Lecturer's Précis - Cheetham and Chivers (1998)

"The reflective (and competent) practitioner: A model of professional competence which seeks to harmonise the reflective practitioner and competence-based approaches"

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First published online 09:00 BST 8th July 2004, Copyright Derek J. Smith (Chartered Engineer). This version [HT.1 - transfer of copyright] dated 18:00 14th January 2010


Although this paper is reasonably self-contained, it is primarily designed to be read as a subordinate file to our e-paper on "Experiential Learning: The Knowledge Structures and the Cognitive Processes" (and readers unfamiliar with the concept of "metacognition" should find the notes at the end of Section 5 thereof especially useful). Readers unfamiliar with the behaviourist-cognitivist schism in 20th century psychology may care to read up on this subject [suggested source] before proceeding.

1 - Introduction

In an earlier paper, Cheetham and Chivers (1996) had presented a draft analysis of what "professional competence" actually was in terms of component behavioural outcomes. Here are the two basic definitions .....

Competence: This term is usually used in the plural to refer generally to "occupational standards" (p276). 

Competency: A competency, on the other hand, is a more specific demonstrable ability, usually "rather broader than a skill" and "likely to be made up of a collection of skills" (p276). Additionally, the term "competencies" may be used to refer "to competence in a more general sense" (p276).

The 1996 analysis drew on a number of prior educational theories, including the Tyler-Bloom tradition [supporting detail] and Schön's (1983) "reflective practitioner" model, and identified four major blocks of competence, as follows .....

(1) Knowledge/Cognitive Competence: This includes the basic technical, contextual, conceptual, and procedural knowledge required of the ideal professional. 

(2) Functional Competence: This includes the basic "occupation-specific" procedural and psychomotor skills, together with a number of organisational and managerial skills, plus the necessary literacy, numeracy, and IT skills.

(3) Personal/Behavioural Competence: This includes a cluster of "social/vocational" skills and qualities, such as self-confidence, persistence, and the ability to think on one's feet. Also a basic willingness to conform to the norms of professional behaviour. 

(4) Values/Ethical Competence: This includes such factors as being law abiding, and possessing the required levels of "sensibility to needs and values of others" (p275), and the recognition that professionals are duty bound to keep up-to-date themselves and to help to develop newcomers to their profession.

The activation of these blocks of competence was then overseen by a number of "meta-competencies" .....

KEY CONCEPT - "META-COMPETENCY": A meta-competency is an ability to manage an ability. Meta-competencies thus reflect cognitive processes of a higher order, such as "creativity, analysis, problem solving, and self-development" (p268). [For more on the topic of meta-cognition, see Section 5 of our e-paper on "Experiential Learning: The Knowledge Structures and the Cognitive Processes".]

Finally, the exercise of any competency generates "feed-back", the opportunity to study - that is to say, to "reflect" upon - the results of the behaviour in question. With a teacher, for example, the question might be whether the students have learned, whilst with a physician it might be whether a patient has improved.

With this preliminary model in place, and as part of their own reflective theorising, the authors then actively sought critical peer evaluation. They analysed responses from 80 practitioners across a range of 20 different professions, and in the present paper incorporate that feedback into a revised model .....

2 - The 1998 Model

Here are the four specific improvements incorporated into the Cheetham and Chivers (1998) Model of Professional Competence .....

(1) Context and Environment: These two factors are now introduced at the top of the model, to reflect their ability to shape a professional's entire experience of work. As an example of contextual influence, the authors offer the example that a solicitor might work for a small local practice, or a local authority, or a large company, or a government department, and although deemed competent in one might be found lacking in the others. As an example of environmental influence, the authors offer the example that an open plan office layout might provide a different experience from one offering personal offices. 

(2) Trans-Competencies: Communication and general mental agility are now elevated to the special status of "trans-competencies", that is to say, "competencies which span across other competencies" (p274). 

(3) The Status of Reflection: Reflection is now shown twice on the model, once at the bottom as a source of feedback (as in the 1996 model), but then again at the top of the model as a "super- meta-" competency .....

ASIDE: Cheetham and Chivers are making quite a subtle point here, for the difference is largely one of scale. A university lecturer, for example, may reflect briefly upon the delivery of each session immediately after the event. This is a relatively routine process, usually carried out against a set of criteria of evaluation. However, to achieve reflective professionalism the way Schön visualised it, it is necessary to challenge the very criteria themselves. With reflection in place as a super-meta-competency, a teacher will worry less about evaluating the last lecture and more about whether lecturing itself has had its day and needs to be replaced lock, stock, and barrel by more cost-effective methods. Similarly, a fully reflective physician will be checking for the side-effects of the drugs currently being given whilst at the same time seeking out alternative (and perhaps innovative) treatments for future use. Not surprisingly, reflective professionalism often requires getting back to basics, and calls for absolute clarity as to the particular profession's role in society.

(4) Personality and Motivation: Finally, the importance of personality and motivational factors is now recognised, as follows .....

"The fourth main conceptual change was the explicit recognition that both personality and motivation can have an impact on professional competence. This is acknowledged by the addition of a personality and a motivation box above the meta/trans-competencies box (although it is not suggested that these are mediated by meta- or trans-competencies). Personality can impinge upon any aspect of competence, perhaps in some cases limiting potential. Different personality traits may help or hinder the performance of particular professional roles [and] motivation can affect both performances in the job role and the willingness to develop or improve competencies (eg. to learn through reflection or even to reflect in the first place)." (p274.)

3 - Evaluation

The 1998 model is a thorough enough analysis of professional competence from the point of view of the taxonomist of behaviour. It classifies what professionals do, but makes no direct guesses at what might be going on inside their heads while they are doing it. In talking about numeracy skills, for example, the emphasis is on particular types of behaviour, rather than the cognitive processes which give rise to it [compare the McClosky Model of Mathematical Cognition - details]. In other words, the authors have given us a model of the organisation of behavioural outcomes, NOT of the organisation of cognitive processing. True this is what as educationalists they set out to do, but it ignores thereby a century and a half's neuropsychological progress towards identifying the modular-hierarchical nature of that processing. Indeed, the known functional organisation of cognition already maps closely against the hierarchy of competency, meta-competency, super-meta-competency, and trans-competency proposed in the Cheetham and Chivers model, as well as having considerably more to say about the ultimate physiological and philosophical nature of knowledge itself.

4 - References

See the Master References List