomy” and start to pay attention to what was around you. You had to focus on the people, the processes, the interactions and other situational cues and clues. You had to let go of theory and take on a non-judgemental attitude and be present in the moment. During your work experience you had to learn to take in information with your senses.

Then someone asked, “What about reflection?” It was one of the fashion terms of the time (it could still be). At first it was a show-stopper question. But within a few minutes the responses started bubbling up – the energy levels were high and the creative juices were running strong.

Without being present in the moment what could you later actually reflect on? Mindfulness was a precursor to reflection. Without focusing on the “theories-in-use”, as opposed to the “espoused theories” taught in the classroom, you would never be able to decode actual practice.

The discussion shifted the goal posts so far that I couldn’t return to the workshop programme.

Nor did I need to.