Assisted Learning

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3.3 New Learning Requirements and Learning Methods

The changing demands on human education go hand in hand with new forms of learning. The term transformative learning appears, whereby a “second order” (cf. Cranton 1994) of learning is meant and, in recent debates, organizational and emotional learning are also gaining a major importance (cf. Goleman 1995). Together, these new forms of learning are a blurring of the boundaries of their subject matter and they make use of other than just psychological concepts for the explanation. All these forms of learning also deal with more complex processes in which the learning subject (e.g., an organization) as well as the content (including emotional dimensions) and the learning process (not just acquiring new, but transforming existing patterns or mental models), are to be conceptualized all over again from the beginning.

a) The concept of organizational learning was established at the end of the 70s by C. Agyris and others at MIT and has been the subject of increasing discussion worldwide since the early 90s. As early as 1978, Agyris and Schön had drawn attention to the paradoxical interaction between individual learning and organizational learning and proposed major suggestions for the structuring of organizational learning processes: “Organizations are not merely collections of individuals, yet there is no organization without such collections. Similarly, organizational learning is not merely individual learning, yet organizations learn only through the experience and actions of individuals” (Agyris / Schön 1978, p. 9). From this definition one can deduce that it cannot be about a "replacement" of the individual through an organizational learning, but rather about a more precise clarification and synchronization of both levels of learning. The following definition provides further guidance on the determination of content and learning objectives of organizational learning:

“Organizational learning occurs when members of the organization act as learning agents for the organization, responding to changes in the internal and external environments of the organization by detecting and correcting errors in organizational theory-in-use, and embedding the results of their inquiry into private images and shared maps of organization "(ibid., p. 29).

While individual learning relates to the acquisition of inter-organizational professional expertise and the development of key qualifications, for organizational learning other contents are characteristic. Organizational learning focuses on theories used every day (“theory-in-use”) by members of the organization, i.e. on their shared visions and interpretations of the routines and strategies in everyday company situations. Consequently, in organizational learning, it is more about the transformation of more or less typical organizational explanatory and interpretive knowledge, than of specialized expertise or the promotion of individual key qualifications. If one examines the interaction of individual and organizational learning at the content level, it becomes clear that a moderation and participation-oriented style of leadership is needed, so that employees have the opportunity to participate in the development and transformation of operational reality interpretations. However, employees also need more than just technical skills for such participation. Moderate leadership and advanced skills are in fact, interrelated on the content level. The same also applies at the target level: the systemic development of an organizational competence on the part of employees is essential to ensure that they participate in the development of corporate cultures and the expansion of collective knowledge base of the company.

b) The improvement and development of emotional competencies has been seen for some time now as an increasingly important requirement for successful action by individuals and organizations. Change management, for example, seen as the ability to deal with change and to overcome crises, requires basic emotional skills to cope with anxiety (fear of the new, etc.). The development of these skills essentially refers to the early human developmental experience of self-efficacy versus helplessness, i.e., being secure or threatened. Early imprinted patterns of anxiety and insecurity require learning processes that deeply touch the personality structure; these are easily changed just by training, crash courses, or by keeping to certain supposedly well-worded rules of “emotion management”.

However, guiding principles can help structure appropriate emotional learning processes. In this context, the approach of “The Courage of Change” written by the American, Stephen R. Covey, is helpful. Covey describes among others the necessity to have clear priorities (“Put first things first”), to imagine the outcome of actions (“Begin with the end in mind”), to recognize the constructiveness and changeability of view and ways of assessment (“Paradigm as the map, not the territory”), and to pay attention to the emotional support basis and maintenance of relationships (“Emotional bank account”). These and other indications can be understood as pragmatic elements of a curriculum to improve the competencies of change (cf. Covey 2000).

c) Such profound organizational or emotional learning processes cannot be achieved by interventions or by the relevant “doctrine”, rather they require a transformation of the early programmed patterns of emotion and interpretation. A description of the necessary maturity processes or better still, post-maturity processes as well as self-reflection processes, requires the enablement of transformative learning processes in the sense of second-order learning. A second-order learning is not limited to just acquiring new knowledge and developing new skills, rather its subject matter is the epistemology and the emotion pattern of the individual. One does not only learn new things, but rather in such transformative learning processes, there is a change in the habitual pattern of perception and emotion, whereby the latter should enjoy priority because there is so much evidence that we see the world as we “feel” it.

The path of transformative learning is an intrinsic one. The second-order learning changes not just our knowledge and skills, but also our attitude towards ourselves and the world. We become more conscious of the habitual patterns -ultimately contingent - by which we perceive, or “take-as-true.” (An allusion to the German “wahrnehmen” – “to perceive” and “für wahr nehmen” – “to take-as-true.”) Whoever chooses the path of second-order learning will become more uncertain but, at the same time, stronger. He will free himself from the stable bonds of his habitual thinking, feeling and action and learn that the world is only portrayed to him based on his own inner states. This experience also silences reproach and allows a relaxed and ultimately, more fundamental human nature to surface.

Case study:

Eberhard, head of department of a medium size software distributor, found himself now and again, in his quite ostensibly successful career, in situations in which he believed it necessary to oppose superiors. It always took place in the same pattern: First, he loyally cooperated with his bosses, who then promoted him and confided (entrusted) more and more to him. But after some time he started to become discontent, which always found its expression in him feeling that he actually deserved more, and “in truth”, he was the one ensuring the whole success here. Again and again, situations arose in which he – as he put it – tried to cooperate with his superiors “at eye level”. Sometimes at public presentations of the company policy and success, he would “"forget” to mention the hierarchical assignment of responsibilities, so that to the outside, people increasingly got the impression that actually Eberhard was the company chief. Even internally, i.e. towards other employees, he demanded more and more a kind of vassal loyalty to his crusades, which found expression among others in the fact that he deliberately ignored management directives and agreed on other arrangements with project partners, financiers, he gave unauthorized press statements, etc. and thus repeatedly duped his superiors. Initially, these superiors attempted to clarify the resulting irritations repeatedly by means of dialog – driven by the desire to wisely continue using Eberhard systemically for the growth of the company, but this effort ultimately only led to a progression of his unauthorized acts.

In the end, the responsible supervisors put a stop to it by transferring Eberhard to an area of responsibility where he had to carry out routine tasks according to clear guidelines. This “demotion” sparked a great sense of injustice in Eberhard. “After all, I have done for this company ...” was a standard clause in his conversations with others. Even phrases like “Why are they doing this to me?” came out over and over again. However, these questions also opened doors to an accompanying self-reflection on the issues deeply-rooted in his personality that were feeding his concerns. During a coaching process, these sentences were used to resuscitate biographical memories. The question “When did you use this sentence for the first time in your life?” played an eye-opening role. In this way, his attention was drawn away from the annoying events in the here and now and focused on a transformative learning process. It was actually all about the question “How long have you been like this?” a question, whose meaning and justification Eberhard vehemently resisted initially. His pronouncements, opinions, and statements were trapped in their own certainty, whereby it was clearly evident that this certainty mattered for his emotional state, which was decisive for him in organizing his area of responsibility the way he deemed it bearable. Only very gradually did we succeed in initiating a transformative learning process, during which Eberhard gradually became aware of his preferential manner of seeing himself-in-the-world versus feeling the actual world. In the process, he developed an alternative view of the situation and was able to recognize what feelings he was accustomed to having in such circumstances.


This example shows that transformative learning is second-order learning. As such, its “subject matter” is the internal side of acquisition and it designs the learning process to a greater extent on the structure or the requirements of some external object. By giving the learner the opportunity to reflexively recognize his or her routine manner of dealing with the “real world”, they lose their “so-and-not-otherwise” certainty. Perception and recognition become tangible in the recurrent substance, whereby the possibility at least results for the learner to move away from his repetitive patterns of thinking, feeling and acting. In this way, something new is created and diversity can develop. The innovative power of transformative learning is found in this mechanism: New situations often require a different response from that which experience suggests to us. If we could stop interpreting and arranging situations in the usual way, new patterns in life could develop. This means that although the pattern develops independently of us, we can simply allow it to “occur” or not, based on our own situation. It is often necessary to move away from our set ways in order not to follow the first impulse and respond in the familiar manner; but, perhaps - at first - not to react at all or to act specifically in a different way from the familiar behavior.

In the case described above, Eberhard learned over time that it was not the intention of his superiors to “do anything to him”; rather, their action was based on completely different conditions and constraints, the meaning of which had remained largely hidden to him until then. His usual view of things had been a narcissistic distortion up till then, and he was only able to “read” or “decode” his environment almost exclusively in the light of his personal need for recognition: demands made of him were solely processed from the point of view: “What does this tell me about the recognition of my person?” As a result, he was hardly in a position to constructively deal with dissent, since his inner possibilities always made him see decisions or directives coming from above through the question “Why are you doing this to me?” - a distortion that strained the patience and flexibility of his superiors to the limit. Over the years, these superiors saw themselves confronted with a “sensitivity” and “self-glory,” as they called it, which they endured only because they were convinced of the technical competence of their colleague but otherwise rated him as “difficult.” They endured up to a certain point, before drawing the line - as I said - by transferring him to a manageable area of responsibility. During a nearly two-year self-experience and coaching process, Eberhard understood the situation his earlier, distorted perceptions had gotten him into and he also understood how it lead him to inappropriate behavior, even towards the people who only had positive intentions towards their employees. “What have I done?” That was the question he raised, almost weeping, which marked the fundamental turning point in his thinking, feeling and action. Suddenly, he saw his whole past life in a new light and, shocked, he recognized just how unjust and unfair his emotional disability led him to behave towards the basically constructive-minded executives. It was a logical consequence of this inner transformation process that he began, on his own, to think of how he could make up for damage done - even though it took place many years before. "I have to speak again with my former professor, from whom I resigned at that time out of anger!" - one of the consequences, which he himself drew from this learning process.

This example shows that people who trust themselves to try the inner path of transformative learning become increasingly capable of overcoming the constellations of their emotional lenses. They recognize that we construct our own lives through how we have learned to feel in the world. In a very subtle way, we also, on our own, create that which makes us suffer, because we “need” this suffering, since we have not really learned to live permanently trusting in love, cooperation, happiness, and security as a supportive and unthreatening feeling. Transformative learning is therefore deeply effective identity learning.

Transformative learning does not, or rarely happens through “eureka!” experiences. It is a painstaking process that involves several stages: First, it has to do with an exact reconstruction of the patterns of our own emotional experience. At this level, it is about re-experiencing situations, moods, and feelings of the past emotionally, and tracing the substance they have left behind in us. Sometimes slogans like “No one wants to see me!” or “Why not me...” come into consciousness and represent a tangible anchor that always influences the here and now. Only by recognizing such emotional certainties, - within the context of an appreciative and stabilizing guide – can we cautiously arrive at the recognition that these emotional relics of the past are still present in us, nourishing our thinking, feeling and action: “I think as I feel.” At this stage usually, the simple building blocks of their world view become shockingly clear to the participants and they can gradually begin to realize how they themselves shaped the situations in which they found themselves and nothing else: “I experience the way I think.”

The next stage is the stage of intentionally “putting differences to work” (de Shazer 1991). This requires the creativity of the facilitator and the group, because it is all about generating other interpretations of what was once experienced as harassment, including those interpretations that serve to develop other benevolent assumptions about the annoying other party and to also “substitute” the actual other party by giving him a collective name, such as “the devaluer”. This initially brings the pattern of previous experiences into focus (first transformation), and in an experimental process that can also be effectively supported by sculpting, the possibility is revealed to see the world with different eyes or through the eyes of others (second transformation). In this way, the new experience is initiated, but it still requires a whole series of other exercises before the “devaluer” is really recognized as a personal construction and the opportunity can be created to actually offer the other party the “possibility” to be viewed differently. The person who undergoes such a transformation process does not immediately “know what he should make (think) of it” but, an idea, once thought and thoroughly felt, remains buried as an indelible experience in our minds. It can be reinforced as one processes experiences differently and helps us to learn to think in a new manner. (cf. Figure 3).

Figure 3.1: Stages of transformative learning

Transformative learning is deception learning. The learning process is a deception, i.e., a liberation from earlier self-deceptions, to which our individualization process has led us. This involves the giving up of our own familiar and sticky adhesive forms of thinking, feeling and acting. This transformation is difficult and requires special courage on the part of those who accept it and special didactic and guidance skill on the part of the person who initiates such a process and accompanies it as a coach or facilitator. This is because it has to do with redesigning self-identity, while fully conscious and without anesthesia. “To see and hear, what is there” (Virginia Satir) is the blueprint for this process of de-perception, in which previous self-deceptions are overcome and appropriate ways of dealing with reality can develop, which will prevent us from repeating the same patterns over and over again.

Access to the familiar world of accusations and depression is increasingly blocked as changed feelings obstruct the process. What emerges is a form of deliberate life. This often allows individuals to actually develop for the first time their own energy in the context of what really exists. It requires a transformation of existing meanings by not only allowing new interpretations, but also by sharing them. This step to an “open mind” (Scharmer 2005, p. 12) cannot be achieved through instruction, argumentation, or even dispute, but by a new and changed emotion. It seems to be the “open heart” that creates the conditions to experience anew and also to express this new experience - a mutual relationship of these two learning streams that is still somewhat unclear in the concept of C.O. Scharmer. Although unclear too is the inclusion of the spiritual competence, which motivates the will to be open, so we can allow ourselves in-the-world being and acting experiences. For Scharmer, it is nevertheless an “internal effort” that can help bring out the “the deeper levels of social development” in managers and those responsible for the development and shaping of social actions.

Self-reflection 5: Why are deceptions a necessary condition for transformative learning? What exactly gets “deceived”?

4. Learning Guidance and Leadership in Assisted Learning

The concept of systemics requires at least as much explanation as the term attitude. The reason is perhaps because both concepts describe two sides of same coin. The term systemics has begun to broadly establish itself in recent years as an integrative theory for the understanding of others (of nature, people, culture, and society) and, as a guide for sustainable management of this avoidable expression of energy and interaction. On the other hand, “attitude” identifies the visibly experienced expressions of this thought and behavior as partner, manager, teacher, or adviser. The amalgamation of description and behavior (e.g., as a consultant or manager) is due to the fact that the systemic descriptions assign us an observer position relative to the systems in which we are integrated, and in a reflexive distance from ourselves. In the process, we learn to place ourselves more and more in the modest position as an observer, which - once internalized - leads us to another form of dealing with these systems and our own certainties. We can then only watch and act in a self inclusive manner as Varela and others have described. They write:

"Reflection does not just take place through experience, rather it is itself a form of experience - and this reflexive form of experience can be obtained through deliberate mindfulness/awareness. If practiced in this manner, it breaks through the chain of habitual thought patterns and prejudice; it becomes an open self-reflection, open to other possibilities than those offered in the familiar representations of the environment" (Varela & others 1992, p. 49).

It is this self-inclusion of observation by which systemic thinking shapes the attitudes of those who have really opened themselves to its self-illuminating force. You lose track of past certainties and, in the process, you must often let go of exactly those positions, self-concepts, and strategies that have made you what you are or what you think you are. But at the same time you become more aware of what takes place in the mind of the other party. Only by reflection in a self-inclusive manner are you truly open – free from distortion – for the perception of potential, interpretation tendencies, and the resistive or innovative forms of expression used by the other party as a self-reference. Consultants and executives, who are open to such analysis of their own experiences, may ultimately achieve

a greater sustainability in dealing with others.

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