A few years ago, I visited a history museum that included a guided
docent tour. The docent was exceptionally knowledgeable about the museum, its
importance, and key events that marked the history. Yet, I walked away and did
not fully enjoy the tour or museum. Which got me thinking – Why? As I thought
about it, this tour was different. The docent was the owner of the information
and he decided how he would provide the information to us. In this case, he
wanted to fit in everything he knew about the museum in what seemed like a long
run-on sentence. There was very little ability for me as the learner to
experience the museum in a way that made sense or interested me.
I am a hands-on learner; I thrive when I can touch, see, hear, and experience learning. I am curious to a fault. I am sure I drove my parents crazy as a young child with my constant question, why? I was the kid who failed every test that said, read the instructions BEFORE doing anything. The last question said, put your pencil down, you do not need to complete the test. Oops.
But a friend of mine could not imagine jumping in without thoughtfully considering the directions on any test. These examples show the differences in people and how they learn and approach challenge. I jump in the middle of it and try it while my friend reads, thoughtfully considers the content, context and then makes sense of it. Everyone's perspective is different. Some want to read, some want to do, some want to listen, and most learners want a combination of options. As leader educators, we often rely on being the talking expert and do not engage our learners in the journey. What will help them learn best?
So, how can leaders become better "learning" educators and coaches?
1. SHIFT THE FOCUS TO THE LEARNER AND AWAY FROM THE EDUCATOR (LEADER).
Ask the learner first what they already know? Or have them consider a situation that they can apply to their learning experience.
Polling questions at the beginning of a webinar directed at the individual needs of learners are an example of a method to help learners get into their own frame of reference. Each person's experience is different and when the anonymous results are shared, learners appreciate that they can be different or similar to others.
Scenarios, either written or in review, are another way to have individual learners consider real or simulated events from their perspective.
Learners can evaluate:
- What makes sense?
- What challenges them?
- What do they need or want to learn more about to prepare their personal learning plan?
This process allows the learner to consider what they already know or what challenges them before opening it up to a discussion. In active learning strategies, this is called think, pair, share. It is very effective at helping learners make sense of and interpret the meaning of content.
2. CREATE ACTIVE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES.
Translate the information or education into an active learning process that challenges learners to apply the information.
For example, to demonstrate an organization's values, create an activity where the learners go to different work units to observe employees. In the classroom before the activity, review the values with the learners, note why they are important for the organization, and have learners talk about what the values mean. At this point, the learners are ready for to go out and observe. Strengthen the activity by having the learners praise employees who are observed demonstrating the values and letting them know what they saw. This type of activity gives learners the ability to process the values from observations.
After the activity, host a debriefing session asking the learners:
- What did you observe?
- What were excellent examples of employees demonstrating the values?
- What missed opportunities were there for employees to display the values?
- What might you do differently?
The debriefing session is then a valuable tool to encourage the learner to not only understand the importance of the organization values, but also to translate the values in observable actions. It is also a way to recognize and reward those who demonstrate the desired values and behaviors.
3. BUILD LEARNING IN SEQUENCE –> SCAFFOLD LEARNING
In education, scaffold learning breaks the information into manageable sections (or sequences) that are easier to consume. Scaffold learning starts small and adds challenge to experiences and learning activities as the learner’s skill increases. Consider the normal skill development pathway. What do learners need to know or be shown to be able to do and apply the skill?
Continued practice and intentional learning embed learning
and elevates performance and expertise.
Scaffolding learning also helps learners’ practice in low stakes environments
before they are assigned a high stakes or challenging assignment. Failing to provide sufficient knowledge prior
to the learner’s application of the skill can result in a frustrating or
unnecessarily challenging learning event. Are there situations when you can
better invest in this building block method of skill development to enhance
Think about teaching emotional intelligence. How can leaders scaffold learning (building knowledge and skill from the ground up) to improve emotional intelligence learning outcomes?
Step 1: Self-Awareness Learning
Does the learner recognize emotions or situations that fuel a reaction from them? Consider the two activities described below:
- Learners can review and consider stressful situations and have the learners describe their emotions during these situations.
- As an alternative, learners could be asked to record their emotions throughout the day. Are there patterns that they see that drive emotions?
Both activities force the learner to increase their
self-awareness, thus preparing them to respond to events and become more aware
of emotions, the foundation skill for emotional intelligence.
Step 2: Self-Management Strategies Learning
Most times you cannot control the situation, but you can control your response. In this step, learners develop self-management strategies that will help them form intentional responses instead of reactions. Note the learning opportunities described below:
- Engage an emotions and self-management strategies small group discussion involving a variety of EI skill levels as a learning activity. Have people discuss situations, what they learned, and what strategies they have or might use to create an intentional response. After the discussion, have the learners identify three strategies they could use to manage their reactions.
- Have learners consider what it might take for them to create intentional responses that can build and maintain relationships. What holds them back for using these strategies? What specific steps will they take to use these strategies more effectively?
Step 3: Self-Reflection Learning
In the heat of the moment in situations, it can be easy to miss the impact of your actions on others because of gaps in emotional intelligence. Note the self-reflection learning activity below.
- Have learners review situations and seek feedback after the fact. What did they do well, what could they do differently to improve their emotional intelligence self-awareness and self-management skills? What are their greatest opportunities? What is one skill, behavior, or habit they can work on to grow their emotional intelligence skills?
Note the variety of ways that you can scaffold learning with
the micro learning activities shown above.
As leaders, providing information is different from ensuring
learning. Learning expands an employee’s capacity and capability in their
skills. Learning allows them to make sense of content and provide meaning which
they can apply in new and different ways helping grow the bench strength of the
Leaders also must give learners the time and space to learn.
Learning new skills can be frustrating and exhausting for the learner as he or
she navigates new content and figures out how to apply it.
Can you make a more intentional learning investment with your team? Adapt your education process to shift the focus to the learner, create active learning opportunities, and build learning in sequence into your teaching methods to improve to invest in people and the learning outcomes for your team.