Friday, July 9, 2010

LrnBk Chat on Learning-in-Practice: Part 1 Join Us!

Those of us in training- and learning- related fields spend a lot of time talking about how people learn. We discuss theories of adult learning and brain science. We debate the validity of concepts like “learning styles” and for the life of us can’t come up with a very good way to measure what or how much someone learned. Among the debates , growing more heated lately, is on the matter of formal v. informal (or unintentional, or at least unstructured) learning. L & D controls the former, but the latter depends a lot on the culture, and the immediate environment, and the boss (if there is one), and the rewards and punishments associated with performance, and … well, the list goes on. Even more challenging: The learner may not ever think of himself as a “learner” who is “learning”, and so may not think to write it down or talk to someone else or pay more attention for next time. There’s also a lot of skepticism about the idea of the “autonomous, self-directed” learner. People learn all the time, every day. They may just not always be learning what the training department wants them to. (Example: I once had a learner say, “I didn’t have time to finish the reading for this week’s class. I was at a Home Depot workshop on how to build a deck. And then I built it.” Don’t tell me he wasn’t self-directed.)

One of the best grad school courses I took was “The Reflective Practitioner” that, among other things, taught me to keep an eye out for examples of learning-in-practice and reflection-on-practice; my own, yes, but also that experienced by others. Two of the best examples I’ve seen have come from popular recent literature. The topic of reflective practice, as well as the idea of informal learning, have led me to mention these books several times in Twitter and Facebook conversations. Last week someone suggested that we do a book chat on them, and asked me to lead it. So here we are. Read on for an overview of likely discussion themes followed by The Plan for the conversation.

Stephen King’s On Writing

DISCUSSION OF THIS ONE ENDS on July 23. Some themes we will likely explore: There is a movement in current popular business literature away from the idea that talent is important: Can one be a good writer without talent? With practice, could anyone be a Stephen King? Can everything be “taught” and “learned”? Apart from writing skill, what does one need to learn to succeed at writing? King chooses to spend nearly the first half of the book mostly on autobiographical details. Why? King writes partly with the intention to teach the reader. Does it matter to hear from a teacher who has actually done what they teach? King says, “The writer and reader meet halfway.” Is this true in other fields of practice/ work roles?

Atul Gawande’s Complications

DISCUSSION OF THIS ONE BEGINS JULY 27. Some themes we will likely explore: Some argue that only "formal" learning has value, that informal learning is too unstructured and learners too unreliable to learn on their own. But can everything be taught in a classroom, or a lab, or on a simulator? Can a physician learn to practice without, finally, engaging with real patients? Is it reasonable to think a learner can know everything before starting job? Unlike King, Gawande must learn to act in situations that truly are life and death. What is the reality (or, rather, UNreality) of putting someone into a work role and expecting them to enact performance 250,000 times without making a mistake? At one point Gawande must make decisions about health care for his own critically ill child. What did he learn from that? Gawande writes sometimes not specifically of his own learning but of the learning of his entire profession – for instance, the medical community has had to “learn” to deal with good performers gone bad. What has L & D “learned” in the last 50 or 20 or 10 years?

The overarching question: How does a person "learn"?

Discussion will be asynchronous to accommodate those in different time zones. We'll start on July 27 at 8 am ET with "Part 1: Fallibility".

Note: There are no chapters titled “here is my thinking on my reflective practice”; that is implicit throughout both books. Often it will be up to you, the reader, to decide when and whether learning has occurred. These are neither “how to” guides , although King is closer to that than Gawande. Rather, they are reflections of a person learning – sometimes intentionally, sometimes not—recognizing that learning has occurred, and reflecting on that experience. In King’s case, the learning occurs mostly via serendipity: he has a college degree so has formal education in writing as it is taught in school – same as most of the rest of us-- but otherwise has very little formal instruction in “how to be a writer”. He talks a lot about learning as he goes. Gawande, on the other hand, pursues years and years of formal training, then reports on learning to put that into place with real live human beings.

Also, this is not really a "book club" kind of thing. We're not looking at technical skill or whether we "liked" a book or not. The focus is on each book as an example of learning-in-practice and reflecting on that.

Here is how the chat will go: We will be using a Twitter app called “Hootcourse”. This will aggregate all the tweets in the conversation. The interface has tabs so you can easily filter by all tweets, tweets with questions, tweets with links, and just my (the leader) tweets. You can also choose NOT to publish your tweets to the public twitter feed. This will help keep our followers from being spammed all week with lots of comments about a conversation that doesn’t interest them. Of course, people are welcome to make their own public if they wish.

The discussion will be asynchronous to accommodate time zone issues.

Disclaimer: This is evolving and it all could change…. Another disclaimer: King swears. Gawande sometimes talks about icky stuff. Read at your own risk.

The chat is at . Start with the “hoots” tab to see just my tweets. We will use the hashtag #lrnbk – be aware that Hootcourse will add that automatically.

Discussion of King ends 10 pm ET on Friday, July 23. Discussion of Gawande begins Tuesday, July 27.

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