Learning to speak the knowledge or learning to understand? A comparative examination of developing reflective learning in probation education and training in the UK and in Romania

Ruth Goatly

University of Hertfordshire

There have been a number of developments in recent years in social work and probation education and training, which have demanded new and innovative methods of teaching and learning. These have included a search for more effective ways of developing skills for integrating theory into practice and using practice as part of the learning process. One of the key areas and an underpinning skill in its achievement is reflective practice. This in turn links with learning skills in integrating awareness of, and managing one's own values..

In the UK, the focus has been the development of competence based learning and assessment in the workplace integrated with academic programmes. This principle has been extended in the new probation qualification, the Diploma in Probation Studies, which requires an NVQ, level 4 Award to be integrated into an undergraduate degree. This structure has demanded a rapid and challenging re-thinking of roles and responsibilities in education and training within dynamic, but contractually based partnerships between the workplace and academic institutions. This particular development has taken place at a time of organisational change imposed on the probation service and preferred ways of working. There is an inevitable tendency among new trainees to expect, even demand, a manual-style learning. One of the consequences of these inter-related changes, is the educational challenge to maintain a learning environment in which the skill of reflective practice is both positively developed and valued.

Whilst being directly involved in developing and delivering this new qualification, the author been education consultant to a project, funded by the Department for International Development, to advise on setting up probation in Romania and an accompanying education and training programme leading to qualification. This has meant working with universities and the Ministry of Justice in Romania to develop probation training where the concept of probation is only just emerging and to support training activities with experience of direct delivery of some courses. Here there is a thirst for knowledge and skills, and an expectation within a culture of mechanistic learning styles and practice.

This paper will explore some of the issues that have come out of these two experiences with a focus on the impact on approaches to learning and the implications for different learning styles. On the one hand changes externally imposed on the workplace are leading to pressure on education to sustain a learning process which respects and values a range of learning styles and the creative tension of providing both education and training. On the other the challenge is to develop an awareness of the importance of reflective learning and developing the skills within a culture that is not supportive of the process. Both seek to achieve knowledgeable practitioners, but there is a real tension in each between processes in which learners are taught to 'speak the knowledge' and processes in which they are encouraged to understand and apply it.

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