Thou shalt not covert thy (learning) specialists

I’ve been reflecting on recent events and readings that have caused me to ponder the state of play in education institutions, especially where much change is evident, and particularly around flexible learning (restructuring is the ‘tool’ of the naughties right 🙂 ).

We’ve seen a growing push for industry engagement with flexible learning, nationally and locally. We’ve seen professional development and its links to broader strategy in varied ways. And a good deal of time has been spent deliberating over the benefits of global versus local efforts on standards and systems. More broadly we see much discussion and activity around the changing nature of learning, of teaching and of organisations that ‘conventionalise’ both (for want of a better word).

What I seem to be hearing in amongst all of this (and from a range of parties) is a ‘need’ for specialists or strategists to make sense of this thing called flexible learning, which is fine and to be expected. But also I’m hearing that “we want YOU in our area/centre/team”! Perhaps it’s a symptom of the constant struggle we see between the centre and the local site. As a specialist, I work in a central area and have the good fortune to work with many people covering diverse subject areas. For example, if I was to be ‘coveted’ in one area specifically, does that not diminish my opportunity to work across a range of sites? Why couldn’t I work across sites of learning?

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Embedding specialists is somewhat different I think. Embedding requires an understanding (by the ’embedded’, the ’embedder’ and the ’embeddee’) about the part the specialist will play in the strategic development in that local site. There is a sense of semi-permanence enough for the specialist to work within the parameters of their ‘placement’, yet still remain attached to the network or ‘centre’ (should there be one), thus remaining connected to other activities and developments.

So why covert specialists? What is at stake here? A specialist is usually part of a special interest network or collective (that validates their ‘specialty’), and can communicate changes and developments in their area of specialty more broadly too. When I say specialty I don’t necessarily mean expertise, rather, I mean a focused area of interest, where one is motivated to delve deeply into that area to uncover more and learn a great deal. When a specialist is ‘coveted’, there is limited opportunity to share one’s learning and growth with others who understand that specialty in similar ways. Also, the propensity to ‘on-sell’ those experiences is of benefit only to that locale, not necessarily to the ‘greater good’ (or the other areas of an organisation, pragmatically speaking).

It is important, from a specialist’s point of view, that one is able to carry ideas, learning and innovations from one site to the next; thus, sharing corporate knowledge and supporting long-term growth, shaped by the diversity of their practice. Specialists then also have the freedom to engage with others in their field of interest on broader matters, keeping the lines of communication open for emerging knowledge, ideas and approaches.

I return to the emergent design thoughts I’ve raised here before. Practice enables understanding. Focused practice develops specialised skills and knowledges. Specialisation returns to practice to benefit others, growing the broader schemata. Thus, research and development fuses with practice-led innovations for the benefit of all, rather than applied as a play-thing for the few to meet immediate (often ill-defined) needs.

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