Archive for the ‘Topic – Adult Learning Cycle (ALC) [Taylor]’ Category

Losing Equilibrium and gaining learning

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

I was running a coaching session with a senior executive a couple of weeks ago and they got angry at me. In fact, I can’t remember anyone getting quite that angry with me for quite a while. I think the last time was when I was running a session with an intentional affective methodology. It involved some powerful music to demonstrate the potential impact of poorly delivered feedback, and then how to deal with a recipient’s negative emotions.

On this occasion, however, they were very different circumstances. The coachee has given me permission to talk about the experience in my blog, but I will not go into specifics. Suffice to say I asked a question, they answered it and then there was a realisation as to how uncomfortable they were with the particular value they realised that they held. And, not unexpectedly, they got angry at me. And it was ‘at’ me rather than ‘with’ me.

Half an hour later, everything was fine – no, it was better than fine. They had accessed some powerful learning, our relationship had developed further and I had a real sense of achievement. And it was all down to the Adult Learning Cycle (ALC).

This is a model that is little known about as far as I can see. Having Googled “Adult Learning Cycle”, I got pages of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC). And whilst the two can be linked, they are very different. Having then Googled “Adult Learning Cycle Taylor”, I got a few hits in amongst all the ELCs. That’s because the model was developed – reasonably recently, in 1987 – by Marilyn Taylor.

Similarly to the ELC, the ALC has four stages. It is usually drawn in the form of a circular clock face with arrows pointing in a clockwise direction between each of the stages – and the stages are Equilibrium (12 o’clock), Disorientation (3 o’clock), Exploration (6 o’clock) and Re-orientation (9 o’clock). If that doesn’t help you picture it, here’s a link to a blog by a guy called Harold Jarche who has skills I do not have – he managed to create and post a diagram of it!

Going back to my coaching session, we had started happily in Equilibrium. What happened when I asked the question and my coachee suddenly realised about their potentially limiting value, was they moved quickly into Disorientation. It’s not a comfortable place to be for the person experiencing it. The coachee isn’t expecting it and so they can become confused, anxious – or angry at the source. And in a coaching situation, the source is often initially seen as the coach as they asked the question that prompted it. Hence why I said earlier that they were angry ‘at’ me rather than ‘with’ me.

Most people experiencing this want to get back to Equilibrium as quickly as possible – because it’s more comfortable there. Furthermore, they didn’t expect it, they’ve been caught by surprise and can feel vulnerable. If they do that, they ‘short circuit’ the model (by missing out the Exploration stage), and gain no learning.

This is the point at which the coach needs to support the individual, help them with their self-esteem and work with them regarding their motivation to explore the issue. The more that can be elicited from the Exploration of the matter, the more learning there will be. What was driving the Disorientation? What were the reasons for it being so impactive?

Once the Exploration has been completed, the Reorientation is where the coachee reflects on their findings and starts to make sense of it all. In the specific example of a couple of weeks ago, my coachee decided to change some of their work practices and prioritise aspects of work differently due to the learning. And then they are back in Equilibrium – but a slightly different person from the one they were when they were last in Equilibrium.

Due to the emotions involved, individuals working through the whole of the Adult Learning Cycle are often emotionally drained. It is worth helping them understand what they have been through – and the model really helps – so that they can see it is not an unusual process, and that it is how we can develop deep learning. Having said that, I generally only spend a short time on it at that point, and spend a longer time on it when we next meet – when they are less tired. If the person understands the process, there is more potential for them to be able to work themselves through such issues in the future – or assist other people.

It really is a great model. And as Taylor herself explained, “In my experience, many more learners are at the threshold of change than realize this fact. Even those who start out saying, ‘I just want a piece of paper’ or ‘I need this for my job’ often find that what they really wanted was to look at their life choices in new ways”.

So really, you never know when it’s going to happen!


PS – if you want to watch a vlog I have made about the Adult Learning Cycle (including a diagram!) as a result of experiences in the Grand Canyon, please click here