Learning from experience: how AHPs become proficient

In the second in a series of articles on preparing the HCPC CPD audit, CSP professional adviser Gwyn Owen looks at how we become proficient in something.


We all have a responsibility towards our learning, says Gwyn Owen

I’ve just received the reminder to renew my HCPC registration for another two years. As I worked through the prompts on the renewal form I was reminded of my professional responsibility for learning, and of how learning is integral to the development of my physiotherapy practice.
The relationship between learning, practice and development is described in the CSP code. Section 4 of the code calls on members to strive to achieve excellence – through a process of continual development; demonstrating innovation and leadership; and supporting others’ learning and development, and the development of physiotherapy.
Over the next few months, the continuing professional development (CPD) series will be exploring process of learning from experience, events and helping others learn and develop.
The final piece in the set of four will unpack how learning from experience supports lateral career moves. The information, ideas and resources presented by these pieces will help you recognise and evaluate the learning that happens in practice, and evidence the value and impact of that learning as your career unfolds.

What is learning?

Learning is hard work! Definitions of ‘learning’ (and there are many) describe a process of development that produces a change – in values, behaviours, knowledge or skills.
Learning is therefore both a process (the steps I go through to produce a change) and an outcome (the end result of that change).
If you think about your own experience of being a learner, you’ll know that learning can produce a temporary change (memorising the detail of something for just long enough to pass a test for example), or may generate something more permanent (the ongoing process of developing and refining your professional identity and scope of practice as a physiotherapist, physiotherapy student or support worker).
Learning can be driven from within (a drive for personal development for example) or may be the result of an external driver (such as an organisational policy that leads me to learn a specific fire drill for example).
Because it generates change, learning involves emotional and cognitive work, and depending on what is being learnt (such as a new dance move or a physiotherapeutic technique) may also involve psychomotor work.

Learning from experience

Think about something you’re ‘good’ at. It could be something you are or do as part of your physiotherapy practice, or something that sits with life outside the profession.
Make a note of the behaviours, knowledge and skills associated with the practice and how you got to be good at it. 
The process of becoming good at something is ongoing. A dynamic cycle of action and reflection; active experimentation; and making mistakes and celebrating (a growing number of) successful performances as your practice became more proficient.
It’s likely that you would have had some criteria in mind to define ‘a successful performance’ – descriptors that you, your critical friend or an external assessor would have used to evaluate and give feedback on your performance.
This evaluation and feedback would have helped you become more aware of your strengths and areas of your performance that needed more work. 
As your confidence and proficiency developed through a process of practice and reflection, you may have been asked to share your learning with others – through informal peer reflection or a formal teaching session perhaps.
And the experience of being asked to help someone else learn might have boosted your confidence and created a fresh momentum to polish your practice and a space to gain feedback on your performance. (There will be more on feedback and learning through helping someone else later in the series).

Influencing factors

Go back to your experience of becoming ‘good’ at something, but this time shift your focus away from the steps you went through to think about the things that influenced your learning.
The literature suggests that there are many different factors work together to influence the process and outcome of learning from experience.
Some factors are specific to the learner – their motivation for learning, readiness to learn, and capacity for the emotional/cognitive/psychomotor work associated with learning and change.
Other factors relate to the learning environment – the resources available to support learning, the physical qualities of the learning space and so on.
And then there’s the learning process itself – from the design of the learning activity to its evaluation (more on how these factors shape the learning process and outcome later in the series). 

Learning from experience, professional practice and development

Physiotherapy practice – the things the physiotherapy workforce can do, the people it works with and how its work is organised is not static, but evolves in response to developments in research, technology and evidence, and changing healthcare needs.
Developments in practice create opportunities (and a need for) learning; while the process of learning from experience has the potential to generate new understanding and insights that support the ongoing development of practice.
And so the process of achieving excellence described in Section 4 of the CSP’s code continues.

CPD resources

Follow the links to open CPD resources that will help you make the most of the learning opportunities as part of your day-to-day practice.
The first in a set of four articles that will help you think critically about how to use your day-to-day experiences to develop and evidence your capacity for leadership.
Structured guidance to help you prepare to learn from the experience of moving into a new role. 
Unpack the process of learning from mistakes and use the activity to record your learning from a positive experience.
Explore how the behaviours, knowledge and skills developed through experience of being a parent/carer transfer into the workplace.
Use CPD Habit 03 to find out more about reflective practice; and CPD Habit 06 to make the most of opportunities to learn from experience that sit as part of your day-to-day practice. 
Gwen Owen

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