Learning or being taught

I will start with a confession : l after watching  “The queen’s gambit”  on Netflix, I decided to hone my chess playing skills.  But how ? I could join a chess club and subscribe to ‘chess for beginners’. I could ask a few of my smarter friends to teach me. I could check out some u-tube tutorials.  I could even enjoy a daily game against myself.

Didactics, Discourse, Discovery, Doing

If Jane Hart(*) were reading this, she’d say I have the four D’s of learning at my fingertips : the “D” for Didactics (learning through a course), Discourse (learning from friends), Discovery (finding information yourself) and Doing (learning through daily practice).

On her website, she explains how the least popular learning method turns out to be ‘“Didactics” and how L&D departments seem to use that method the most - whether in a digital format or not.

Jane Hart founded her statement on what people keep saying over and over again.  Now, I accept that few adults actually enjoy participating to an obligatory training session but most decent workshops that I know make sure that there’s a healthy mix of Didactics, Discourse and Discovery so that you can start with Doing as soon as you hit the workfloor.

A challenging experience

Nick Shackleton-Jones(**) on the other hand, says that people learn because they are confronted with a challenge they have to overcome. If you want to teach someone there are but two options : you can present them with a challenge to stimulate learning or you can offer tools to help them when they are facing a challenge.

If I want to learn how to play chess, the rules of the game are a tool. A course, a video or advice of friends can also be tools. Whichever will be the most effective depends on the situation.  If I want to start learning tomorrow, a course that starts six months later won’t do me any good. If I really want to excel, a course will likely be more useful than a couple of video’s about the most common opening moves.
And if I play against myself, I’ll be challenged for a while but at some point I’d better find another player.

You can replace “playing chess” with any other skill.

Learning = being taught ?

The heart of the matter for Jane Hart and for Nick Shackleton-Jones is that “learning”  and “being taught” are often considered as one and the same thing.  That’s a mistake.

If managers notice a deficiency they ask their L&D department to design a learning process. That process can vary - a classroom training, a webinar, an e-learning, an open-air event - but in essence the approach doesn’t change : you tell people how to do something and you hope they’ll repeat that later on.  You are “being taught”.

Indra Partners chose “connected learning” as a tagline because we want to avoid learning interventions that are isolated events.  We are convinced that learning has to be closely connected to everything you do at work.

In truth, it turns out that we are often asked to “give a training”.  Of course we’ll bring variety and fun to the table, we’ll use all of Jane’s D’s and we ‘ll follow Nick’s advice about making it a challenging experience. Yet, the main emphasis in this setting still remains on “teaching” rather than on “learning”.  After all, that is what the customer asked for and that is what we deliver.

Back to basics

HR and L&D departments would be more than happy to stimulate “learning” on the work floor. However, in reality, it turns out to be difficult to step away from the “teaching” model. They might not love it, but they know it.

Moreover, to really master something, you need to make an effort and that is not what most people enjoy.  Generally, you reap the fruits of your labour after the hard work is done.  Think about playing an instrument, for instance.  But once we do master the new skill, we are usually very happy that we made the effort to get there.

The truth is, learning can be fun but it’s not enough to be only that.  To learn, we need to challenge ourselves on a deeper level. Just think about many team building days : a good time indeed but what lasting result did you really take with you ?

That’s why we keep asking :  what do you want to learn and why ? What will you need to do differently once you have learned what you set out to learn ? Only after answering these questions you can look for the best method. 

As for me and chess, I certainly hadn’t questioned my “why” enough - in the end, it was a passing fling and I decided the effort to become a decent player would be too great to really enjoy the game.  Check mate !

(*) cf.  Jane Hart's intro  at https://www.modernworkplacelearning.com/cild/

(**) cf.  Nick Shackleton-Jones' blog at http://www.aconventional.com/

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