Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What matters is the question not the content: “One Idea + One Learning” = “Contexsual Learning”

Contexsual Learning involves experts’, learning facilitators’ and learners’ participation to address technical learning issues. It allows the asking of questions by leaders and the sharing of stories by learners all of which contribute to a comprehensive learning experience.

I have been experimenting on ONE IDEA, ONE LEARNING MODEL for a few months now.

“Contexsual Learning” allows learners, experts and learning facilitators to accelerate learning specifically for highly technical learning issues.

The system allows leaders to ask questions (Context Questions) (See below).
Meanwhile, the learners can share stories and experiences (Passing Stories and Experiences) (See below).

Therefore, everyone can see the visual relationships of stories and experiences (Visualizing Stories) (See below)

The background of the Contexsual Learning Experiment
Many years ago, I used to represent a company from Australia - Talbot Smith and Associates (TSA), a training company based in Adelaide. Mr. Ansted was my Guru. He was about 25 years older than I was. He has traveled around the world and had so much wisdom. I was always looking forward to our one-on-one meetings. Each meeting was filled with excitement and awe – as if I was going to a temple in Bhutan, the happiest place on earth (contrary to the claims of Disneyland.)

Each time I asked Mr. Ansted a question, he always started with: 
“That is true all over the world.”
I did not know what he meant until sometime later. But it always sounded mysterious and philosophical and “monastic” in tone.

Specifically, I asked him about one of the program methods he used. He presented a lesson which may present ten good ideas. He would present the ideas and have group discussions around the ten ideas. He would go back to the same client company and run the same workshop to the same group twice or thrice a year. So I wondered and asked.
“Don’t people get bored talking about the same ideas over and over again?”
His answer was very insightful and is still clear in my mind today.
“Learners only learn those that are meaningful to them at that one point in their lives.”

“They don’t remember all the nine other ideas. This is because we only learn what we can use and remember at one point in time.”

“Furthermore, it is the process of talking and sharing ideas and experiences about this one idea that allows them to learn. Without the discussion, there is no learning.”

“Each learner oftentimes picked different ideas.”

“The discussion is where passing of experiences happen.”
What I gathered was core to what I espouse today: “one idea and one learning”.

In one presentation by John Maeda, author of my Laws of Simplicity, he shared his experience about talking and asking a colleague “Why do you run the same basic workshop on design for 20 years and not deviating from the course topic and outline.” Maeda was amazed by the answer:
“The basics work and I shall keep on repeating the same workshop because students continue to learn over and over again the value of the basics. People learn only what they need and use.”
Mr. Ansted and John Maeda’s colleague believed in the same principle “one Idea, one Learning”

Passing of experiences

In trying to understand what happens in “passing of experiences” with one idea, one learning, I came across the paper of Walter Swap, Dorothy Leonard, Mimi Shields and Lisa Abrams titled “Using Mentoring and Storytelling to Transfer Knowledge in the Workplace” published in the Journal of Management Information Systems. The paper presents very good insights and a few ideas worth mentioning.
“Even when there is no focused intent to teach or learn, the process of transferring knowledge in the workplace is still possible through implicit means such as knowledge gathered while staff chats in the pantry or observing the actions of supervisors or colleagues. These intangible moments make the management of knowledge a challenge because these subtle processes are difficult to structure within a formal training program yet they are effective means to transfer skills and knowledge in the workplace.”
This explanation parallels to the concepts and observations of thought leaders like Jay Cross, Jane Bozarth, George Siemens and others.

What caught my attention is this section of the paper:
"… how to perform specific aspects of your job" primarily by asking others—mostly supervisors. This kind of information was more often sought through direct inquiry than through what Morrison (1993) calls monitoring (observation). Morrison speculates that "because technical information is highly valuable, yet difficult to obtain through monitoring, newcomers may be willing to ask for it directly."
This made me ponder that although we have the facility of rapid communications and faster social learning environments (Twitter.com, Youtube.com, iPad and iPhone, SharePoint, Yammer.com and other similar tools), might the lack of good learner-driven questions hinder immediacy of answers from mentors / coaches or experts?

I am questioning the focus of providing content and expertise or encouraging content contributions from members as the key focus of passing experiences.
I observed it is in the lack of the right questions or the ability to ask the right questions that either hinders or facilitates learning.

#lrnchat is hosted by @marciamarcia, @quinnovator, @moehlert @koreenolbrish and @janebozarth.


The right questions leads to the right answers

I have been a keen observer of  the work of Jane Bozarth, Clark Quinn, Marcia Conner, Mark Oehlert, and Koreen Olbrish. The one thing I appreciate are the intelligent questions that guide the flow of discussions. The team succeeds very well in optimizing the interactions by posing the questions instead of suggesting content. Furthermore, because of the intelligent questions, the participants are able to raise follow-up questions. These conversations and “passing of experiences” do happen effectively and efficiently because of  such questions.

My observation is that #LRNChat has shown us a very good application of the
one-question, one learning” model.

#LRNChat has helped me connect what Mr. Ansted has been saying all along.

“Contexsual Learning” Experiment

Yes, this is an experiment. One of the benefits of having a good technical team supporting my R&D is that it allows me flexibility to explore and experiment with ideas. See our other tech projects.

The goal of the experiment is to develop a specific and narrow platform that encourages immediate “one question, one learning” and in turn facilitates the passing of stories and experiences.
  • “Contextual Learning” allows learners, experts and learning facilitators to accelerate learning for very technical learning issues. 
  • The system allows leaders and learners to ask context specific questions (Context Questions)
  • The learners can share stories and experiences (Passing Stories and Experiences)
  • Everyone can see visual relationships of stories and experiences (Visualizing Stories)
My clients have been pleased with the results. Whether it will add value as we intended it to, still remains to be determined through research and findings.

One overriding feedback we are receiving is that the contextual visualization of stories connections add certain specific outcomes to the otherwise very loose- ended social learning practices and systems. According to a client, its biggest value is that “our learners can focus on harnessing the experiences of others in more specific and targeted ways.”

My curiosity as a learning specialist, similar to a child who can’t help but play with toys and gadgets, is that I want to extend the passing of experiences and stories to a more software-supported method. We can hopefully do more by adding value.

In conclusion, let me share a story. Francesca, our 19 year old, just started college at Scripps, one of the institutions of the Claremont educational consortium.

During the parent orientation I was struck and truly inspired by the President’s message to the incoming class:
You now belong to the leaders of this country, where asking the
right questions is more important than finding the answers.”

Contexsual Learning offers a laser-focused approach with the use of a single question that triggers learning that’s essential and relevant to a learner. It promotes the sharing of experiences among learners and provides leaders the avenue to ask specific questions directly related to a learner’s context. This method works naturally with the mind’s fundamental tendency to absorb only significant knowledge related to a learner’s current life situation.

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