Learning Content Without Certainty

20151104_145237When I was thinking for a title for this post and came up with the four words above I had a kind of twinge as I typed them.  As I thought about that twinge I realized that it was coming from my own drive for certainty; my own left loop in that regard. After all, don’t we all want to be certain that if we are going to invest in an initiative to learn something that the result will be positive and of value?

It may be this twinge, however it may manifest itself, that draws us to the type of learning content discussed in the last post. Learning content that in some way or other ensures that by using that content effectively will produce some kind of a result.

Unfortunately, given the complexity of human interaction, founded on transformative causality, no such guarantee is possible. There simply are not, 4 levers, pulled effectively that will give you the culture you want for example.

So what are we to do? Short of scrapping most existing learning content I think there are three areas that can be good starting points:

  1. From existing learning content remove:
    • The ‘proper’ way to apply that content.
    • The connection to the production of some desired result (certainty).
  2. Focus on content that helps us think differently about our own interaction models.
  3. Legitimize that any learning content requires an extended time frame and context focus.

Point 1 above is interesting when applied.  The first thing that happens when you remove the proper way to apply the content and the connection to certainty is that you are left with concepts. The second thing that happens is that a lot of the actual learning content disappears.

For example currently there is a ton of learning content on the need for effective conversations. Effective conversation is a concept and there is no doubt we need to be having effective conversations in our organizations.

The bulk of actual learning content however is focused on the ‘proper’ way of applying that concept and given this proper application the assumption is that you will get what you want.

In order for this content to exist it must be generalized and as unfortunate as it may be, none of us exist in a generalized world. We exist in worlds where having an effective conversation means dealing with a very specific person in a very specific context. There is simply no ‘proper’ way to approach this scenario and there is certainly no guarantee of success.

Before we had this onslaught of learning content about effective conversations we probably would have done one of the following if there was a need for an effective conversation:

  • Nothing
  • Tried something and see how it went and moved forward from there
  • Asked someone about how to best approach the situation and moved forward from there

And this brings us to point 2 above – focus on content that helps us think differently about our own interaction models. Trying something or asking someone are quite simple examples of this and in essence is the foundation of the learning design discussed in earlier posts.

Interaction Model

Since our patterns of interaction and behavior tend to stabilize over time we may need help in recognizing our patterns and altering them and this is where learning content may be valuable.  This content will help us think differently. It will not prescribe how to ‘do’ differently. That part is always up to us and is specific to the environments we find ourselves in.

Self ManagerWhat Dr. Freeberg described as the Self Management Model is an example of a thinking tool (learning content) that I positioned in the series of posts on strategy. The concept being focused on is self management and this content provides a way for us to think about our current interactions with our manager, our patterns of interaction and experience and as well our intentions for future interactions with that manager.

You probably have other learning content such as this that helps you think differently about your own interaction model. One very common aspect of this type of learning content is that you can use it again and again depending on the situation.

This brings us to point 3 above – legitimize that any learning content requires an extended time frame and context focus. It is the legitimization that tends to be the challenge here; especially when learning initiatives are focused on larger numbers of people. The posts on learning design focused on legitimizing this point.

What the above 3 points bring to learning content is much more of a match between the content itself and our actual experiences of being in an organization. This reduces OUCH! and this case reduces OUCH! in learning and development. What this match between learning content and experience exposes is the very real and difficult challenges we have with learning in organizations; learning in general. It is hard to alter our left loops; it is hard to bring new intentions to interactions that may have been stable for years.

It is learning content that exposes this difficulty that is most effective in our organizations. It helps us think about our interactions seriously and perhaps change them. And it is the change in our interactions that changes us and our organizations.

What learning content (concepts) have you found most valuable?


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