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2004-2005 Faculty Research Fellows

Tricia McConville, MBA
Academic Director, Leadership
SPCS/CBA Lecturer
Department of Management and Leadership
School of Professional and Continuing Studies
Northeastern University
261 Ryder Hall

Impact of Action Learning on the Adult Learner in the Workplace

Tricia’s research project proposes to measure the impact that action learning has on the adult learner in the workplace, with respect to positive behavior change and increased professional competence. Success will be measured by improved scores on a nationally-recognized competency assessment. Scores will be compared to a group of students participating in one of our standard curriculum offerings. Tricia hopes to validate that an action learning approach to curriculum design and education improves professional competence.

As a result of any education or training employees receive, organizations expect employees to apply the skills they have learned to the workplace; they expect improved competence, or performance. Traditionally, Northeastern curricula have not explicitly incorporated application of theory to practice. The new action learning-based Leadership curriculum developed through SPCS does. Action learning can be most simply defined as “practice-oriented education” in the workplace. With action learning, students apply theory directly to work-based projects as they progress through their curriculum. Because our students are working adults, theories and models can be applied simultaneously as students attend classes. Tricia expects this integration of theory and practice to improve students’ performance in their respective workplaces more rapidly than through participating in a traditional curriculum.

In addition to the real-time application of theory, there are elements of our approach which Tricia believes will contribute to significantly improved results. First, at program outset, students determine specific outcomes and learning objectives. Second, classes are designed to incorporate activity- or simulation-based processes to model the workplace and test new behaviors. And, lastly, students receive ongoing coaching and feedback via learning teams to help increase their effectiveness and achieve desired learning outcomes.

To measure positive behavior change and increased professional competence, Tricia will use scores achieved on a nationally-recognized competency assessment. An accepted practice most organizations today utilize is the development of competency models to define measures of success for their employees. A competency assessment is a feedback instrument designed to measure employee performance relative to those competencies. An additional unique element of our curriculum design is the inclusion of a pre- and post-program competency assessment to measure students’ professional competence. Improvement in the scores will validate the effectiveness of our practice-oriented approach. Tricia will conduct the same assessments with a group of students from the standard leadership curriculum and compare the results to determine which approach has a greater impact.

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