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How to use the Learning Process model

 
 a. Planning for learning 
 
At an early stage of the project planning, the project director and/or manager should take into consideration the learning opportunities afforded by the project, the possible learning needs of the participants and the activities that might be put in place to support intercultural learning during the project. Viewing the project as an intercultural learning experience is not just a practical approach; it is also a potential motivator for team members.
 
During the preparation stage, provision can be made for early knowledge acquisition, both through background research and through an initial sharing of experience and insights between the team members and their wider network. This, in turn, may help to influence team selection and pinpoint areas of knowledge and expertise that might be brought into the team. Planning the likely schedule and organisation of the project offers the opportunity to factor in time, opportunities and even frameworks for members to continue to share their learning.
 
 b. Building in reflection
 
The most important single action to take is to build in time for reflection: consciously allocating time in the project for participants to think about what they are experiencing and, where appropriate, to share that with others will be a major contribution to project learning. Virtually every one of the intercultural competences presented in the Life Cycle Model can potentially be improved through a process of conscious reflection on past performance.
 
Reflection can take place at the level of the individual, the team or the project partnership as a whole. For the individual, encouragement might be given to spend time reflecting on new intercultural interaction, perhaps to keep a diary or log to note these thoughts down. In one of the eChina-UK projects, there were a number of students doing research related to the project and participants found it useful to be asked to share their reflections as the project progressed. At the level of the team, regular meetings are essential and it should be clear to members that there is space at these meetings to raise questions and challenges arising from their intercultural experience. One of the eChina-UK teams agreed that they would have an informal discussion within the UK team after every major meeting with their Chinese counterparts. Often this would happen fairly informally – over a hotel dinner or on the plane home – but it would be there as a planned opportunity to compare thoughts and consider adjustment to future behaviour. At the level of the project partnership, effective shared reflection might take more time and resource to establish: it may be culturally uncomfortable for some participants; it will often require a degree of familiarity and even trust to have been established first. Nevertheless, as relationships strengthen in a partnership the value of allocating time to reflect together on the experience can be a positive contribution to the partnership’s overall effectiveness.
 
  c. Sharing & embedding
 
The intercultural competences that underpin the Life Cycle Model include a number that emphasise values such as flexibility, sensitivity and responsiveness in communication and relationship-building. The development of such competencies go hand-in-hand with an approach to learning that seeks to share learning actively within the partnership and to embed the outcomes of that learning in the practice and procedures of the partners. Although most international projects encounter a shortage of time and resources at some point, both medium and long-term benefit can be gained by identifying ways of putting new learning into practice not just within a single team but within the partnership and the partnership’s institutions. This might mean holding feedback events, publishing review or evaluation studies, and finding opportunities to speak to key committees or decision-makers. It might also mean using the learning from the current project to endorse further international collaborations to take place and enable them to be supported.
 
  d. Review, reflect, revise
 
This simple mantra encapsulates the process: project leaders need to plan review into the project life cycle so that mistakes, problems and successes can all be recognised and acted on as promptly as possible and with the involvement of other team members. The process of reflection supports effective review and encourages involvement. The objective should always be to revise behaviour if required and, perhaps, also to revise assumptions and ‘taken-for-granted’ knowledge: active learning can be a process of testing assumptions against experience and developing more sophisticated attitudes and behaviour.