Tag: learning

Something all learning pro’s should do

Learn a language.

I don’t mean a programming language (although the theory probably still holds). I mean a bone fide foreign language like French, German, Japanese or Mandarin.

By going outside of your comfort zone, you stimulate your brain into new realms. But more importantly, you experience once again what it’s like to be a novice learner.

Now YOU are the one on a steep learning curve.

It’s daunting. It’s awkward. And it’s humbling.

Language learning books.

As a teenager I developed a fascination for the German language. I think it stemmed from my love of history and my desire to understand what the enemy soldiers were saying in the movies.

Over the years I dabbled by doing a class, listening to tapes, buying an English-German dictionary and reading a few language books.

However it wasn’t until recently when I planned to revisit Germany that I made a conscious effort to give it another red hot go. I didn’t want to be one of those tourists who’s first words are inevitably: “Do you speak English?”

No, I wanted to understand – and be understood – auf Deutsch. At least enough to get by.

And I did all right. But in no uncertain terms I reminded myself of what works and what doesn’t in the learning process.

All those fundamental pedagogical principles that had faded into the background came flooding back with avengeance…

Instructivism and formal learning

When you’re a novice in a domain, the guidance of an expert is golden.

For example, the teacher at the front of a language classroom already knows the grammar, vocabulary, phrases, habits and customs that you need to know. He or she is in a prime position to provide you with a programmed sequence of knowledge.

In my opinion, there is no other way of getting up to speed so quickly.

Constructivism, connectivism and informal learning

While instructivism and formal learning are valuable, they comprise only one piece of the puzzle. Anything else you can access is invaluable – whether it be a copy of Der Spiegel, an episode of Inspector Rex, or a Twitter buddy in Berlin.

The motivated learner who extends the learning process beyond the formal curriculum is destined for mastery.

Skills development

You can learn about a language until the Friesian cows come home, but to acquire the skill you have to actually do it. From simply saying new words aloud, through role plays, to full-blown conversation cafes, the objective is to practise.

Make mistakes, improve your pronunciation, get the vocab front of mind.

OTJ, PBL and job aids

Developing a skill is a waste of time if you never apply it in the real world. At some stage you need to immerse yourself in the environment (in my case, Germany) and actively participate (eg order food, buy train tickets, ask for directions). In doing so, you continue to learn.

When you are in the moment, job aids – especially mobile job aids – become indispensable. I gave Google Translate a beating!

Use it or lose it

Repetition is key. I’m not referring to rote learning, but rather to the continual application of the knowledge.

When I was overseas, I must have looked up the same words six or seven times each; they weren’t very common.

On the other hand, other words were everywhere. I only needed to look those up once; they were naturally reinforced thereafter.

Now that I’m back in Oz, I know that I’ll lose much of my German unless I find ways to keep up the reading, writing, listening and conversing.

Someone holding a small globe of the world.

Of course, I realise I’m not telling you – a fellow learning professional – anything you don’t already know. But honestly, when was the last time you consciously used the concepts and principles I have just mentioned to inform your work?

During the daily grind it’s easy to slip into production mode and put your brain into hibernation. As a profession, we need to shock ourselves out of that state.

It’s time to put some skin back in the game, so why not learn a language?

Wer wagt, gewinnt!

The hardworking woodcutter

Late last year, I stumbled upon the story of the hardworking woodcutter.

It was shared by Dr Nupur Jaiswal in her article Engaging your
audience: Tips to try
in Training & Development, 38(4).

The story goes like this…

There was a woodcutter. He used to work incredibly hard to ensure a good livelihood, but he always felt that his work was not giving him enough output. Every day he would decide to work harder and longer, but at the end of the day he would find his pile of wood smaller than the previous day.

One day, when he was busy as usual, he noticed a bigger pile of logs with a woodcutter sitting next to it. He asked, “How can you have a bigger pile than me in less time, and how can you relax so early in the day?”

The other woodcutter replied, “I take time off to sharpen my axe.”

The first woodcutter said, “But how do you get the time? I don’t have any time for sharpening my axe.”

Pile of chopped wood

The first woodcutter’s perspective is surprisingly common in the corporate sector – particularly in over-worked, under-resourced teams.

It’s tempting for the managers of these teams to deny their staff the opportunity to attend training, or even to undertake e-learning at their desks.

Why? Because they fear it will impact their performance stats.

And you know what? It will.

But what these managers don’t understand is that learning is an investment. Yes, your performance stats will probably take a short-term hit, but in the long term your team’s performance will be better than it otherwise would have been.

At the extreme end of the spectrum, those who fail to keep up with the necessary training will one day, sooner or later, discover they can no longer do their jobs.

And their heads will be chopped off by others with sharper axes.

Clash of the titans

I have really enjoyed following the recent argy bargy between Larry Sanger and Steve Wheeler. From a learning practitioner’s point of view, it raises issues of pedagogy, instructional design, and perhaps even epistemology.

Having said that, I think it all boils down to the novice-expert principle. As a novice, you don’t know what you don’t know. Thankfully, an expert (the teacher) can transmit the necessary knowledge to you quickly and efficiently. In eduspeak, you benefit from “scaffolding”.

Then, after you have acquired (yes – “acquired”) a foundational cognitive framework, I suggest a constructivist approach would be appropriate to expand and deepen your knowledge. In other words, now you know what you don’t know, you can do something about it.

My sector of practice is corporate rather than K-12, but I would assume that because the learners are children, their level of experience and prior knowledge is limited. Hence, having the basic concepts explained up front is a perfectly reasonable teaching strategy.

Teacher in front of K-12 class

I wonder, though, whether conversation (online or otherwise) would indeed be a useful technique after the basics have been bedded down? Perhaps the last third or so of the class could be devoted to discourse facilitated by the teacher? Or assigned to participation in a district-wide online discussion forum? (Moderated, of course, by teachers and class nerds.)

Or – more likely – I’m exposing my ignorance of the logistics of managing a classroom.

My point is that constructivism can complement, rather than substitute, instructivism. This is something that I have argued for previously.

My secondary point is that I am quite getting over the Twitterati’s tendency to devalue the role of the expert in education. Not only is the expert aware of the important facts, but they can also impart their meaning and context.

Googling ability does not a scholar make.

Learning vs Development

Is there a difference between learning and development?

I ruminated over this question for a number of years as a Learning & Development professional, but without much progress.

I could never draw a clear line between the two, so I considered the “D” in “L&D” to be a simple tautology.

That was until a colleague of mine recommended I read Making the Case for a Developmental Perspective by Dr Suzanne R Cook-Greuter.

Bidirectional POV

Cook-Greuter distinguishes between two directions of human development: horizontal growth and vertical transformation.

Horizontal growth refers to the gaining of new knowledge, skills and behaviours within a particular stage of development. In doing so, the learner becomes better equipped to perform in their environment.

Vertical transformation is much more sophisticated. Rather than expanding capability within the same stage of development, the learner promotes their intellect to a higher stage of development.

The Leadership Development Framework (LDF) models this transformation as an upward spiral from the preconventional Impulsive and Opportunist through to the transpersonal Ironist and beyond:

The spiral of development in the Leadership Development Framework

Each stage of development represents a level of wisdom that transcends the one before it.

The vast majority of people in modern society (and hence in the workplace) occupy the conventional stages of Diplomat, Expert and Achiever. Promotion to the postconventional stages of Individualist, Strategist and Alchemist is relatively rare, while I presume the transpersonal stages are the realm of the Zen Master.

(For profiles of the seven most common stages in the workplace, refer to Rooke & Torbert’s Seven Transformations of Leadership.)

The sound of a penny dropping

As I read Cook-Greuter’s paper, it dawned on me that her bidirectional model of development can represent the two sides of the L&D equation:

  1. Horizontal growth represents the “L” – improving your competence.
  2. Vertical transformation represents the “D” – maturing your mind.

I think it’s fair to say most L&D professionals focus their energy in the L space:

  • Classroom-based training
  • Online courses
  • System simulations
  • Job aids
  • Assessments
  • Performance appraisals
  • Coaching

But this might only be going half way.

Cook-Greuter maintains that to help people transform, “only specific long-term practices, self-reflection, action inquiry, and dialogue, as well as living in the company of others further along the development path has been shown to be effective” (pp. 3-4).

In other words, meaningful transformation requires deep intervention which is personally driven and fostered by peers. The role of the L&D professional is to facilitate it:

  • Communities of practice
  • Enterprise social networking
  • Disruptive content
  • Cross-departmental problems
  • Mentoring

In addition, reflection and deep thinking requires time, permission and support – so we need to secure managerial buy-in.

We can’t “do” development for others; they must do it for themselves. However we can cultivate the right environment and empower them to make the most of their opportunities.

Why bother?

That’s a question that has been on my mind since I wrote Shades of green last year. Does all this warm and fuzzy stuff really make a difference to the performance of the business? I’m convinced the answer is yes.

Of course horizontal growth remains important. Every employee has a job to do, and since nobody’s perfect, there will always be opportunities to increase knowledge, expand skillsets and change behaviours to do those jobs better.

Complementing that, I see the ROI in developing people vertically. When we refine our views of the corporate system and our roles in it, we think more strategically, work more efficiently, and collaborate with one another more effectively. In short, we perform better.

So it is clear to me now that the role of the L&D professional is two-fold: by definition, it’s to help people learn and develop.

The A to Z of learning

It all started with a tweet by Anne Bartlett-Bragg (@AnneBB) observing an instance of the term s-learning representing social learning.

Amused by our industry’s obsession with single letter prefixes, I replied facetiously that I preferred the term slearning – simply because it sounds so awful.

Then Anne suggested we play an alphabet learning game, and she proposed the first neologism: a-learning is awful learning? action learning? adaptive learning?

Well that was a red rag to this nerdy bull, so I replied with b-learning is book learning. In the blink of an eye we roped in Penny Wheeler (@pennyjw) and Claire Brooks (@clairebrooks) as we embarked on a
26-letter journey of frivolity.


All fun aside though, assigning 26 letters to learning is a lot harder than you might think.

Sure, you can make up anything (eg zebra learning), but if you adhere to the spirit of the game and confine your answers to terms that are pedagogically meaningful, the level of difficulty rises.

More than just a game, the exercise prompted me to critically reflect on the broad range of instructional approaches that are adopted in the digital age.

Businesswoman on laptop

So what did we come up with?

• a-learning is awful learning, action learning, adaptive learning
• b-learning is book learning
• c-learning is Confucian learning
• d-learning is distributed learning
• e-learning is enhanced learning
• f-learning is free learning
• g-learning is great learning, generative learning, granular learning
• h-learning is hidden learning, holistic learning
• i-learning is incidental learning, integrative learning
• j-learning is just-in-time learning
• k-learning is kinaesthetic learning
• l-learning is learning to learn
• m-learning is meta learning
• n-learning is new learning
• o-learning is objective learning, organisational learning
• p-learning is learning from other people
• q-learning is quantum learning, quick learning, quality learning
• r-learning is research oriented learning
• s-learning is social learning, socially networked learning
• t-learning is transformative learning
• u-learning is universal learning
• v-learning is video game learning, voracious learning
• w-learning is we learning
• x-learning is xenogamous learning
• y-learning is Gen Y targeted learning
• z-learning is Zen learning

No doubt you noticed that we tended to avoid the obvious (eg electronic learning, mobile learning).

In fact, I think we ended up with quite a thought-provoking list.

Wanna play?

Twitter birdAnyone can play the A to Z Learning Game.

Simply follow the #azlearninggame trend on Twitter and chip in the next answer.

Just remember to use the hashtag, and try to pick something unique.

If it’s abstract or obscure, justify it within the 140 character limit.

Go on, have a go!