The evolutionary process of MAMLL: a 30-year history
Published 24 July 2012
Professor Vivien Hodgson, current MAMLL Director, during the recent celebrations
As MAMLL celebrates its thirtieth anniversary, we look back in this interview with the programme's current Director, Professor Vivien Hodgson, over the 30 years of the programme – and at the changes that have taken place.
Those three decades have seen significant development in both managerial practices and management education. The Department of Management Learning and Leadership has become internationally recognised for its ground-breaking work on management learning, leadership and organisational development – and the MAMLL programme has played a central part both in building that reputation and in helping to spread new ideas among practitioners.
Strikingly, many of the principles that govern today’s programme, though far from common practice at the time, were an integral part of the MA when it was first launched back in 1982. Foremost among these was the idea of an open curriculum, where participants play a key role in helping to decide what is studied, rather than following a prescribed set of subjects.
This represented a fairly radical departure at the time, says Hodgson, who was then a research fellow within what was then the Centre for the Study of Management Learning.
“It was the only programme of its type – there wasn’t really anything remotely comparable.”
During the previous decade work by organisations such as the Tavistock Institute had stimulated interest in action learning and in experiential learning approaches.
The concept of open learning was also on the rise. The Open University was still very much a newcomer: it had admitted its first students only 11 years previously, in January 1971. But its formation had sparked a debate in academia about the nature of ‘open learning’ – and what the term itself really signified. Was it about widening participation in higher education, or was it about changing the ways in which people participated in the learning experience itself?
Alumni at the 30-year celebratory event on 'Art and Innovation in Management Learning Practice'. Read related story.
She points to the distinction between institutions and programmes that favoured a development orientation and those that focused on dissemination.
“Most adopted a dissemination orientation, pursuing an educational philosophy where you told people what they had to learn – it was about disseminating knowledge. That became known as an ‘instructional orientation’, as opposed to the more social constructionist or development orientation where people were encouraged to engage in their own learning, and to take responsibility for that – which is definitely what our MA was trying to do. It was always run, as it is now, with people involved in deciding what happens.”
Shaped by research
That focus on participant involvement prompted another radical move – extending this concept to include elements of peer assessment, a change which took place after the very first programme:
“We recognised through the research that I was doing that people were pointing to a contradiction: that whilst they were involved in deciding what happened, the work was then marked solely by tutors. That was when we introduced the idea of collaborative assessment, running alongside and complementing the tutor assessment.”
It is a measure of how, from the start, the MAMLL programme has not only exposed its students to the latest research in management learning and leadership but has itself been an ongoing subject for research – helping to shape thinking on management education and advances in educational design.
Harnessing new technologies
MAMLL round table discussion at Alston Hall
“It became apparent to us that this could really enhance what the programme was trying to do,” says Hodgson. “It allowed the learning community to stay connected when workshops weren’t happening, and to stay connected between the workshops on a consistent basis. Until that point the only opportunity people had to meet between workshops was at learning set meetings, at a location that was convenient for the set. That was sometimes difficult as people became more and more dispersed.”
In an era before email, the value of this new form of connectivity was clear – and while the initial computer-mediated programme was relatively short-lived, computer-based forms of communication were subsequently integrated into the programme. This allowed learning sets to choose between meeting face-to-face or meeting online, and, importantly, it allowed asynchronous communication that could be fitted around people's work and other commitments, including international travel.
The networking learning element of the programme is now an essential part of how MAMLL’s learning community functions, with participants keeping in touch and continuing discussion remotely, either online or via internet-enabled technologies such as Skype.
Increasing global reach
MAMLL has always attracted participants from a wide variety of backgrounds and sectors. One marked change over the last few years, however, has been an increase in the number of international participants – not only from Europe but from as far afield as Africa, Asia and the Middle East. For Hodgson and colleagues, this is a very welcome development:
“Today most of us work in an intercultural environment. If you want to understand more about how experiential learning works across different cultures, it is therefore enormously helpful if you have people from those different backgrounds within the learning community.”
Making the programme even more accessible to international participants has been one of the drivers behind an extensive review of the programme this year. The changes include extending the workshops from four days to five to ease time and travel pressures for participants by incorporating more time for peer assessment of assignments before the start of each residential workshop, and also conducting one of the workshops entirely online. As the programme moves into its fourth decade, it will doubtless continue to evolve, in line with the priorities and lifestyles of the professionals it serves and informed by the Department's ongoing research.