You live and learn. At any rate, you live. – Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless
Over the last few weeks I’ve discovered that teachers think in a different way to the rest of us.
I never found school that useful – nor university.
I learned the most from doing work – from struggling with a problem and working at it till I found a way to solve it.
The one thing I had learned early on was that what mattered was patience – patience to look at a problem for as long as it took.
Just look at it.
And eventually it will blink – and give way.
Clearly after a while you can’t do that with every problem – you have to get better at telling the important problems from the ones that don’t matter.
Now, what teachers are taught that we don’t know are theories of learning – models of how to help students learn material.
Now, what do you see when someone “learns” something – what does that mean?
It’s important to be clear about that – because you’ll get what you train for.
For example, if you want to train your administrative staff in a particular task – what exactly do you want them to be able to do?
On the other hand if you want to take a promising senior consultant on as a partner, what do you want her to be able to do?
What does a lecturer aiming to become a tenured professor need to be able to do?
The things you want to see are probably somewhere on the continuum proposed by Benjamin Bloom which is a core part of many approaches to learning.
This approach is called Blooms Taxonomy and is often shown as a pyramid of skills.
I’ve shown an adapted model that’s based on the 2001 edition.
The first thing you want people to be able to do is remember – do tasks in a certain way.
Remember, for example, to answer the phone with a standard greeting every time.
The next thing you want them to do is understand – get a handle on the things they need to do and why they need to do it.
So, you explain that they need telephone skills and writing skills and analytical skills.
The next thing you want them to do is apply those skills – get better at having conversations, drafting emails and longer documents and using spreadsheet models.
This is where the vast majority of instruction tends to stop in the vocational space.
This is what you need to get the job done – remember, understand and apply.
But, if you want to climb the management ladder or if you are in a career that requires you to do more than just what’s in the job description, you have to keep going around the taxonomy.
The next thing is being able to analyse – to tease out from the mess that is real life a way to look at it – perhaps a different way.
This is the kind of thing when someone takes a task that they have been given – say update a model in Excel – and says this is stupid and I have a better way to do it.
And they go off and automate the job and now something that used to take a week gets done in 30 seconds.
There’s a lot of that kind of stuff out there in the real world.
But then what happens is people learn different approaches and start to believe in them – like the people who believe in Agile versus the people who believe in Waterfall as software development methodologies.
Belief is the thing that stops you – but the thing that lets you keep going is learning how to evaluate.
The ability to evaluate is the ability to think critically about something – to compare and contrast different approaches.
For example, in the picture above you can see that the learner was taught that squares were the way to do things.
Then, they discovered triangles.
Now triangles are the way – the square is the way of the old and the triangle is the sharp new thing.
Think about squares as currency markets and triangles as cryptocurrency and you’ll see the difference.
If you understand these different approaches then you will be in a position to reconcile them, to innovate on them.
To, in other words, create.
If you look back at the image you’ll see that you learned about a box and applied that to build a house.
It was useful at the time but now, in the create phase, you’ve come up with a better model to represents that house by combining what you learned with what you came up with in the analyse phase.
And now you’re back at the beginning, trying to teach that new model to other people.
And the first thing you will want them to do is remember.
The beauty of this model is that once you know what you want your learners to be able to do once they complete your course – you can pitch it at the right level.
At a level where you will get an outcome that makes them more effective in your business.
Which is good for them – and you.