Supporting Development of a Set of Skills Needed for Facing Challenges

February 11, 2020 by Polona Sirnik

When an institution aims at supporting countries’ reform processes via capacity development of people that are supposed to carry out these reforms, it is kind of natural to question its capacity development approach. The CEF is approaching capacity development via learning activities. A lot of importance is paid to learning technical skills because this knowledge is crucial. Acquiring such knowledge is focused more on the rational component of learning, as my colleague Ajda Turk, andragogy specialist explains in her recent blog post. There is also another component of learning that concentrates on social-emotional learning. It seems that this is the type of learning that we should start paying more attention to if we want to develop skills needed to carry out changes.

Robin Poppe, a renowned learning expert with a full career at the UN including the International Training Centre of the ILO, stresses that the cognitive dimension of learning should be complemented with a non-cognitive dimension, if the goal of the learning is change. In one of his recent writings he explains, Fundamental although often neglected in our learning processes is the emotional dimension /…/ Our emotions constantly impact our life and the choices and decisions that we make. Learning processes that aim at deep transformative change must provide space for analysing emotions and the opportunity to recognise, name and make them explicit – to oneself and possibly to others.”

This goes hand in hand with reflection that in order for real changes to take place, since mind is not only conscious we need to tap into and break through subconscious to reach the core of empathy and creativity, essentials for effective changes and transformation. There are different approaches that deal with the subconscious – not all of them in the domain of a learning institution such as the CEF – but incorporating some of the approaches into a learning program will most likely contribute to learning that will result in a change.

The CEF as learning institution is open to trying out unconventional learning approaches and so it held a workshop in 2017 on modern art for personal and organizational change. The author of the workshop Robin Poppe uses modern art as a tool in the process of transformation of the mind that consists of five phases: opening up – letting go – taking in – generating new – assessing the new. According to the phases we addressed coming over of a prejudice. With many of the excercies designed in a way that made us think outside the box the workshop participants with at least one prejudice toward contemporary art eventually created their own piece of modern art. 

Reflecting on this, I started paying attention to how music, my personal passion, could be incorporated into learning processes. “Music is capable of rousing both emotions and physiological responses. Music works rapidly and intensely upon the mind because it requires so little conscious reflection,” says You have most probably experienced yourself listening to a song and finding yourself moved so deeply that you are almost in tears, or perhaps you have been to a live performance that got you into a good mood, or you might have come across a song that inspired you. All in all, there is music out there that has the power to move us and to change us. So, it is worth exploring how it can be incorporated into a learning process to support changes.

Recently we held a CEF vision retreat 2026, where we incorporated music as part of facilitation techniques at the meeting. Music served to set the tone for a reflection about what motivates us for the work that we are doing. We ended the retreat with a song singed and played by our staff. It was a really great team building exercise, especially the rehearsals. Playing music at the end of a working day “recalibrated” the energy of the entire day. It was also great to see how many open minds there are among my colleagues who supported or were willing to take part in this rather unusual exercise for our working environment. 

The song was preceded by a discussion where different views were confronted and the atmosphere was quite tense. Concluding the day with a song changed the energy and left an encouraging note of the day. It doesn’t mean that the challenges we discussed disappeared but the choice of music served as inspiration and motivation that it is worth and possible to carry out the tasks that we set for ourselves.

This exercise was learning by doing and a starting point, there is a lot of room for research on how music could be incorporated into learning to support the process of change. We also have to keep in mind that we are dealing with adult learners that are used of traditional learning techniques so it is necessary to observe how progressive techniques are perceived and what kind of results they give.