Real learning is a part of the work, not apart from it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Think of the Doer and doing, not the Learner and learning

I'm sure you've heard the cliche that is the self-described non-techie confessing that "My VCR still blinks 12:00." (OK I know...VCR? What's that? Humor me here).  I think this statement however speaks more to who we all are rather than just a segment of the not-so-tech-savvy among us. Furthermore I believe the statement transcends technology and to who we are as human-beings.

With that example as a point of reference about human nature lets look at why your VCR likely still blinks 12:00.
  • It blinks 12:00 because you didn't bother to read the instructions. 
  • You didn't bother to read the instructions because quite frankly your goal was to watch a movie not have yet another timepiece in the room. 
  • You didn't bother to read the instructions because the user guide was enormous and thus appeared as another layer of work just adding to your time on task. 
  • You didn't bother to read the instructions because the first thing you instinctively do IS "do."

Maybe it's an all to common human failing or maybe it's just part of how we are wired to learn. I prefer the latter. I mean isn't it our first instinct to just try? To play around and make a go of it? It's not typical for anyone to immediately reach for assistance. We don't want help until we want help. And when we want help we want just the right amount of help for our very specific need.

We are not stupid creatures in that we would ever take this approach if in a bomb detonation, surgery, or flying an aircraft situation. We turn towards "do" first when we believe there is a pretty good chance we will be successful (past experience?). It's in this doing; the struggle and ultimate success, that we gain confidence and make long-term connections for future application. We are mostly practical creatures too. The VCR blinks 12:00 because we don't let perfect be the enemy of good, i.e. an inaccurate clock doesn't bring us to our knees. So when, and only when, we need/want to go a bit further along we'll seek assistance.

What's the lesson here for L&D?  I think it's playing a bit more to human nature and not confounding it with more than is required to get the job done. L&D should work first to help improve the environment for better performance rather than create stuff to augment learning for better performance. Maybe that's enabling more time and places for reflection, maybe its pushing for better system/tool interface design, maybe its making searching for information easier or access to expertise seamless. But it should not first be creating another layer of work.
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