The emerging links between Learning Capability, Experiential Learning and Research: Political implications for Higher Education

Year: 2017

Author: Harrison, James

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper discusses how the political threat to single discipline graduate qualifications and academic staff livelihoods by increasing demands for demonstrable graduate capabilities may be offset by specific adjustments to single discipline programmes. This addresses the research question of how can academic staff in single discipline programmes, address the demand for graduates, who need to possess a range of employment capabilities. The vulnerability and durability of single discipline specialisms and the tribal nature of academic staff has already been apparent for years. (Bridges, 2000). This has accelerated in recent times with increasing cutbacks in humanities departments at many universities. Empirical research, carried out by this author alongside PhD studies into professional capability and its development, has identified that both learning and research capability offer significant contributions to overall graduate capability sought by many employers.
The concept of capability, whilst relatively new as an outcome of academic programmes has defined the role of professionals throughout contemporary history and possesses an inherent stability of process and outcome, irrespective of changing knowledge bases and technologies. Capability is defined by Stephenson and Yorke (2013) as "An integration of knowledge, skills, personal qualities and understanding used appropriately and effectively, not just in familiar and highly focussed specialist contexts, but in response to new and changing circumstances". Whilst professional roles may be primarily defined by the capability of problem solving in a given professional field, supporting capabilities of literacy, numeracy, communication, self management and learning are common to all human endeavours and are developed throughout a lifetime of practice. With the aid of a modified model of experiential learning derived from the work of Kolb (1984), Moon (2013) and others, the author demonstrates the concept of learning capability as a stable process, provides linkages from it to problem solving and research and shows how learning capability is used to enhance wider capability development. He also draws attention to the large collection of international work collated by Scott in his website Flip Curric, to developing and measuring contemporary capability development.
This paper identifies that by shifting the emphasis of programme and qualification outcomes from discipline focused to capability outcomes, an individual's growth and capability development can be derived from the study of either single or multiple disciplines. What is important, however, is that the different academic disciplines should share common descriptions of capability.