We know the world is changing faster than ever before. We also knowthat much of this change can be ascribed to the explosion of information andcommunication technologies. But if it is true that information and knowledgedoubles faster than ever before, and if it is true that the skills we learntoday might very probably be totally redundant tomorrow, how do we go abouttraining people for the future? How do you train someone for a world thatdoesn’t yet exist?
In the January e-zine I presented an in-depth description of the changes the world are experiencing, how these changes are affecting the workplace and what characteristics one will need to succeed in tomorrow’s workplace (read it at http://www.tomorrowtoday.biz/articles/article_100.htm). I also gave a description of an educational theory that might give us some clues on how to approach training and development for the future. Now, let’s get practical. How should we develop people for the future? Whether we speak of formal training or coaching or the continuous empowering leadership required to develop your teams and individuals, this framework should prove to be helpful in various situations.
We will simplify the discussion by focusing on each of the following components of development separately in the following four e-zines:
1. The learner and how you view her
2. Your role as facilitator
3. The learning process
4. What should be learnt when, and how complex should it be.
Although we will be referring to various development situations, I will consistently refer to the person being developed as the learner, and the person facilitating the development as the facilitator. You will get to understand the method behind this madness as we go along…
The learner and how you view her
She is unique
It all starts with you and the way you look at the learner. For optimal development to take place, you need to view the learner as a unique individual with a unique background, values and belief system. In fact, it goes beyond acknowledging the uniqueness of each learner to embracing that uniqueness. The fact that she is a unique, complex and multi-dimensional individual should be utilized and rewarded as an integral part of the learning process. You should also view her language and culture and educational background as a vital part of the learning process. Remember that the way this person thinks and feels today has a lot to do with the experiences she had and the connotations she made in the past. And people from different cultural backgrounds have different ways of creating or attaching meaning to different things in life. In a western society we often think people should be westernized in order for them to develop optimally. This is a mistake. In an English society we often think people must think and behave English in order to grow. This is a mistake. An Afrikaans person grew up Afrikaans and nurtures certain values because of that background. The same goes for an English, Tswana, Zulu, Christian, Muslim or Hindu person. By this I do not mean that the language of instruction needs to be in the person’s mother tongue. I simply mean that, if you really want to help a person develop, you need to embrace the fact that that person is a unique individual with a unique way of looking at the world. This creates the space for developing a human being that is true to herself, feels respected and in turn respects your background and your agenda. Only when I feel that my agenda is important to you, will your agenda become important to me. And I only really learn if I regard the stuff I’m learning as important.
Practically this means to encourage people to talk about their backgrounds and their individual needs, dreams and fears. It also means to adapt a leadership, coaching or training style that invites honest feedback and that is non-judgmental. It means to be VERY careful in your use of psychometric instruments and especially careful when you work with the results. People are more than psychological constructs. Respect and work with these complexities and do not try to over-simplify them.
Also deal with the fact that you may be wrong or that you may not be entirely right. In a world where information abounds, the learner might really know more about the topic at hand than you do. In a world where diversity abounds, another culture might have a way of dealing with a particular challenge that could be tremendously enriching to the way you were used to deal with it. Embrace the uniqueness. Utilize the diversity. Encourage the mystery.
She is responsible for her own learning
You are not responsible for my learning. You cannot make me learn. You cannot teach me. It is the learner’s responsibility to learn, not the facilitator’s responsibility to teach. The learner should do the action of learning. This requires the learner to be actively involved in the learning process. We are so used to walking into a training session, sitting in our chairs, leaning back and getting comfortable and allowing the smart teacher to run through his slides and learning manuals. People learn when they discover the answers to their own questions. Learners should be given the opportunity to actively construct their own meaning. If I have all the information in the world available at my fingertips, and if I am from a different background than you are, why should I believe the conclusions you are putting before me? But, if you respect my intellect and prior development, and if you actively involve me in the learning process and discussions, I will accept the fact that we might arrive at different conclusions. Perhaps I will even give you the opportunity to shape my understanding. Perhaps my understanding will also shape yours‌
Why will she learn?
What motivates learning? Why will someone commit to a process of development and growth? An easy answer is: because it makes sense � it’s stupid not to want to learn. Yes and no. Of course it makes sense to learn. But certain things, to me, make more sense to learn than others. The fact that I am currently employed as a project manager doesn’t mean that I will be equally motivated to learn ‚Financial Management for Project Managers‛ than ‚Project Leadership‛. People are more motivated to learn if they are given a say in what it is they are learning.
Motivation to learn is also strongly dependent on the learner’s confidence in his or her potential for learning. These feelings of competence and belief in potential to solve new problems are derived from first-hand experience of mastery of problems in the past and are much more powerful than any external acknowledgement and motivation. Learners should be challenged within, yet slightly above, their current level of development. By experiencing the successful completion of challenging tasks, learners gain confidence and motivation to embark on more complex challenges.
Individuals are unique human beings. This uniqueness should be used as an integral part of the learning process. People learn better if they are actively involved in the learning process and they are more motivated to learn if they learn what they really want to learn. Make use of these insights today when you coach, train or lead people towards tomorrow.
Next month I will more specifically look at the role of the coach, leader or trainer as facilitator of the learning (development) process.
Jean Cooper is an Organisational Alchemist at TomorrowToday.biz, a dynamic organisation that is assisting both large and small companies navigate the rich steams of the new economy. Jean completed two Masters degrees in 2004, both cum laude (an MPhil and MComm). He is an Industrial Psychologist and team dynamics expert, with a passion for helping companies get the best out of their bright young things.

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