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Helping whole people learn

John Heron

Chapter 6 from Working with experience: animating learning, edited by David Boud and Nod Miller, London, Routledge, 1996. Some references updated in the text below.

The setting for a shift in style

This chapter describes what I do in practice to help whole people learn. It covers work done since January, 1991, in a particular place – New Zealand – where I have done over 140 days of two, three, four or five day workshop over the last four southern summers. These workshops have covered a wide range of titles: facilitation skills (the focus of this chapter), radical and holistic education, whole person learning, learning contracts, self/peer and collaborative assessment, peer review audit, six category intervention analysis, co-operative inquiry, one-to-one counselling, co-counselling, transpersonal experience, authentic manhood, team development, soft revolution. These events were hosted, variously, by universities, institutes of technology, polytechnics, private institutes and alternative networks. There were also side trips to Australia, for universities in Sydney and Perth.

Prior to January 1991, I had taken a four year break from facilitation, starting in November 1986, in order to lie fallow after sixteen non-stop years, to change my life-style, and write some books. The fundamental shift in my facilitation since my return to active work in 1991 has been to make fully explicit and integrate the use of transpersonal interventions as an integral aspect of the workshop. While this dimension has always been present in my work, it was often more tacit and intermittent than is now the case.

What I mean by ‘transpersonal interventions’ are proposals which invite people to explore their spirituality, a variety of inner and altered states of consciousness, as an explicit part of their learning and as a ground of the whole person learning process. These states may be manifest outwardly in expressive, ritual actions; or they may be entirely inward, involving rearrangements, deepenings and expansions of consciousness. A comparison may make the notion of transpersonal or spiritual interventions more telling.

When I was at the British Postgraduate Medical Federation in the University of London, I initiated a co-operative inquiry into whole person medicine with a group of sixteen doctors. It ran through 1982-1983 and one of the working principles the doctors adopted was that the patient is a being of body, mind and spirit. However, they felt that it was no good if the concept of spirit here just remained a matter of cloudy rhetoric, meaning nothing in practice. So they set out to clarify through action what would constitute appropriate and effective spiritual interventions in relation to their patients in their consulting rooms. In the same way I make practical use of spiritual interventions as part of the facilitation of whole person learning, and invite the learners to inquire into this practice with me.

What makes New Zealand a relevant setting for the use of such interventions is its active bi-culturalism. Traditional Maori beliefs and practices, sustained on the many marae throughout the country, have made a significant impact on those working at the leading edge of educational development. Thus The Education Centre, the staff development unit at the Central Institute of Technology near Wellington, has a within its building a special room set aside to host a semi-sacred space bequeathed to the Centre by the local Maori community for the affirmation and expression of Maori values. In the many workshops I have run for the Centre on educational themes, the use of this room for in-depth personal, interpersonal and transpersonal work has been an integral part of the learning process, alongside the use of a conventional seminar room.

What a discriminating minority of the non-indigenous people in New Zealand absorb from the ethos of Maoridom, without being bound by its traditional authoritarianism, are the following: the use of ritual for affirming the spiritual integrity and solidarity of human beings; respect for the spirit of place and the living presences of nature; the concept of mana, personal charisma and power; the continuity of life beyond death and the relevance to human society of ancestral light; the importance of community, collective support, or what the Russian mystics call sobornost, togetherness.

How I prepare myself to do what I do

There are three aspects to this. The first is to prepare coloured wall charts, incorporating graphics, of the various conceptual models I will be using. The second is to visualize the proceedings of the group as if they have already been completed in a richly fulfilling manner for all concerned. The third is to focus my attention on an inward place in the psychological heart which is pregnant with all the relevant interactions with the group that are to come. I do not have a set programme devised in detail in advance of the workshop, but a broad and flexible strategy together with a wide array of detailed alternative options. It is the interaction of this with participants’ presence, needs and interests that shapes what occurs.

Who are the participants?

In the main section that follows about what I do in practice, I focus the account on workshops on facilitation skills, and so I will write here about who comes to these. They have all been sponsored by a department, in an institute of technology or in a university, which is concerned with both staff development and professional development in the outside world. So the people who attend are facilitators and trainers in higher and continuing education, in management, in medical and therapy settings, in organizational and community development, in personal development, and so on.

The participants cover a wide range of competence from those with considerable facilitative skill and experience to those who are have just started to launch themselves beyond didactic teaching. Likewise there is wide variation with respect to personal growth experience: some have attended a wide range of personal development workshops over a long period, others have never been to any. Each workshop delivers a different and unpredictable mix along these two parameters.

The age range is from the 20s to the 60s with the mean age for any one workshop being somewhere in the late 30s or mid 40s. At least 60% of the participants are women; but occasionally this ratio is reversed.

Attendance is entirely voluntary: participants are self-selected and no-one has been sent or pressured into enrolling. They are there because they have been to and valued other workshops I have run, or because they have had the workshop recommended by past participants, or because they have read something I have written, or because they have heard of me and are curious to experience what I do. All this adds up to a lot of positive expectation intermingled, in the case of people attending an event of mine for the first time, with varying degrees of normal anxiety about the unknown.

Participants will return to institutions with varying degrees and kinds of constraint on what can be practised within them. So a popular and valued part of the facilitation skills workshop I call ‘Techniques of soft revolution’. Participants consider carefully what they can and cannot take back, and strategies for introducing change, both within the class room or group room, and politically on the wider institutional front. These entail not confusing inner anxiety with assumed external constraints; and conversely not letting excess enthusiasm obscure real constraints. We also discuss the moral issue of introducing change where there is no contract to do so with the recipients of it.

What I do in practice

The following items are the main ones that occur to me at the time of writing this chapter. I expect there are several others, but these are sufficient to provide an outline of my practice. In order to give the list coherence, I have chosen items all of which I would use in a workshop on facilitation skills, and I describe them in terms appropriate to that use.Introductions

I usually start a workshop with the following: a simple ritual, a round of introductions, an overview of the nature of the workshop and of possible events to come, a clarification of my role, and setting the culture in terms of proposed values and ground-rules. The round of introductions affirms the principle of participation by all from the outset: each person is invited to share, very briefly, their name, occupation, facilitative work, prior facilitation and personal development training, reasons for attending this workshop, and anything else that the group thinks is pertinent to what we are about. This also gives me a working grasp of the range of facilitation skills and of personal development experience present in the group.Culture-setting

I find culture-setting to be of prime importance among the proceedings at the outset of a workshop. For me it means commending and seeking assent to a set of values as the basis for our being and learning together. A typical set would include the following: being co-operative and non-competitive; creating a safe, supportive and trusting climate; being experientially risk-taking and non-defensive; being vulnerable, open to areas of inner pain, chaos, confusion and lack of skill; being open to our personal presence and power; exercising autonomy and the voluntary principle; participation in the political life of the workshop; adopting a spirit of inquiry without dogmatism and authoritarianism; exploring multimodal, multistranded learning; having an open, transparent workshop process; enjoying ourselves; affirming confidentiality.

When group members find the space within themselves to assent to these values, I note that a deep affective climate, one that advances holistic learning, is inaugurated. As part of this process, I will also commend and elaborate on the view that personal development, the cultivation of professional facilitative skills, and organizational development go hand to hand.

I make a deliberate choice to propose and seek assent to these values, rather than invite the group to generate its own set of values. This because the group is still an aggregate of people not an integrated group, because initial anxiety and discomfort in a group can distort its selection of values, and because the propose-assent model, as I have suggested, generates a certain security that bodes well for future learning. It also permits the following.Suggestion and permission-giving

Culture-setting is not only seeking rational assent to values that respect persons and their capacity for change and mutual support. When I facilitate it with a measure of charismatic

presence and voice, it brings about a light trance state, and so it is also a way of empowering people with positive suggestion. I find that these two planes, of seeking rational assent and of empowering with entranced suggestion, are not at odds: rather they enhance each other.

An incidental and powerful effect of some of these positive suggestions is that they give permission to the hurt child within the adult to embark on a process of being recognized, accepted and healed. This is important for subsequent learning, since some of the blocks to learning will reside in the fixated pain of old and unresolved experiences of wounding and oppression. A related effect is the permission given to disinhibit the charismatic and spiritual core which social conditioning has repressed in many people.Healing the wounded child

In our emotionally repressive society, where everyone seems to carry around more or less unresolved emotional pain from their childhood which restricts their adult functioning, I find it irresponsible and counter-productive to teach professional facilitation skills in divorce from personal work on the hurt child within. So I will seek to create a safe and trusting climate within the group which gives space for this kind of work to occur.

As I said earlier, participants show a wide variation with respect to personal growth experience: from those who are already well established in their own healing and recovery, to those who have scarcely identified it as relevant. For the latter in particular, I will stress the interdependence of personal healing, facilitation skills, and organizational development. When the climate in the group matures, then old pain will unexpectedly claim present attention in some group members, especially those who are still busy repressing it. I will facilitate a little healing work with this, affirm its legitimacy and relevance, and point those involved on the path of follow-up after the workshop through the use of local resources such as a co-counselling network.

While this personal healing is not extended in time or taken to great depth, and is a relatively small part of the total workshop proceedings, I regard as an integral part of the whole learning process. It makes strongly the point that past trauma can be an emotional block to learning present life-enhancing skills. It affirms the importance of emotional competence as a necessary basis for interpersonal and facilitative competence; and shows that such competence is a matter for main-line education and training, not the cultural backwater of psychotherapy.

For participants who are new to all this, it can be a turning point in their own general development, hence the importance of showing the way to, and encouraging, post-workshop follow-up. For someone who is on the brink, shows signs of breakthrough, but chooses in the moment to put his or her defenses against past pain back together again, I affirm their choice and their absolute right to make it. No-one should give up their defenses until they really choose to do so. In this area the voluntary principle reigns supreme.The use of ritual

I introduce a ritual as part of the opening sequence of events in a group, sometimes at the very outset before the round of introductions, at other times, for example, after culture-setting. It all depends on the group, the mood, the climate. I also use them at the start of each subsequent day, and sometimes at the end of a day. I devise rituals that are as free as possible of overt theology and transpersonal doctrine. Their purpose is to affirm spiritual openness, groundedness and mutuality of presence, each to each. I seek the assent of the group to try them out in a spirit of holistic inquiry. I also seek feedback and comment afterward, giving space both for those who want to affirm and for those who may have been discomforted.

My belief and experience is that appropriate rituals subtly transfigure the whole subsequent learning process by opening up individuals and the interactions between them to deep potentials in persons for participative awareness. They legitimate each person’s charismatic presence. And they enhance positive emotional arousal and imaginal awakening, both of which, on my current models, are also key elements of holisitic learning.

One example, among many, of such a ritual: the group stands in a circle holding hands; one after another, going round the circle, each person takes hold of the same flower, turns to the one on their left and says ‘May you flourish in the belly, in the head and in the heart’, at the same time tapping the recipient with the flower in each of those three places. The rest of the circle continue to hold hands while the two who are active disengage from the hand link to face each other. I start the process giving the first evocation, and end it receiving the last evocation. What makes this a spiritual ritual is the benedictory, evocative language, and the bestowing gesture of empowerment. Alternatives for the verb ‘flourish’ are ‘learn’ or ‘grow’.

A nonverbal ritual I frequently use is to stroke a piece of wood around the rim of a Tibetan bowl, lent to me by a participant in New Zealand, while the group enters into a state of meditative attunement in and through the pervasive, omnipresent sound.

I have found in New Zealand a remarkable degree of openness to these rituals, with lot of sensible evaluation of them. I think this is because of the active bi-culturalism, which I have already alluded to. Elements of Maori ritual and protocol are honoured in quite a few meetings of different kinds in the wider society, so the whole idea of ritual procedure is no longer culturally odd. In one three-day team development exercise I ran for staff from a hospital, they had launched the first meeting with a Maori-based ritual before I had got my own ritual proposal off the ground. The same kind of acceptance applies to the next three items.An imaginal focus

At the very start of the workshop, before any proceedings begin, I will often place on the floor, in the middle of the circle of chairs, some symbolic object – without making any comment at all about it. For quite a number of different workshops, this was a small black rubber mouse. Mainly, the object sets the imaginal mind going through metaphorical drift and association. It promotes group interaction through shared conjecture and unfettered whimsy. It can also elicit arousal through emotional projection. It works as a fruitful yeast in the group unconscious.

Sooner or later the unconscious process breaks out and there is a sustained discussion about the significance and relevance of the mouse to what we are about. It then provides a useful experiential focus for the grounding of conceptual learning in the multivalent processes of symbolism, metaphor and analogy in the deeper imagination.Tibetan awakening

In an accessible place in the workshop there stands a bell, which I or anyone else can ring every once in a while, whatever is occurring in the sessions or in breaks between them, in order to remind us to wake up from the sleep of identifying with the immediate content of experience. The invitation of the bell is to regain mindedness, inner alertness, knowing what is going on as a form of our awareness rather than as an occlusion of it. This state of consciousness which fully includes and indwells what is happening and at the same time transcends it, is in my view a precondition of insightful learning. It involves a felt participation in immediate events and an intuitive, transcendent grasp of their whole pattern.Holonomic focus

The holonomic principle, thought by radical physicists, systems theorists, and others to be fundamental in the scheme of things, asserts that the whole is represented in the part: the whole hologram is represented in any part of the holographic plate; the whole of the tacit universe is represented in any part of the explicit universe (Bohm, 1980). There certainly seem to be occasions in which the group is represented by one of its members: one person will contribute in a way that focusses the learning of all. I seek to be sensitive to this phenomenon and be alert to make way for it when it is about to manifest. And from time to time I will be a holonomic focus for the energy, needs and concerns of the whole group. Tuning in to the shared experiential field is a way of enabling that to happen.

I sometimes work with the holonomic principle through ritual. Everyone writes their own name on a piece of paper, which is put it into a basket. Then each in turn picks one paper, reads the name and hands the basket to the person whose name is on the piece of paper. The last person’s name to be picked out is the holonomic focus. Once this person is selected he or she goes ceremonially round the group, shakes each member by the root of the nose and says ‘I empower you to learn and grow’. It is surprising how well people will engage with this unusual activity, as a form of inquiry. And the effect can be quite extraordinary, producing a total shift of consciousness in the group. The whole is more than the part and can be revealed through the part. The whole group can get in touch with its full power when that power is focussed through one person and bestowed through that person to everyone in the group.Flexibility in the use of decision-modes

I exercise unilateral political authority about learning when I take a meta-decision about whether to make decisions – for example about the programme of learning – hierarchically for the group, co-operatively with the group, or to delegate this decision-making to the group, or some combination of these. Even when I consult the group about whether to make planning decisions hierarchically, co-operatively or by delegation, I have still made, at a higher meta-level, a unilateral, hierarchical decision to do so. I have discussed this matter most thoroughly in Chapter 2 of The Complete Facilitator’s Handbook (Heron, 1999).

No facilitator can avoid the exercise of unilateral decision-making at these meta-levels. I make it clear at the start of a workshop what meta-decisions I have taken. I work with this most explicitly in a five day facilitation skills workshop. So I start the workshop proposing (i) that for the first day or so I will decide hierarchically on the training programme, both in order to present the trainees with issues which I think are fundamental, and in order to model such decision-making; (ii) that some time into day two or day three, I will shift over into co-operative decision-making to negotiate a contract between participants’ needs and interests and what I have on offer; and (iii) that on the last day or two we will have an autonomy lab, in which participants post up what they have to teach and what they want to learn, then everyone plans their own learning on a basis of self-direction and peer negotiation, and I will be a resource and learner alongside everyone else.

Then I consult the group as to whether this three-part proposal is acceptable. The assent usually given is inclined to be more nominal than substantial because of participants’ relative unfamiliarity with the issues. The second consultation, after a day or so, about whether it is time for me to shift, as originally proposed, from hierarchical to co-operative decision-making about the programme, is altogether more substantial in its outcome. If this outcome is to move over into the co-operative decision-mode, then in a further day or two I will consult for a third time about the final shift into an autonomy lab, and by then the participants are fully immersed in the relative merits and demerits of moving between the three basic decision-modes with respect to the programme of learning.

What I am doing is deciding unilaterally at the higher meta-level to consult participants at the lower meta-level in deciding whether (and when) I, or they and I, or they, should decide on the programme of learning. By making the issues simultaneously experientially and theoretically explicit about directive, consultative and autonomous decisions at different levels, a great deal of learning about the facilitation of learning is going on. And I will extend this not only to the programme of learning, but also to the more detailed method to be adopted within any specific learning activity.

While a facilitation skills workshop is the obvious place for me to exercise a high degree of political, i.e. decision-mode, flexibility, in all other kinds of workshop I will also apply appropriate versatility in moving between modes or staying in a particular mode and will make it clear what I am doing and why. The purpose of all this is to elicit and empower both autonomy and peer support in learning. I notice that this autonomy and support emerge strongly in a context where the facilitator prepares, or intermittently tills, the soil with the right kind and degree of direction and negotiation, and is transparent about it.Wall charts as patterns

In a facilitation skills workshop, usually five days, before the proceedings begin I will cover the walls with a large number of wall charts which in words and graphics give an account of different aspects of facilitation, holistic learning, models of personality, group dynamics and so on. Some charts are multi-coloured in an arbitrary and/or aesthetic way; some are both multi-coloured and colour-coded according to conceptual content.

I recommend that from the outset group members practise regarding the charts as background patterns, like wall paper, and this whether looking at them directly or being marginally aware of them at the periphery of the visual field. Sometimes I will lead the group on a slow tour round the room walking past the charts, inviting each person to keep focussing the eyes off the charts, while being aware, at the edge of vision, of the pure pattern of each chart while passing by it.

My purpose is to underline experientially the point that propositional knowledge is grounded in the matrix of imaginally grasped patterns, and that the learning of conceptual content is enhanced by a prior and purely imaginative immersion in the visual and auditory patterns that carry it. Some, but not all, of the charts will later be used in terms of their conceptual content; but not until they have been soaked up as peripheral pattern.Charismatic presence and voice

I have written at some length about charismatic training in The Complete Facilitator’s Handbook(Heron, 1999), and I must refer the reader to that book for a full account of what I can only allude to in this section. Charismatic presence is about relaxed and aware posture and movement; charismatic voice is to do with tone and timing, especially moving between a more rapid information-giving clock time, and a slower more rhythmic and evocative charismatic time which empowers what is said with human depth and significance. The purpose of both combined is to facilitate learning by engaging with the substrate of participative feeling, the ‘ocean of shared feeling where we become one with one another’ (Alexander, 1979: 294); and with the intuitive mind of the learners who can then enter most fully into the imagery of what is being said and how it is being said, as the ground for understanding its conceptual content.

As well as using this combination myself as and when appropriate, and when I am alert enough to remember it, I also introduce it as part of the facilitation skills training. This has proved to be one of the most effective parts of the training, and is very popular with participants. It gives participants immediate access, through a simple behavioural rearrangement of conscious use of the self, to an inner wellspring of personal empowerment, which also facilitates the empowerment of others.Use of the experiential learning cycle

At the heart of the learning process I use versions of the experiential learning cycle, which engage the whole person construed as a being of feeling and emotion, intuition and imagery (including perception, memory and imagination), reflection and discrimination, intention and action. I take the view that holistic learning involves an up-hierarchy, in which what is above is grounded on what is below. So the practical (intention and action) is grounded on the conceptual (reflection and discrimination), which is grounded on the imaginal (intuition and imagery), which in turn is grounded on the affective (feeling and emotion). When these four modes are construed as a cycle, the affective mode is the wellspring of the cyclic interaction (Heron, 1992, 1999).

A good example of this at work, illustrated in Figure 1, is in one-to-one facilitation or counsellor training, where the trainee (female) is practising counselling skills with another trainee (male) who is being a real client. The four modes – affective, imaginal, conceptual and practical – are shown as circles generating motion in each other in that order.

Figure 1 The whole person primary cycle

Stage 1. Affective. The trainee feels empathically the presence of the client, while attending to and managing her own emotions.

Stage 2. Imaginal. The trainee notices to the whole pattern of the client’s behaviour, both what he is saying and all the nonverbal cues, intuitively divining its meaning as a whole.

Stage 3. Conceptual.The trainee discriminates selectively among all this data, rapidly classifying it, and with quicksilver reflection evolves a hypothesis about the client’s process.

Stage 4. Practice. She converts her hypothesis into a practical intervention based on an underlying therapeutic purpose. She is using intention and action.

This is an inquiry and learning cycle since the client’s response, noted in stages 1 and 2, to interventions made in stage 4, can modify hypotheses generated in stage 3, which alter interventions in stage 4, and so on.

This primary training cycle, managed within by the trainee, is set within a secondary cycle which I manage as the trainer, as illustrated in Figure 2, and use to prepare trainees for the primary one and to digest it afterwards. It differs from the primary one in reversing the order between the imaginal and the conceptual modes. For more detail on this see the relevant books (Heron, 1992, 1993).

Stage 1. Affective. The trainees work on their negative and positive emotional responses to the impending exercise of counselling practice.

Stage 2. Conceptual. I give an analytic input on the counselling process, its stages, the different whole person aspects involved, followed by discussion with the whole group.

Stage 3. Imaginal. I then demonstrate or illustrate the whole process and also the training exercise which is to follow.

Figure 2 The facilitator’s secondary cycle

Stage 4. Practical. The trainees do a practice counselling session using the four stages of the primary cycle, as described earlier. The primary cycle as a whole is within stage 4 of the secondary cycle. After a turn as counsellor, each trainee gives feedback to self and receives feedback from the client.

Stage 5. Affective. The trainees process the positive and negative emotions involved as counsellor and in response to the other as counsellor.

Stage 6. Conceptual. Trainees as a group discuss the issues arising from the practice, and relate these to the theoretical model put forward in stage 2. Learners here are doing one or more of four things: they are cultivating a personal view of counselling practice, one that expresses their own stance in life; they are testing for a valid view, one that is consistent with their experience; they are developing a coherent view, one that is internally consistent; and they are unfolding a practical view, one that is effective in and for action.Multi-stranded activities

When I use various versions of the experiential learning cycle, different aspects of the whole person are integrated in a coherent way within the learning of some facilitation skill or conceptual model. The holistic method is internal to the learning. But I will also have strands of activity which variously affirm diffferent aspects of the whole person alongside the learning of specific skills or content, providing a holistic ground or context for it. Three, at least, of the items already mentioned fall within this category: the use of an opening ritual, of an imaginal focus in the middle of the group, of a bell for Tibetan awakening.

Other examples which include the whole group are: free form dancing to music, musical improvisation with percussion and other instruments, theatrical improvisation, games, energetic movements, loud noise, time for unfettered reflection, moments of silence and attunement.Switching and integration

I switch, or negotiate switches in, or delegate the management of switches in, group energy for the purposes of sustaining a variegated holistic momentum in learning, and at the same time of releasing the tension of sustaining only one mode of human fucntioning. The secondary experiential learning cycle, the one managed by the facilitator, is itself a series of switches between affective, imaginal, conceptual and practical ways of being. The use, alongside the learning, of one of the multi-stranded activities mentioned above will involve a switch of energy from what was previously going on.

Classic switches are moving both ways between the conceptual and the imaginal, between the conceptual and the practical, between the conceptual and the emotional/interpersonal, between each of these and physical action/sensory awareness, between any of these and felt spiritual attunement, participation consciousness, resonance. Switching spotlights the different modalities of human functioning, development and learning, but only to highlight them for their subsequent and more conscious harmonization in multi-modal ways of being.The polarity of light and strong

I may take your hand lightly or I may grasp it strongly. As a facilitator of group energy, I use the polarity of light and strong: some interventions have a light, deft touch that elicits laughter and an ‘up’ climate of positive emotional arousal. Others are stronger in their mode of delivery and more stringent in their content: they generate gestation – a brooding, meditative, reflective mood. I find that the creative use of this polarity is central in sustaining a good learning curve in a group.

Participants’ response

Shona Todd followed up polytechnic tutors some months after they had attended one or other of my two my facilitation skills workshops in Auckland in the summer of 1991-92 (Todd, 1992). What they gained included: feeling fully accepted and valued with the resulting freedom to explore whatever were the real issues for them; personal validation and empowerment through finding one’s inner beliefs affirmed in the workshop; ‘being made whole’ by integrating personal development and professional development; effective facilitation as requiring emotional competence; managing the power dynamic in the learning situation by moving between hierarchy, co-operation and autonomy; involving different aspects of the whole person in the learning process. One tutor typically wrote:

I overtly use his whole model on control and power in terms of being hierarchical or co-operative or autonomous and I overtly talk to students about that whole thing at the beginning of the course…In my general planning of classes I am much more conscious of the need to acknowledge the multidimensional nature of people and that tends to prevent me getting hooked into just didactive, cognitive teaching, but to try and incorporate, where it is possible and appropriate, a more balanced session that taps into the emotional aspect, or the political aspect, or the spiritual aspect of people. I think I did some of those things before, but I can now more overtly do them and do them for a particular reason which I like (Todd, 1992: 44-45).

Key issues and challenges for the future

There are in my experience and practice three big issues that stand out as challenges for the future.The integration of autonomy and holism in learning

In the present educational climate, there is a considerable tension, in higher education, between introducing student autonomy in learning and initiating students into holistic learning methods. Most students, moving from secondary to tertiary education, come from a very non-autonomous and non-holistic background. If they are encouraged early on in a tertiary course to use learning contracts and thus to plan their own learning to a significant degree, then they are likely to do so in terms of the old familiar non-holistic learning methods they have brought with them. If, however, they are going to be initiated into holistic methods, then their facilitators will have to plan a lot of the learning until the methods are internalized and students can manage them autonomously.

Too much student autonomy early on will be at the expense of holism in learning; and directive initiation into holistic methods will be at the expense of student autonomy. This tension between autonomy and holism in learning is, I believe, a major issue in the educational revolution that is afoot, and one that is not yet fully grasped. So some teachers are pioneering with student contracts in a manner that is relatively non-holistic with respect to learning methods; and others are busy with holistic methods, as in suggestive-accelerative learning, in an unawarely directive way.

The resolution of this tension lies in a greater command by teachers of the decision-modes of direction, negotiation and delegation in planning their students’ programmes of learning; and in using these modes to establish a gradient from directive initiation into holism at one end toward increasing student autonomy in planning the sequence and methods of learning at the other.Spiritual immanence as a principle of learning

The relevance of transpersonal psychology, both theory and practice, to experiential learning awaits future development. One problem has been that the transpersonal or spiritual self has too often been construed only as transcendent, beyond ordinary consciousness. Special steps have then to be taken to get ordinary consciousness to connect up with it.

It is more fruitful for experiential learning to work with the model of divine immanence, of spirituality that is the foundation of psychological processes. I have expressed this in my account of feeling, distinguished from emotion, as the capacity for participative union with being and beings while retaining a sense of own’s distinct identity (Heron, 1992). Related notions such as experiential focussing (Gendlin, 1981), entelechy (Houston, 1987), E-therapy, (Kitselman, 1953), ground-unconscious (Wilber, 1990), actualizing tendency (Rogers, 1959) are useful sources for enhancing our model both of autonomy and holism in learning.

In less technical language all this points to the view that the spiritual dimension is deeply within the human being, an inner ground of everyday mental and emotional states, and can be accessed through opening to this inward source; and that this is a much needed complement and counter-balance to the way that goes up and out and beyond to some all-encompassing transcendental reality (Heron, 1998).A self-generating culture

Another challenge for the future is to prepare to take experiential learning out into the world. What this entails is individual and co-operative commitment to a learning culture: each person in various aspects of his or her daily life, personal and professional, adopts a set of primary experiential learning cycles. Torbert (1991) calls this action inquiry: an extended consciousness-in-action, encompassing your vision of goals, your strategies to achieve them, your current actions and their outcomes, and what is going on in the world around. It also means noticing and amending, either through action or internal revision or both, incongruities between these components of your lived inquiry.

In the wider canvas of life, such action inquiry will have its idiosyncratic private strands, its shared and face-to-face strands with people at home and at work, and its more collective strands within organizations as learning systems. It will involve primary cycles of living and learning; with time out in secondary cycles for review, reflection and goal setting. The totality of all this I call a self-generating culture, a society whose members are in a continuous process of learning and development, and whose forms are consciously adopted, periodically reviewed and altered in the light of experience and deeper vision (Heron, 1999).


Alexander, C. (1979) The Timeless Way of Building. New York: Oxford University Press

Bohm, D. (1980) Wholeness and the Implicate order. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Gendlin, E. (1981) Focusing. London: Bantam Press.

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