Beyond Execution

Making a difference in project management by training, speaking and writing


The Way We Learn

Posted by beyondexecution on September 30, 2010 at 3:25 PM

One thing I have found when I have been teaching is that adults learn in certain ways.  I'm not just talking about experiential methods.  As most people know this method talks about actually doing and practicing to work in conjunction with learning about new material or skills.  This method will of course reinforce the learning so that people can practice the new skills and knowledge immediately.

What I'm about to write here is more on three different tactics which are more effective, especially as it pertains to real-life usage.  Here they are:

1.  Getting thrown into the fire.  Nothing like learning something because you have no choice.  This is the most tried-and-true surefire method of learn something new.  Sink or swim.  This tactic is used a lot by companies when hiring new people or even in promotion to take on a new role.  Additional stress is tacked on when the person has to report or present in this new role.  There's also a little bit of leeway given as well as the excuse that one can take - I'm still a bit new to this role.  This tactic is useful when you can live with couple of mistakes along the way while the person learns and gains the new skills,

2.  Learning from others' experience.  This can take several forms but the most common is job shadowing, mentorship, or direct supervision.  But the one that is most relevant to training exercises is having a discussion where others in the classroom share their experiences of what worked and what did not work.  This can be extremely valuable to those who do not have the experience yet.  While they'll still have to practice the skills, hearing about the other experiences will set expectations and give them a bit of comfort.  Whenever I'm training, I always encourage discussion and sharing experiences so that others can benefit.

3.  Failure.  This is a tough one because no one wants to fail.  But for most working professionals, if you fail once, you will know not to make the same mistake again (note: if someone keeps making the same mistake, then you know you've got a problem on your hands).  This is also combined with points 1 and 2 above.  There is nothing like failing to reinforce the right way.  Once again, there needs to be some leeway in accepting mistakes and failures in order for this tactic is to succeed.  When where and training courses, I love using this method because the training class provides a safe environment for participants to practice.  And if it's a skill that I am fluent in, I'll provide feedback so that they can get better.

So think about these three methods.  There are a lot more than this for sure, but it's my opinion that these three are the fastest.  So when you try to learn new skills yourself, see how you might be able to use these three approaches.  Know your environment - if mistakes can be tolerated, then try failing a few times.

Categories: General Project Management, Soft Skills

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