Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Avoiding the Death Valley in Workplace Learning

 Taruna Goel Photography
Taruna Goel Photography

Are you designing and delivering training but find that little or no learning is taking place. Are you trapped in the 'death valley' of workplace learning? Here are a few thoughts and ideas on how, as learning professionals, we can avoid the death valley in workplace learning and instead help sprout the seeds of learning, performance and change:

  • Let individuals take the accountability and responsibility for their own learning. Enable individuals to pull content at their moment of need rather than push content. Integrate learning into work.
  • Encourage individuals to unlearn before they learn. Support them as they let go of knowledge that has served them well. Help them find new knowledge and new ways of interpreting their existing knowledge.
  • Help individuals learn how to learn and enable them to be more self-directed in their efforts. Remind them that self-directed learning is more about autonomy and less about independence.
  • Help individuals move along their maturity continuum and support and guide them as they move from dependence to interdependence.
  • Don't rely only on courses and classroom training to create learning opportunities. Curate and share meaningful and relevant resources including websites, blogs, videos and a community of other individuals who are keen to learn and share.
  • Design structured reflective practices as a part of the learning experience. Relate reflection activities to performance outcomes and contextualize the activities to the learning process.
  • Step away from the know what mindset and start with the know how and know who mindset as a way to design useful learning experiences. Maximize the opportunities to learn by doing.
  • Defocus from smiley sheets, tracking LMS visits and checking off boxes and move towards measuring the real impact of learning by evaluating if and how the work performance has changed.
  • Say "Yes to the Mess" and be open to possibilities and the creative power of teams. Improvise with what you have and believe that something new and creative will emerge.
  • Promote a culture of continuous learning, trying out new things, experimenting with new ideas and embracing failure. Show individuals how to fail well.
  • Remind individuals about all the informal learning that takes place outside the classroom and help them make their own informal learning more visible by recognizing it, assessing it and encouraging them to share it with others.
  • Design and plan for transfer of learning to real-life to enable individuals to use the learning immediately and in the future.
  • Be an empathetic provocateur and question individuals in a supportive way. See yourself as both a facilitator and a partner in their learning journey.
  • Nurture and develop yourself as the seed for learning conversations and a integral node through which individuals can connect with content, peers and experts and develop their own personal learning network.



Monday, April 10, 2017

Adult Educators as Empathetic Provocateurs


These are the days of alternative facts and sweeping declarations of the so called truth. In this complex world, I often find myself reflecting about the role of dialectical thinking in my own life. What are those different views that I am missing? What can I do to become more aware? And more importantly, as an adult educator, what can I do to foster critical thinking in others? 

As per Wikipedia, "Dialectic or dialectics (Greek: διαλεκτική, dialektikḗ), also known as the dialectical method, is a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments. Socrates favoured truth as the highest value, proposing that it could be discovered through reason and logic in discussion: ergo, dialectic."

From the book, International Handbook of Education for the Changing World of Work, Page 2664 "From Mezirow’s perspective, the educator is described as an “empathetic provocateur” and role model who is critically self-reflective and encourages others to consider alternative perspectives. Mezirow ( 1991) contends that a central goal of adult education should involve creating conditions to help adult learners become more critically reflective and “advance developmentally” toward “integrated and discriminating meaning perspectives” (p. 225).”

As an adult educator, when I take on the role of an empathetic provocateur, I am able to encourage critical thinking, challenge underline assumptions and help my clients and participants by providing encouragement to think differently and engage in self-reflection. As an empathetic provocateur, I try to question them in a supportive way and see myself both as a facilitator and a partner in their learning journey. 

Fostering dialectical thinking is perhaps the most challenging yet the most rewarding way to learn and teach. One way that I have been applying dialectical thinking is to challenge any underlying beliefs that my participants may have. For example, some of the participants I interact with believe that ‘students learn best when instruction matches their preferred learning style.’ They come into the session believing they are more ‘visual’, ‘auditory’ or ‘kinetic’. Some clients also expect the use of different instructional strategies to support different learning styles. Although much has been written about how learning styles are a myth including several peer-reviewed scientific articles, TED talks, research reviews, blog posts and videos, this belief continues to be propagated via books, online articles, international conferences and companies that sell products and services based on this myth. When participants or clients bring up this belief in a discussion, I try and point to various resources to offer them another point of view. We are then able to engage in a discussion around our own underlying beliefs and assumptions about learning styles and why this concept may or may not be useful for learners and for adult educators.

As a learner, I find that the use of dialectical thinking enables me to become a better version of myself. When I am learning, I respect facilitators who are able to go beyond what's written in the textbook and encourage me to think in the grey zone. When I am encouraged and supported to engage in dialectical thinking, I find it extremely helpful when others present different views than mine and I am able to accept those views positively. By leveraging dialectical thinking, I become more aware of my own beliefs about certain issues and my underlying assumptions are able to come to surface. I am better able to see my existing frames of reference and filter bubbles and move past those. 

I recently participated in a session on understanding cultural contexts and diversity in the workplace. The facilitator used an interesting technique to encourage dialectic thinking. She cleared the room of all chairs and tables and posted signs that read ‘Agree’ on one side of the room and ‘Disagree’ on the other side of the room and somewhere in the middle she posted signs that said ‘Mostly agree’ and ‘Mostly disagree’. She then shared a few statements and asked us to ‘choose our state’. As she read the statements about culture and workplace behaviour, we were physically supposed to move closest to the each of these four states and then share why we felt the way we did. It was interesting and quite dramatic to see how for a few statements, we were pretty much all on one side of the room and for a few other statements, we were all spread across the room. The discussion that followed was extremely useful in understanding competing views and the paradoxes and contradictions associated with culture and diversity at the workplace. But what was more interesting was that she encouraged us to move and ‘change our state’ after hearing the discussion especially if we believed perhaps we were in the wrong state. 

Arne Tiselius, the author of the book, Place of Value in a World of Facts (Nobel Symposium) said. “We live in a world where unfortunately the distinction between true and false appears to become increasingly blurred by manipulation of facts, by exploitation of uncritical minds, and by the pollution of the language.” 

If such is the world today, what is the role of dialectical thinking in your life?
How do you take on the role of an empathetic provocateur to distinguish between alternative facts and the truth?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What Makes a Successful Self-Directed Learner?

Source: stocksnap.io (Creative Commons CC0 license)

Tough (1967, 1971, 1979) proposed the first comprehensive description of self-directed learning, which he termed self-planned learning. Knowles described self‑directed learning as "a process in which individuals take the initiative without the help of others in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating goals, identifying human and material resources, and evaluating learning outcomes".

With these definitions as a guiding lens and after reflecting on the two instruments, Oddi Continuing Learning Inventory (OCLI) and Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS) to assess self-directness as a personality trait, here are the top 3 attributes that, in my view, are critical to the success of a self-directed learner:

1) Initiative

I was drawn to Guglielmano’s SDLRS quantitative measure of self-directed learning. One of the psychological qualities involved in readiness for self-directed learning as identified by her was initiative. In my view, initiative is the foundational characteristic of self-directed learners. One of the goals of SDL as grounded in the humanist philosophy is personal growth and an underpinning idea espoused by this is the notion of taking a proactive approach towards learning. (Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide, Sharan B. Merriam, Rosemary S. Caffarella, Lisa M., Page 107)


For me, this need for taking a proactive approach is fulfilled through initiative. When learners take initiative, they are designing their own learning experiences that best meet their learning needs and goals. 

2) Self-discipline

The second important attribute of self-directed learners according to me is self-discipline. This is an all encompassing attribute since it relates to many psychological qualities as identified in SDLRS with the most important being accepting responsibility towards one’s own learning, being goal-oriented and staying persistent. 


With self-discipline, learners are able to manage their time and resources and organize their learning as a means to reach their goals. Self-directed learners take control and the responsibility for their own learning and are able to monitor and evaluate their own progress. The OCLI also includes variables like self-efficacy, self-concept and personal responsibility that highlight the same set of characteristics.

3) Autonomy

The term, learner autonomy, was first coined in 1981 by Henri Holec. Autonomy is seen either (or both) as a means or as an end in education. Chene (1983) defines three elements that describe an autonomous learner: independence, the ability to make choices and critical judgement. Further, Candy (1991) adds to Chene’s notion by characterizing autonomous people as those with a strong sense of personal values and beliefs (Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide, Sharan B. Merriam, Rosemary S. Caffarella, Lisa M., Page 122). These values and beliefs give autonomous people a foundation for identifying and selecting goals, exercising choice and restraint and utilizing critical reflection. 
Benn (1976, cited in Candy, 1991: 102) likens the autonomous learner to one 'whose life has a consistency that derives from a coherent set of beliefs, values, and principles and who engages in a still-continuing process of criticism and re-evaluation'. 

Since critical thinking and reflection are core to learning experiences, autonomy as the underlying attribute reflects some of these process or methodological dimensions of self-directed learning. I could also relate autonomy to a few qualities as identified in SDLRS including independence, the tendency to view problems as challenges, a high degree of curiosity and finding enjoyment in learning.

Are you a self-directed learner? What attributes make you successful?