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When administrators within a school district cannot produce an email that uses the correct words for the context, people lose confidence in the quality of education provided to the students. Recently, I received an email, forwarded to me, that simply stated that they wanted to "insure" that the correct procedures were followed. Not only is this passive voice, insure is not the correct word for the context. If they were buying an insurance policy, then insure would work. They were not.
Insure = monetary value
ensure = guarantee
It may seem petty and silly to call out something like this, but, I cannot fathom how we will be able to communicate over the next 100 years if we cannot agree on some basic rules of language. How can we continue to buy and sell and be sure (see, be sure could have a reasonable replacement word: ensure) that we are getting what we expect and that the price we pay is valid? Language is how.
Believe me, i am not one of these 'Americans' that want to force everyone to use English or get the hell out. I am not that arrogant. We know that there have been all sorts of issues with meanings getting "lost in translation," such as "ich bin ein berliner." I just want to be sure that we are using this agreed upon form of communication well enough to understand each other.
Based on my 16 years of experience, as a trainer for software installations, vocabulary is the single worst offender toward the failure to assimilate new information. If we aren't both talking about a pot, how can we be sure we know how to cook with it?
I know that language does morph and change over time and I certainly don't want to go back to a world where everything is so formal we are afraid to speak and share our opinions. However, we do need to make sure our message is clear and correct as we can possibly make it.
Springtime is a time of inspiration and for shaking off the cold of winter. As the daffodils push up through the dirt and faces its bud to the sunlight, I am thinking about how we can find a way to change education and make it accessible to even those who may not be traditional in whatever form that may be.
I was a non-traditional student, not because I didn't go directly to college after high school, but because I discovered the lounge and my financial support dried up. Good thing I chose to go to community college because of my unwillingness to take SATs or I would have cost my mom a mountain more money than the 18.35/credit hour and books. After that first year, I became a non-traditional student. I worked full time (McDonald's and as a drug treatment counselor) and started back again the following Fall taking US History with Mrs. Vines. Then I discovered that I could succeed in college and I could even get great grades. This was because Mrs. Vines made it clear if I put in the effort, she would work just as hard to help me succeed.
Today I was driving quite a distance and, as per usual, I was listening to podcasts and found a recurring theme of changing the education paradigm. This American Life shared a story about the differences between poor neighborhood public schools and high dollar private schools despite their being within 3 miles of one another. American Radio Works discussed UnRetirement where adults and seniors are continuing their educations to keep their skills, build new skills and become marketable well into retirement age. These two podcasts got me thinking... We are missing the mark in many ways.
There is so much more wrong but these are some clear examples that we might be able to fix with enough strength and courage of the right people in the right places.
I know that this turned out to be a really long blog post. Thanks to everyone who hung with me and read the whole thing. There are many problems to solve. We need to refuse to accept "that is the way we have always done it" and move toward, "how can we do it better?"
Recently, I observed a friend, who is also a learning professional, training, where they exclaimed that they were on the phone/web session for well over 4 hours and it got me thinking about the concept of learner fatigue.
As many of us know... when we teach classroom courses we, at least, vary the activities if we cannot take specific periodic breaks. When we are conducting Web/phone based training it is easy to slip into lecture and forget that our learners probably stopped assimilating information way back in the lesson.
I decided to do some research and was surprised to find there are very few studies published on learner fatigue through Google searching. I even spent time within a college library site and still found very little. However, I did find this nice gem:
Here are five suggestions:
These are great for classroom based learning. I know when I get the glazed eye look, I know that the learners are not fully engaged. When on the web, if the connection is not great and I have to demonstrate only, it is a lot harder to assess learner interaction.
What sort of ideas do you have for synchronous web based learning?
Should we encourage self-paced learning before synchronous sessions to turn "training" into "discussion?"
What do you do today? What do you wish you could do better?
Recently, myself included, I listened to people complaining much about their college education, for the many courses they had to "teach themselves." So, which is it? Critical thinking skills or paying a lot of money to read and deliver the information to ourselves. If the latter is the case, why would we continue to pay large amounts of money to educate ourselves?
I don't have the answer. However, let's take a look at what defines critical thinking:
According to Critical Thinking. org:
Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.
For me it is much simpler than this long and detailed quote. To me, Critical Thinking is taking learned information, assimilating it, and applying it to other information through intuitive leaps.
What does this have to do with education and teaching oneself? Well, for me I think that educators often miss the mark. If there is no base of knowledge the learner cannot make intuitive leaps. On the other hand, many learners come to courses to be "taught" information and for many decades, that is what educators did. Now in the world of No Child Left Behind teachers are more focused on test scores than helping students make intuitive leaps.
As an elementary school student, I was placed in the Learning Disabilities program where I was pulled out of regular classes to attend my Resource learning class. These teachers were tasked with finding a way that helped students, like me, find a new way to assimilating the learning in the mainstream classrooms. What they did was teach us how to grow things, make recipes and on top of that building our reading comprehension. I learned skills that my mainstream classmates did not... applying learning concepts to real world scenarios. Sure, they were often simple topics like doubling or tripling a recipe using fractions and calculating the results. But fractions were not nearly as daunting in this scenario.
How do we get people to apply critical thinking principles when the are taught to not think and relate information to other topics? How do we get past the fear? What do we say to students who feel they had to "teach themselves?"
ROI (Return on Investment), ROI, ROI, that is what many training leaders, and managers, hear every day. But what does that mean?
Training is one of the only job functions within an organization that must prove its value over and over, yet, in most cases the budget for it is >1% of the operating budget.
Does anyone ask the marketing department how many paper sheets we print it takes to produce 1 sale? Does any CEO ask what is the ROI of software development? In most cases, no, they do not. Yet training, especially when purchasing a Learning Management System (LMS), is expected to offer an immediate return.
Organizations that sell their training to their end customers, certainly can eventually provide an ROI once an LMS is in place and quality can be measured by the overall satisfaction of the key staff, and reduction of support calls on learning topics. The important factor here is measuring the correct parameters. Can we reduce travel? Maybe and maybe not; but we can improve the overall customer satisfaction with the on-site travel by making the on-site time more about practical examples and not about learning the basics.
So what does this have to do with Learning Organizations? A true learning organization goes beyond just offering training courses. It is a company that realizes the following facts to be true and invests in the infrastructure to accomplish these tasks:
Training is often the black hole of intangible results. As training leaders we can help provide answers when asking the right questions. That only goes so far. Generating buy-in within the organization requires an openness to new ideas, and a willingness to try action research.
Bersin, J. (2012). 5 Keys to Building a Learning Organization. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2012/01/18/5-keys-to-building-a-learning-organization/
Clark, D. (2010). Learning Organization Profile. Retrieved from http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/learnorg.html
Kelly, T. (2012, January 31). Learning Metrics: Speaking the Language of Business [Video file]. Retrieved from GoToWebinar website: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/961615464
Smith, M. K. (2001) 'The learning organization', the encyclopedia of informal education, http://www.infed.org/biblio/learning-organization.htm.
I recently found this image on Facebook, and while it is dated 1994 its message is clear, and still true today, that this teacher believes in authority over accuracy. When I shared it I received a few stories of how some parent's own children had a similar experience. Here is an example of the responses received:
[MOM] Sounds like a letter [Mary's] elementary school sent home in sixth grade. I called the Principal and told her I refused to sign the thing, because it created a co-dependent situation. Co-dependency is unhealthy, and it is not something I want to teach my children. (The students would be punished if their parents did not sign the form.) [Mary's] teacher, the lead 6th grade teacher, was not pleased with me, because I went over her head. The principal recognized a poorly crafted letter/situation, and she made an agreement with Mary and myself. [The] teacher was never the same after that...
It is very sad that even now, learners are taught to blindly accept authority and the messages delivered by them. This is why our work force cannot make reasoned decisions; and make intuitive leaps based on the information provided. If we want our society to grow and learn, we must, MUST, question the answers provided.
Math teachers teach us to not only work out the problem but to test the solution. I remember my high school algebra and geometry teachers would have us show our work as we completed a problem, or proof. Then... they would have us plug in our solution into the original problem and see if the math actually works. In science class we learned about the scientific method: generating a hypothesis, planning an experiment to test the hypothesis, followed by documenting the results and determining if the results proved, disproved, or was inconclusive to either prove or disprove, the hypothesis.
So, how do we encourage critical thinking when we have so many educators institutionalized by the concept that they are to be the authority despite their accuracy? Sure it is embarrassing to stand in front of a class and pronounce, with authority, an inaccurate statement. But, teaching people that to question the answer is worse than having the wrong answer breeds a work force of people who will not make decisions for themselves.
In my experience, businesses that discourage independent thought, have more issues in the long run.
So, things we can do as leaders and educators:
Respect, as the we all hear, is earned not just a fact of our position. Forcing someone to respect us because of our position, does a disservice to those we educate and ourselves.
Leadership Freak BLOG Sourced from: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/popping-the-self-delusion-bubble/
Recently, I met Dan Price at a Pikes Peak ASTD meeting. He produces a monthly newsletter speaking on training, project management, and leadership. Yesterday, I received his latest newsletter. The newsletter caught my attention from his headline: Leadership: Leaders and self-delusion. I could relate to this from both sides. I have been a leader and a subordinate and, heaven knows, I was obtuse from time to time as a leader. I have high expectations of myself; so, it is very easy to just expect that of others.
After reading Dan's article, I linked into the article that inspired his. Dan Rockwell is known as the Leadership Freak. There I found the full text. I love that he writes his topics in 300 words or less.
Anyhow, the article gave some great food for thought which I can see in myself and other leaders I know. My biggest takeaways were:
Many leaders I have observed in my experience seem to feel they worked hard to achieve their position and deserve the respect and benefits of their position. This is much like the argument that Med students need to work 40 hour waking shifts, because that is the way it has always been. Isn't that the definition of insanity? Just because one achieves a certain status doesn't mean we have nothing more to learn.
So many leaders spend most of their time separate from those they lead. As an employee, I know silent and aloof leadership creates a culture of suspicion and fear. When leaders use "WE" instead of "I" they imply that they are part of the process as opposed to on top of it. Often they don't know any better. So, I take it upon myself, from time to time, to mention that the "emperor has no clothes."
No one likes to be called out on their mistakes, but we cannot fix what we don't know is wrong. It is a truly great leader who is constantly checking themselves with the reality of those who observe
My husband and I began watching the Amazing Race during its second or third season after a friend couldn't stop raving over the program.
During that season when there were six, or nine, teams left; and they were in a desert country, with a clue that told them to dig in their designated sand lots to locate a scarab to get their next clue. Not a single team knew what a scarab was and they were digging around the sand in the hopes they would find "something" and there weren't any other things they might find instead of a scarab. I was astonished that not one of these teams, raised in the United States, had any concept of something I just assumed everyone knew. This was after the movie "The Mummy" played in theaters, which made this even more incongruous to me. It was then I realized that many Americans, older and younger, than I, did not have the same experience as I did.
I grew up in the suburbs outside of Washington, DC and I remember learning so many things during my years in public education. During my sixth grade year, when we were studying Greek and Roman history, we learned about how the Christians moved their holy days to coincide with the Pagan holy days in order to convert them to Christianity. I don't know anyone who learned this sort of concept in elementary school.
This experience created an "ah-ha" moment in my life. It was then I understood that there are gaps in everyone's experiences and knowledge base. That means we as trainers and educators, we must find a way to bridge the gap between our assumptions and others experiences.
There are many ways to work toward this understanding and bridge the gap between ourselves and those we want to educate. Here are a few things I have found from my experience:
Caryn Morgan, corporate trainer, obtained her Masters Degree in Adult Education and Training