I’m realizing that a major theme of my work and the revolution is that what we do in organizations, and what we do as L&D practitioners, is not aligned with how we think, work, and learn.  And to that extent, we’re doomed to failure. We can, and need to, do better.

Let’s start with thinking. The major mismatch here is that our thinking is done rationally and in our head. Results in cognitive science show, instead, that much of our thinking is irrational and is distributed across the world. We use external representations and tools, and unless we’re experts, we make decisions and use our brains to justify them rather than actually do the hard work.

What does this mean for organizations and L&D?  It means we should be looking to augment how we think, with tools and processes like performance support, helping us find information with powerful search.  We want to have open book learning, since we’ll use the book in the real world, and we want to avoid putting it ‘in the head’ as much as possible. Particularly rote information. We should expect errors, and provide support with checklists, not naively expect that people can perform like robots.

This carries over to how we work.  The old view is that we work alone, performing our task, and being managed from above with one person thinking for a number of folks.  What we now know, however, is that this view isn’t optimal. The output is better when we get multiple complementary minds working together.  Adaptation and innovation work best when we work together.

So we don’t need isolation to do our work, we need cooperation and collaboration.  We need ways to work together. We need to give people meaningful tasks and give them space to execute, with appropriate support. We need to create environments where it’s safe to share, to show your work, to work out loud.

And our models of learning are broken. The trend to an  event comprised of information dump and knowledge test we know doesn’t work. Rote procedures are no longer sufficient for the increasing ambiguity and unique situations our learners are seeing. And the notion that “practice ’til they get it right” will lead to any meaningful change in ability is fundamentally flawed.

To learn, we need models to guide our behavior and help us adapt.  We need to identify and address misconceptions. We need learners to engage concretely and be scaffolded in reflection.   And we need much practice.  Our learning experiences need to look much more like scenarios and serious games, not like text and next.

We’re in an information age, and industrial models just won’t cut it.  I’m finding that we’re hampered by a fundamental lack of awareness of our brains, and this is manifesting in too many unfortunate and ineffective practices.  We need to get better. We know better paths, and we need to trod them.  Let’s start acting like professionals and develop the expertise we need to do the job we must do.


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