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We will start by reviewing the importance of both continuing professional development and the skills that enable it to take place. We will then define the terms ‘professional development’ and ‘professional development skills’. Finally, we will consider methods to identify and deliver relevant lifelong learning. These methods also provide the training regime through which we can become skilled at professional development.
Why are Professional Development Skills Important?
Professional development is not a new concept, but it is becoming increasingly important.
Furthermore, the amount of knowledge – and the amount of information – continues to increase. Materials science and engineering has become knowledge intensive: we have entered the knowledge-based economy.
In this new world, it is impossible for us to know all that there is to know, yet access to the knowledge base is increasingly readily available.
We increasingly work in teams on projects and much of what we do is virtual rather than tangible. As one project ends, another begins, and so we move from project to project, from team to team, and from one work place to another. Indeed, for many, the increasingly itinerant nature of work leads us into several different careers during our working lives.
These are strong, compelling reasons for professional development skills, but there are many more!
A better informed and more sophisticated public is demanding a higher duty of care and level of service from professionals.
Linked to this is the increasing risk of claims for negligence from professionals deemed to have ‘failed’ in their duty or given poor advice.
Within organisations, modern quality management systems demand that qualified people are in place to make decisions.
What is Professional Development?
Professional development is the process by which a person maintains the quality and relevance of professional services throughout his/her working life.
The Institute has defined it for Continuing Professional Development as:
‘The systematic maintenance, improvement and broadening of knowledge and the development of personal qualities necessary for the education of professional and technical duties throughout the practitioner’s working life.’
It follows that we have an ethical responsibility as professional materials technologists to continue our professional development throughout our careers.
Effective Professional Development
‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cheshire Cat.
‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘So long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’
Lewis Carroll (1865), p54
1.2 Analysis of more effective ways to learn
This is the starting point for our individual professional development plan and should contain the ingredients from the table below:
The personal profile – based upon the Macmillan open learning course for Nursing
Define the Strategy
Our professional development needs to be correctly focused for maximum impact so that it meets both our individual development needs and those of the organisation for which we work (see Table 2 below). If our employer has in place an annual staff review and appraisal process, then our individual aspirations and the organisational goals may have been reviewed, and a training and development plan agreed for the foreseeable future. Otherwise, we should discuss our professional development needs with our manager and our training or human resources department.
Develop an Action Plan
Putting the strategy into action can be the biggest challenge. An action plan can help. An effective action plan has four key ingredients:
– A clear statement of the goal to be achieved
– The actions required to achieve the goal
– The target timescale for achieving the goal
– Criteria to assess when we have reached our goal
In order to deliver the action plan, we will have to seek out opportunities for learning and skills development, ideally in partnership with our employer. And since professional development benefits both the employee and the employer, we might find that our employer asks us to make a contribution to our own professional development, by committing some of our own time and perhaps by sharing the costs.
Having established our action plan, we next need to decide how we are to go about the learning process.
Task – 2
2.1 Most commonly known Learning Styles
Research commissioned by the British Audio Visual Society in 1988 suggests that we remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 80% of what we say and 90% of what we say and do at the same time. For this reason, Fisher (2000) recommends that we integrate learning and working, so that we learn within the context of our work using real-world problems. Then the time and effort we invest in professional development is rewarded by immediately assisting us to complete the task in hand. Fisher believes the immediate usefulness of the learning greatly improves our motivation to learn.
Whilst this may be generally true for groups of people, as individuals, we each have our own preferred learning styles.
There are many ways to categorize learning styles, but the simplest places learners into one or more of three categories:
Visual – those who learn best through their eyes and what they see and read. The ideal learning approaches in this case will involve studying magazines and books and learning online.
Auditory – those who learn best by hearing things, either on tape or in discussion. Dialogue and discussion is important to their learning process. The ideal learning environment is the classroom, but discussions with colleagues and audio tapes can also be useful.
Kinesthetic/Tactile – those who learn best by ‘doing’, such as taking their own notes or participating in demonstrations and hands-on projects. Ideal structure: magazine and online learning; classroom that encourages participation.
It is important to analyse the way we learn best before devising the learning strategy/action plan to achieve our goals. Like me, you might find the way that you learn changes as your grow older. I now find myself drawing upon my past professional experience to build new knowledge and understanding, whereas before I could assimilate facts almost effortlessly.
2.2 Appendix A – Learning Style Test
1. You are helping someone who wants to go to your airport, town center or railway station, you would :
B Tell her the directions
You are not sure whether a word should be spelled “dependent” or “dependant”, you would:
C Find it in a dictionary
3. You are planning a holiday for a group. You want some feedback from them about the plan. You would:
A. Describe some of the highlights.
4. You are going to cook something as a special treat for your family. You would:
D. Use a cookbook where you know there is a good recipe.
5. A group of tourists want to learn about the parks and wildlife reserves in your area.
A. Talk about, or arrange a talk with them about parks or wildlife reserves.
6. You are about to purchase a digital camera or mobile phone. Other than price, what would most influence your decision?
B. Reading the details about its features.
7. Remember a time when you learn how to do something new. Try to avoid choosing a physical skill. e.g. riding a bike. You learned the best by:
B. Listening to somebody explaining it and asking questions.
8. You have a problem with your knee. You would prefer that your doctor:
B. Used a plastic model of a knee to show what was wrong.
You want to learn a new programme, skill or a game on a computer. You would:
B. Talk with the people who know the programme.
10. I like websites, that have:
C. Interesting written descriptions, lists and explanations.
11.. Other than price, what would most influence your decision to buy a non-fiction book?
D. It has a real life-stories, experiences and examples.
You are using a book, CD or website to learn how to take photos with digital camera.
A. A chance to ask questions and talk about the camera and its features.
13. Do you prefer a presenter or a teacher who uses:
A. Demonstrations, models and practical sessions.
14. You have finished a competition and would like some feedback. You would like to have feedback:
A. Using examples from what you have done.
15. You are going to choose food from restaurant or café. You would:
B. Listen to the waiter or ask friends to recommend choices.
16. You have to make an important speech at a conference or special occasion: You would:
D. Gather many examples and stories to make talk real and practical.
2.3 Evaluation and Reflection of results
As we have seen, good professional development relies strongly on self-analysis and appraisal to develop our personal profile and to analyse our preferred learning styles. This is not necessarily easy for a number of reasons. First, it can be hard to understand ourselves and ‘see ourselves as others see us.’ Second, reflecting on skills and competences is not something that engineers are necessarily trained to do. Third, as the pace of life continues to increase, it is not easy to find time for self-analysis and reflection.
Mentoring is one way of overcoming these problems. A mentor is someone who can advise and guide you in your career. He or she has a number of roles – as an appraiser, a supporter, a communicator and a motivator. The relationship therefore is different from that between a superior and his/her subordinate, and it is unlikely that a manager can carry out these functions. A good mentor has coaching skills, is trustworthy, respected and is free from major distractions either within or outside the workplace. Choose one with care!
Without a mentor, reflection is also not always a productive experience. It can be a bit like looking for Piglet – we can spend time thinking without arriving at a conclusion. It helps, of course, if we have a structure to our thinking. The key questions are:
What is happening/has happened?
What brought this about?
What went well and what did not go well?
How can the situation be improved?
What might we learn from the situation that might influence future action?
It is recommended that we carry out this reflective evaluation both during and at the end of any task or learning we might undertake. One way of encouraging reflective practise in our professional life is to keep a reflective diary or log.
Often, a particular incident requires us to take a look at ourselves and our performance. Such critical incident analysis should be reported in the log or diary. As engineers, we make good use of major disasters and failures in our teaching and learning. However, when it comes to personal reflection, we should take care to include successes as well as difficulties so that we keep a balanced record of our achievement.
As well as providing a focus for us to reflect on professional experiences, the reflective diary also has a role in helping us to evaluate our learning. Some useful questions are: ‘Was the learning task appropriate to our needs? Was it efficient, achieving the desired outcome with the appropriate effort? Was it economic?’
Reviewing our reflective diary can also provide useful information. By looking back on our experiences, we can reassess our goals. What have we accomplished? What should the next steps be? This leads us naturally back to revisit and update our professional profile and our action plan.
And so the process continues….
The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining has adapted and developed these competences within the discipline of materials engineering and has specified over 100 areas in which Materials Technologists should demonstrate competence. However, whilst these are useful standards, we should remember that professional development is not a product or an outcome – it is a process.
2.4 Appendix B- Skills Audit and SWAG analysis
1: Focus on customer satisfaction – describe how you contribute to increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty for the company’s long-term growth.
2: Teamwork and collaboration – highlight how you build lasting relationships with other teams and work collaboratively to achieve common goals.
3: Open communications – emphasize your willingness to listen to new ideas, or to adopt alternative approaches
4: Interpersonal skills – stress your ability to work with all levels within the organization
5: Adaptability to change – illustrate how you’re able to adapt in the face of constant changes in the organization or industry
Areas of developmental need (weaknesses):
The second part of a SWAG analysis is to evaluate data to determine whether they constitute strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats for the organisation. This may be done independently by the individuals in a group, results being compared afterwards. It is important to note that any given fact may give rise to more than one evaluation, and so to ask – ” How may this fact be considered as an opportunity as well as a threat?”; “How may this apparent strength turn out to be a weakness?”; “How does this weakness really represent a strength?” The answers to these and similar questions may give managers new insights into choosing appropriate strategies
Initial agreed plan for development, considering both individual and business needs.
Usually the project manager must consult with others and then agree the project specification with superiors, or with relevant authorities. The specification may involve several drafts before it is agreed. A project specification is essential in that it creates a measurable accountability for anyone wishing at any time to assess how the project is going, or its success on completion. Project terms of reference also provide an essential discipline and framework to keep the project on track, and concerned with the original agreed aims and parameters. A properly formulated and agreed project specification also protects the project manager from being held to account for issues that are outside the original scope of the project or beyond the project manager’s control.
This is the stage to agree special conditions or exceptions with those in authority. Once you’ve published the terms of reference you have created a very firm set of expectations by which you will be judged. So if you have any concerns, or want to renegotiate, now’s the time to do it.
The largest projects can require several weeks to produce and agree project terms of reference. Most normal business projects however require a few days thinking and consulting to produce a suitable project specification. Establishing and agreeing a project specification is an important process even if your task is simple one.
– A template for a project specification:
– Describe purpose, aims and deliverables.
– State parameters (timescales, budgets, range, scope, territory, authority).
– State people involved and the way the team will work (frequency of meetings, decision-making process).
– Establish ‘break-points’ at which to review and check progress, and how progress and results will be measured.
My ultimate aspirations in life/career goals.
My dreams for the future and plans to make my dreams a reality, whether they are to become a business owner, managing a large corporation and have a wealthy life, or to be a manager of a mid-size company making a comfortable living. I often dream about my future. My dreams tend to have a lasting effect on people, motivating them to pursue their own goals.
In this information age, the more one ‘knows’ the better will be his response to his world. What better way to know oneself than through ones dreams and aspirations. I dream of becoming a wealthy entrepreneur and would like to establish a foundation in honor of my family to give minorities an opportunity to gain work experience, self-determination and the subtle meaning of being a successful person.
Task – 3
Evaluation and review of effectiveness of learning
A wide range of evidence shows that participating in basic skills learning leads to improved confidence and enhanced self-esteem. Over half of Army basic skills learners report that their course increased their confidence. Benefits for the confidence and self-esteem of learners are also widely recognised by line managers;
Participating in learning in general is associated with a number of positive effects on psychological and physical health. Moreover, individuals with good basic skills enjoy some improved health outcomes compared to those with low basic skills;
Participating in learning has positive effects on some aspects of social capital, including social engagement and tolerance. Individuals with higher basic skills are also more likely to report tolerant attitudes and show higher levels of political engagement;
Research indicates that there is a process of intergenerational transfer of skills from parents to children. Therefore, basic skills improvements among Service personnel may have positive effects on the cognitive outcomes of their children;
Basic skills learning in the Armed Services benefits wider society by preparing Service personnel to engage more successfully with the employment market on their transition to civilian life;
There may be important differences between group teaching of basic skills and more solitary e-learning, in terms of their effects on social life and the well-being of service personnel. Further comparative research is needed in this area;
Research suggests that different types of adult learning programmes have differing individual and societal benefits. Further work is required to understand the extent to which evidence about the wider benefits of adult learning in general applies to the specific case of basic skills learning in the Armed Services;
Qualitative research and surveys of learners and teachers consistently identify increased confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy as among the most significant outcomes of adult learning (for example, Eldred et al., 2006; Tett et al., 2006; Preston and Hammond, 2002; Schuller et al., 2002). Enhanced abilities to ‘speak out’ are identified by learners as a particularly important feature of the confidence derived from learning (Eldred, Ward et al. 2006).
The only direct evidence about the impact of Armed Services basic skills provision on the confidence of learners identified in this review comes from the Army Basic Skills Survey. Half of Army learners reported that their course had given them confidence. Just one in nine disagreed that basic skills learning had a positive effect on their confidence. The proportion of Army learners reporting positive effects on confidence is similar to the findings of a general survey of learndirect learners (learndirect 2002). This suggests that Army learners’ perceptions of the effects of basic skills courses on their confidence are broadly in line with the attitudes of learners on other similar courses. 56% of Army line managers said that basic skills training was very or fairly effective in improving the confidence and self-esteem of the soldiers they manage.
More robust evidence about the benefits of adult learning for confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy can be derived from longitudinal research that measures the association between participation in learning and changes in well-being. For example, Hammond and Feinstein (2006) used the National Child Development Study to explore changes in wellbeing among adults who participated in education in their thirties. They find that ‘those who participate in adult learning have positive transformations in well-being, optimism, efficacy (perceived control over important factors) and self-rated health’ (Hammond and Feinstein 2006). The relationship between adult learning and well-being is not as strong or wide ranging as the relationship between flourishing at school and later wellbeing. However, the positive associations are found even after adjusting for social and family background, childhood health and attainment, socio-economic circumstances, qualifications, health and well-being in adulthood (see Hammond, 2004 for similar findings).
Confidence to do what, where and when?
One of the key questions for the Armed Services basic skills programmes is how far any gains in confidence about basic skills or about learning translate into increased confidence in other aspects of learners’ working and personal lives. It is not possible to determine this from learners’ responses to the question on the Army Basic Skills Survey: ‘Do you agree or disagree that: Basic skills training has given me confidence?’ It is not clear on what situations and contexts learners based their responses to this general question. However, the fact that line managers recognise benefits of basic skills learning for confidence and self-esteem suggests that positive effects do, to some extent, extend beyond the classroom. Furthermore, seven in ten learners agreed that basic skills learning encouraged them to take another course (GfK NOP 2006). This suggests that basic skills learning may enhance the confidence of service personnel to engage with further learning opportunities.
An evaluation of the Scottish Adult Literacy and Numeracy Strategy distinguished between confidence to learn, confidence in learning, and confidence from learning (Tett, Hall et al. 2006). The research measured confidence from learning by drawing on different scenarios learners face in their everyday lives, such as attending appointments or making telephone calls (Tett, Hall et al. 2006). The Catching Confidence research also attempted to capture the impact of learning on confidence across different domains (Eldred, Ward et al. 2006). A grid was developed which learners could use to rate their confidence across ten different situations, in four environments: at a learning centre, at home, socially/with friends and at work/out and about. Applying a similar approach within the Armed Services could help to identify how far the confidence raising effects of basic skills learning extend beyond the immediate learning environment.
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