In my post Combining practice based learning and theory based learning I suggested that self-directed learning at its best is characterized by a combination of what I call practice based learning and theory based learning. Practice based learning is learning on the basis of one’s own reflections on one’s own actions. Theory based learning is learning on the basis of systematic knowledge development by others.


Practice based learning can be but does not have to be unsystematic. A systematic approach to pratice based learning is the test-and-learn approach which is based on the assumption that learning is an iterative and circular process. It can be described as follows: 1) determine what you would like to achieve, 2) chose a small step forward in the right direction, based on your previous experience, 3) take that step forward, 4) reflect on what happens, 5) respond to the consequences of your step, 6) build what you learn into your next step, 7) repeat these previous steps until an meaningful pattern begins to emerge. The test-and learn model is a dynamic model in the sense that the goal is not some fixed picture but something which keeps on developing as the process proceeds.


Herminia Ibarra, in her book Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career applies the test-and-learn approach to career development. She explains that the conventional way of thinking about career change corresponds with the so-called plan-and-implement model. This model says that you first have to analyse and reflect in order to be able to develop a clear picture of what you want to achieve and only then you can take steps to realize this picture. Ibarra’s research has shown that effective career change does not follow the plan and implement approach but a test-and-learn approach. On page 34 the differences between the two approaches as follows:


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