Adult Learning and the ability to reflect on learning experiences

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One's ability to reflect decisively on experience and to integrate knowledge gained from a certain experience with it fully possessed, and then to further take action on insights is considered by many to be a unique feature of an adult learner. P. Cranton in 1996 discussed that critical reflection is the process by which adults identify the assumptions governing their actions, locate the historical and cultural origins of the assumptions, question the meaning of the assumptions, and develop alternative ways of acting. The point of reflective writing is to challenge my ways of acting. Through this process of reflective writing, I will interpret experiences that have occurred on the course throughout the year and hopefully create new knowledge, skills and actions from this experiences no matter how ordinary or extraordinary they were. This reflection of me will hopefully blend learning through these experience I have encountered along with theoretical and technical learning to form new skills and knowledge I can take forward with me in my future career.

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Mackintosh 1998 argued that learning by critical reflection has the ability to create new understandings by making conscious social, political, professional, economic, and ethical assumptions constraining or supporting one's action in a specific context. Critical reflection's appeals as a learning strategy lies in the claim of intellectual growth and improvement in an individual's ability to see the necessity for and effect of personal and system change. Williamson in 1997 saw reflection as a learning tool for directing and informing change, choosing among alternatives in a practice setting, or transforming and reconstructing the social environment.

During the course of this reflective report coupled with the assessment sheets, I will attempt to make a critical evaluation of my experience of university through this year and how I have changed as an individual through first year to who and what I am now. Through the use of academic materials, journals and books I will hope to relate the relevant theories on reflection writing and any other theories that will be significant and relate it to my development as a human resource manager.

This essay will begin to detail the differences in teaching style that I have had throughout my time at the University of Ulster, and discuss whether or not this has helped me become more disciple in my studies or a hindrance. I will discuss some of the exercises that I have completed throughout this year in core HR skills as well as my other modules human resource development. In detail I will discuss the Honey and Mumford learning styles. I have a comparison with the Honey and Mumford learning styles from first year that will help me reflection upon myself and help me figure out if I am that particular style of learner. I will also discuss whether or not these are viable methods of deciding you particular style whether it be for learning or conflict management, based on personal experiences.

I will also make reference to some of the activities that I part take in this year in classes namely the interview assignment and the performance appraisal assignment we had to complete, as well as the playback we had to complete for each. I will discussed how I felt during these assignments as well as what I felt the playback and the assignment went themselves.

Next part of my essay will concentrate on how I felt I have changed as an individual through the course of my life at university. I believe that this will be the critical section of the essay as it will allow me to evaluate whether or not if university was the right choice for me or not based on what I have write plus give me an insight into who I am, and how my experiences have helped shape me as a person and future human resource manager. Also allow me to see if I have affected anyone's lives in any way through my actions at university and even on my placement which I feel is essential to this reflection as I felt personally this is when I changed most as an individual.

Experience of university

Throughout my time doing this Human Resource course the teaching experience has greatly changed with each year. First year seemed rather unnecessary to my development as a Human Resource Manager, the year's modules felt as if they could have contributed to any business degree and didn't feel HR related in anyway during that year I started to question myself whether or not this was the right course to do. I gave serious consideration to actually leaving the course at that stage because I didn't feel it was necessary to a human resource degree but it would allow me to branch out into other courses for example marketing, as they were doing something similar. Looking back my results in first year my strongest subjects were management skills and business economics. Management skills was 100% coursework which I gained a 74, I don't know if this is because it is a given that lecturers are "soft" on first years or partially due to my own skill set in this subject because personally speaking I didn't feel this was my strongest subject and it wasn't my strongest coursework mark. My strongest coursework mark came from the module Governmental environment of business which the coursework was a mark 84 my highest mark of any year thus far, I was quite proud of myself on this work because I felt passionately about the assignment unfortunately the exam was a different story as this brought down the average to a 59 which I was disappointed in because I felt because of the strength of my assignment I could do quite well in this subject. Overall I was happy with how that year went in exams and coursework by the end of the year I was sitting on an average of 57.7 which I felt confident about because I felt it left me in good stead for the years to come on this course and was a solid basis to continue my development as a Human Resource Manager.

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Second year of this course followed a similar approach teaching wise, the course tht year still felt very irrelevant to the overall degree but still I persisted. This was a time where I felt my motivation for this degree began to wine, because I felt we were threading on topics that we covered the year before. I also believe that this reflected in my results where my average drop significantly from first year from what was a high 2:2 average went to a very low 2:2 average of 51.8%, I think this was primarily due to the fact that I had virtually no motivation to do any of the modules as I felt as if we as a class were 'going through the motions' in regards to the modules we were doing. I still didn't feel that these were relevant and I believe this applies to the average score I got. All in all I was rather disappointed in this year than the others based purely on the fact that there was no motivation to do anything that was given to us.

On my placement year I felt this was significant to my progress as a Human Resource Manager. Starting there I felt very inadequate at the job at hand because I felt I wasn't properly prepared for it giving the modules we had at university, never the less I was determined to give it a go anyway. The training I was given during my placement allowed me to develop my skill set with a HR professional in mind it gave me the confidence to go out and learn more about the topic outside of the textbooks and was actively seeking opportunities to expand my knowledge and skill set. Speaking as an individual and not as a student, I believe that this placement was not only a great opening for me to gain a powerful network but developed me as an individual and it has helped shape me for who I will be in the future. I became more confident each week in my abilities and in myself. I believe I developed as a person and I was not the only person noticing this, colleagues and even friends had made note that I was a changed person and for the people I was more confident and for once actually believed in myself.

Unfortunately due to financial constraints I was made redundant from my placement I believe this was another positive in my development as it gave me an insight on how managers deal with situation and to be on the receiving end of it because it is increasingly likely that whatever job we are in there is a strong chance the same will happen. I believe this was actually pivotal and this is why I would have an advantage over my fellow colleagues if we even apply for the same position in an organisation I have experience in this kind of situation and know how to handle it, I feel this is something that my peers lack and something I can take advantage of for future purposes.

Final year although it has been similar in terms of teaching styles, is very different from the previous years spent in the university studying it seems more intense this year and is a lot more HR focused which is what I have been looking for. I believe this has given me a lot more motivation to succeed now coupled with my very positive placement experience I believe I can now fully appreciated the value of the previous years in giving us a basic stepping stone into HR. That is how I feel about the previous years, they were a stepping stone into this year's work and I can sort of see the relevance of them now more so than when I was doing them. I felt as if this year has been more specific to the degree because of the module with the exception of one Management of Change, the other two module Core HR skills and Human Resource Development feel more suited to what I want to be doing and what we should have been doing first and second year.

Human Resource Development

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Concentrating on Human Resource Development the one thing that stood out for me during the class was when we completed the Honey and Mumford questionnaire. I remember first completing this questionnaire in first year during our Management Skills module, at the time of completion then I believe I received an Activist which according to Honey and Mumford 1982 were people who liked to dive into new experiences, who liked to be thrown into the deep end with challenging tasks and working with others on projects or business games. That was then and a part of me partially believes it. A lot of our assignments in first year revolved around teamwork and I felt as if I flourished in these environments much like an activist would. Hale-Evans, R (2006) believes an activist based on literature an activist is someone who jump into new experiences feet first, form a task force,, volunteer to lead a group or discussion, and trade detailed - orientated tasks for "big-picture" tasks when possible. I believe based on my own personal experience and the assignments given to us at the time of the first Honey and Mumford learning style we completed I fit the activist quite suitably. However when I completed it the second time I received the mark of a theorist, while activist was still a high mark from, I was surprised when I got the result of Theorist. The University of Leicester summarise the theorist style as learners who like to understand the theory behind the actions. They need models, concepts and facts in order to engage in the learning process. Prefer to analyse and synthesise, drawing new information into a systematic and logical 'theory'. While was a shock at the time I had a look back the assignment for Human Resource Development and on my essay's from previous years and it is visible through the years that there is more of a theorist approach to it, I'm using more theories and statistics to back up what I'm writing I'm attempting to back up what I say with example that have happened before and what theorists have said in their literature. So I suppose I can't be fully surprised at my result as I can see the development from where I was in first year (Activist) from what I am now (Theorist).

In relation to the assignment for the HRD module I believe I fully prepared myself for it and hopefully it is reflected in the marks. As I followed true to a theorist and research multiple sources of information ranging from journal articles to staff booklets. I believe that adequate facts where gathered before an attempt was even made at the essay.

One thing is for certain that final has changed me as a student I believe in first year and arguable second year I was very much like an activist, going head first without any kind of thought to what I was doing. So HRD for me this year has helped at least get my head together for university and help change who I am as learning and ultimately I think it has made me a better student and person.

Core HR Skills

Core HR skills introduced us to new aspects of Human Resources that were until now unfamiliar. Initially I was sceptical about the relevance of this module until we completed the two assignments the interview and the appraisal interview. I believe these helped me develop some of the more basic skills required to be a good human resource manager and it was every interesting to see the playback on the videos as it allowed me and my peers to critically evaluate my performance in that role.

I took it upon myself during the interview assignment to be panel head because I had completed the recruitment and selection training during my placement and felt I was suitably prepared to take on that responsibility. Completing the assignments was a lot more work than I thought and felt it was too much for me to be doing the two interviews, I believe watching back on the tapes helped me pinpoint where I stumbled. I can tell from my body language and tone of voice that I was nervous during this assignment. This is something I am actively seeking to improve on, I believe this was essential in allowing me to see my flaws in this department and it will allow me to focus on developing these skills more so I can be better at it.

As for the performance appraisal exercise I believe this went a lot smoother because of the experience I gained doing the interview assessment. During the playback you can tell that I am a lot more confident as the manager. My attitude during the assignment is very positive and I feel very much 'like a boss'. I believe that these assignments where great in that respect as it allowed me to view my own faults and for other to show me what I didn't want to show myself, again these have shaped me into becoming hopefully a successful human resource manager.

The presentation assignment was a different story however, I have never felt comfortable performing in front of people let allow tutors and the head of the course. Nevertheless I'd have to give it a go. While I thought we did a good job coming across we did however I felt slipped up on some of the key issues and some fundamentals errors were made. Mistake's like punctuation and spelling ran rampant throughout it. Referencing is also key and I felt we didn't have enough relevant literature and at this level journal articles are essential and I felt we lacked that in our presentation. I felt my content in this presentation was very descriptive and not very analytical; this is something I will be looking to do more of in the future. I feel at this stage it is essential to be able to analyse and not just repeat what has already been said. Something that I will definitely be looking at in my future studies.

Conclusion

To conclude this reflection has taught me many things about myself but also that reflection should assist learners in making meaning out of content applied in a specific practice. A study by Lee and Sabatino (1998) concluded, that believe reflection skills that are used used in the classroom are not linked with the performance matched on projects. There was no relation between use of guided reflection and the learners' application of content. However, attitudes toward guided reflection were positive.

Ecclestone in 1996 argued that reflection skills that are taught in the classroom are different from skills needed in everyday life. I believe this is true because I felt as if some of the teachings of Cottrell sounds okay on paper however there seems to be no room for personal experience in there and that is something I feel he and even the CIPD miss out in there features of reflection. Cottrell outlines that 'Reflection is a type of thinking associated with deep thought aimed at better understanding'

Critical reflection holds out the promise of learning, learning that adults can potentially use from the inherent assumptions that are holding their thoughts and actions in the everyday world. On a personal note I believe, critical reflection bring about awareness of the need for change, by doing this assignment I have had to critically evaluate myself as an individual and have found it interesting. This assignment has shown me where I have come from in my short time at this University and what I can hope to achieve to further develop myself as a Human Resource Manager.

Bibliography and referencing

CIPD. (2010). What is reflective learning? Available: http://www.cipd.co.uk/cpd/aboutcpd/reflectlearn.htm. Last accessed 10th Dec 2010.

Cottrell, S (2003) Skills for Success: The Personal Development Planning Handbook London: Palgrave Macmillan

Cranton, P (1996). Professional Development as Transformative Learning: New Perspectives for Teachers of Adults. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Ecclestone, K. (1996). "The Reflective Practitioner: Mantra or Model for Emancipation." Studies in the Education of Adults. 28 (2), p 146 - 161.

Hale-Evans, R (2006). Mind Performance Hacks. Cambridge: O'Reilly Media. p57.

Honey, P and Mumford, A (1992). The Manual of Learning Styles. 3rd ed. London: Peter Honey Publications.

Lee, D and Sabatino, K. (1998). "Evaluating Guided Reflection: A U.S. Case Study." International Journal of Training and Development. 2 (3), p 162 - 170.

Mackintosh, C. (1998). "Reflection: A Flawed Strategy for the Nursing Profession." Nurse Education Today. 18 (7), p 553 - 557.

Mobbs, R. (1999). Honey and Mumford. Available: http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ssds/sd/pgrd/resources/teaching/theories/honey-mumford. Last accessed 29th Nov 2010.

Williamson, A. (1997). Reflection in Adult Learning with Particular Reference to Learning in Action." Australian Journal of Adult and Community Education . 37 (2), p 93 - 99.