On the Job Learning: Professionals Take a Break to Learn ; A New Masters Degree at City University in Training Adults Is Attracting a Wide Range of Students, Writes Clare Hargreaves

Article excerpt

What do a university lecturer, a human resource consultant and a counsellor have in common? They all manage or teach people but, likely as not, rarely get the chance or time to stand back and ask if they are getting it right. A course in the Education, Training and Development of Adults at City University, however, enables them to do just that.

"The context in which people now operate is very complex," says Yvonne Hillier, the course director. "What trainers and teachers need is time out to reflect on what they are doing, to look at its theoretical basis, and to identify what changes need to be made."

Flexibility is the key, so that the course can fit around a student's job. It can be taken as an MSc (including a dissertation); a Diploma; or one or more short courses, each leading to a Certificate in the Education, Training and Development of Adults.

While other masters courses exist for people in the teaching profession, Hillier claims this course is unique in the wide range of its students' backgrounds. This year's intake, for example, includes an HR manager from a large financial corporation; people working for voluntary organisations, including a drug charity; an RAF instructor; and managers from two awarding bodies. This wide mix creates a healthy melting pot of shared ideas and experiences from which all students benefit.

There are three compulsory modules: policy, management and practice; planning and review; and research methods. Students also chose three optional modules from a range that includes topics such as human resource development, group dynamics, and European policy in the training of adults.

One module of which City is particularly proud, and which embodies much of its philosophy, is Independent Learning, whereby students identify their own learning project, set their own learning objectives, and take part in evaluating their progress. "We don't preach to the students, but let them think for themselves," says Hillier.

City's course is novel in that it has, in some cases, moved into the workplace rather than getting the workplace to come to the university. Pilot schemes have been carried out with two local authorities who formed "Action Learning Sets" - groups of managers who gathered at regular intervals to assess their current practice, guided by a facilitator. Together they worked out improvements and changes.

"The benefit is that participants can explore issues and problems with a group in a supportive environment, and also get a qualification for it," says Stella Binns, formerly a team leader in corporate development and learning at the London Borough of Ealing. …