Academic journal article Community College Review

New Learning: Constructing Knowledge in Leadership Training Programs

Academic journal article Community College Review

New Learning: Constructing Knowledge in Leadership Training Programs

Article excerpt

This study examined the new learning that occurred in a professional development program for participants who aspire to the community college presidency. Knowledge construction occurred on three levels: personal, professional, and disciplinary. Reframing, embracing, and embodying activities toward knowledge construction were evident, and new knowledge was expressed cognitively, affectively, and conatively. The new learning approach can be used to capture actual learning in a professional development venue, bring the learning into the participants' full consciousness, stimulate individual and group processing for iterative knowledge construction, and provide a higher level of program evaluation.

Keywords: community colleges; leadership training; program evaluation; National Community College Hispanic Council; collaborative knowledge construction


Community colleges, like other higher education institutions and mane private sector organizations, face a generational transition period in which baby-boomer leaders are retiring in significant numbers. There is great concern that the pipeline is not producing new leaders rapidly enough to fill all the resulting vacancies. In response, professional organizations are offering a wider array of professional development programs for aspiring leaders, and graduate schools are stepping up their efforts to prepare and credential students for leadership roles in the field (Boggs, 2003; Duvall, 2003; Shults, 2001).

Each year, then, millions of dollars and countless hours of staff and presenter time are devoted to professional development programming, yet the return on investment is not easily captured. At best, there is some assessment of participant satisfaction at the conclusion of a program, and this surface feedback is used to make adjustments for future training. Occasionally, there may be a follow-up survey that attempts to determine what has happened to participants after they return to their colleges, answering such questions as, Have they used what they learned? or Have they been promoted? Neither of these evaluation modes looks deeply at the effectiveness of the training or addresses a primary motivation for attending such programs: the individual's desire to gain new knowledge, make meaning of it, and improve his or her work as a leader.

The purpose of this research is to examine the new learning that occurred in one professional development program designed to prepare participants for the community college presidency: the 2005 National Community College Hispanic Council Leadership Fellows Program. Two questions guide this research: (a) What knowledge construction occurred during the professional development program? and (b) What does this research contribute to the planning and evaluation of future professional development programs?

Conceptual Foundations

The New Learning Project employs a qualitative approach to research and a form of evaluation--hereafter referred to as the new learning approach or process--that focus on adult learning events undertaken with the stated goals of theory building, discipline-based research, training, or professional development. The New Learning Project, which is located at North Carolina State University's William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation (, collaborates with organizations to capture the learning that occurs in their professional development venues and to analyze that learning in ways that generate disciplinary and practical knowledge and help shape future programming efforts. Graham and Kormanik (2004) observed that conferences should enhance dialogue and the sharing of learning instead of being places for "one-way dissemination of information ... leaving only minutes to identify implications for theory, research, and practice ... with ... no meaningful social dialogue" (pp. 391-392). The New Learning Project addresses this concern by incorporating reflection activities and data collection into the design of program events to stimulate and capture learning. …

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