The Learning Alliance: Relational Aspects to the Development of Competence
Paper in proceedings, 2000
The purpose of this paper is to present a model, which can serve as a framework for developing and analyzing relationships conducive to learning between supervisors and doctoral students. It specifically sets out to explore the extent to which standardization of the relationship can support the competence development process. A central concept in the model is the Learning Alliance and the focus is on the development of a mutual platform for the supervisor and doctoral student to work on. The learning alliance can be manifested in a contract that includes mutual agreement on goals, on tasks, and on process to reach the goals. In order to realize the full potential of a learning alliance, especially when it comes to developing more tacit elements of competence, it has shown to be essential to develop a relationship built on mutual trust. In order to make sure that strong learning relationships are being developed between doctoral students and their supervisors, academic institutions can develop routines. These routines could provide guidance into what to consider and how to proceed when aiming at establishing a learning alliance. By introducing a more standardized way of entering into a good working relationship, these routines can provide a means of limiting variations between different supervisor/doctoral student pairs. The organizational culture and the presence of role models can as well influence the establishment of a learning alliance. However, the organizational culture provides guidance in a less explicit way than do standardized routines.
It has been found that the absence of Learning Alliances has been the main contributor to the poor outcomes in the doctoral process. However, the Learning Alliance does not happen spontaneously or naturally. In fact, the Learning Alliance requires substantial time and effort, in order to be created and maintained. And, most supervisors are not naturally skilled in creating the conditions and contracts needed.
In response to these shortcomings, it is important to first develop a common understanding, among supervisors and doctoral students, of what a "good learning relationship" could look like. A new model illustrating the essential components of a Learning Alliance has now been offered as a tool. Another response to the missing skills, is the suggestion of specific methods and processes to establish Learning Alliances. Such methods include the introduction of routines and standard procedures. One clear example of this is the routine of regularly scrutinizing the Learning Alliance itself. Another method is to influence the working climate in the organization.