Saturday, November 20, 2021

How do we learn?

Learning is a lifelong process. We always keep learning by observing, through experiences, reading or listening to others. The person who stops learning is irrelevant in the world; those are the people who are always suffering in life. There are people who observe, read, experience, and listen to others, but never learn. Those are the people who go for bathing in the river without getting wet. They are faking the learning. They take feedback but ignore that.

David Kolb published his learning style model in 1984. He says, “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb, 1984, p. 38).

Learners’ internal cognitive process decides how the learning is effective. When you get any experience, encounter any situation, your mind is conditioned, and programme is created in the mind. It is used when similar types of situations occur. First time is experiencing the situations, responding to those situations, demonstrating the behaviours which the person thinks right. In this process the person learns, and that learning is replicated in similar circumstances. According to Kolb “learning involves the acquisition of abstract concepts that can be applied flexibly in a range of situations.”

Kolb's experiential learning style theory is typically represented by a four-stage learning cycle in which the learner 'touches all the bases':

Concrete Experience - a new experience or situation is encountered, or a reinterpretation of existing experience.

Reflective Observation of the New Experience - of particular importance are any inconsistencies between experience and understanding.

Abstract Conceptualization - reflection gives rise to a new idea, or a modification of an existing abstract concept (the person has learned from their experience).

Active Experimentation - the learner applies their idea(s) to the world around them to see what happens

The learning is effective when a person progresses through a cycle of four stages:

  • Having a concrete experience followed by
  • Observation of and reflection on that experience which leads to
  • The formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions) which are then
  • Used to test hypotheses in future situations, resulting in new experiences.

This can be shown in a graphical way as under.

However, effective learning only happens when a learner can go through and demonstrate the behaviour in all four stages. Therefore, no one stage of the cycle is effective as a learning procedure on its own.

One interesting point we should note is that whenever we approach the task or experience, we have certain approaches and attitudes for the tasks, this is called, Processing Continuum. Another dimension is while experiencing the situation or approaching the task, we have responses in terms of our emotions. Situation triggers emotions, we respond emotionally, this is called Perception Continuum.

Based on these continuums, there are 4 different styles of learning which are described in the following model.

We need to create learning initiatives based on the different styles as above. Those 4 styles are as indicated in above graphic are:

Diverging (feeling and watching with Concrete Experience and Reflective Observation)

These people can look at things from different perspectives. They are sensitive. They prefer to watch rather than do, tending to gather information and use imagination to solve problems. They are best at viewing concrete situations from several different viewpoints.

Assimilating (watching and thinking with Abstract Conceptualization and Reflective Observation). These people are concise, have a logical approach. Ideas and concepts are more important than people for them. These people require a good, clear explanation rather than a practical opportunity. They excel at understanding wide-ranging information and organizing it in a clear, logical format. People with this style are more attracted to logically sound theories than approaches based on practical value.

Converging (doing and thinking - Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation)

People with a converging learning style can solve problems and will use their learning to find solutions to practical issues. They prefer technical tasks and are less concerned with people and interpersonal aspects. They can solve problems and make decisions by finding solutions to questions and problems.

Accommodating (doing and feeling - Concrete Experience and Active Experimentation)

The Accommodating learning style is 'hands-on,' and relies on intuition rather than logic. These people use other people's analysis, and prefer to take a practical, experiential approach. They are attracted to new challenges and experiences, and to carrying out plans.

Knowing a person's (and your own) learning style enables learning to be orientated according to the preferred method. That said, everyone responds to and needs the stimulus of all types of learning styles to one extent or another - it's a matter of using emphasis that fits best with the given situation and a person's learning style preferences. 

(Article is based on David Kobe’s Learning Model)

(Opinions are purely personal & does not represent my organizations, current or past) 

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Sunday, November 14, 2021

Learning styles based on experiences

Experiential learning is still an effective mode of developing people. 70:20:10 methodology is commonly used to develop talent. It is believed that 70% development happens when people are actually doing the job which they want to learn. This includes actual on the job training, project assignments, short term or long-term assignments, job enrichment, job rotation etc. 20% development happens when people are watching, observing the job and learning from others. This also includes coaching and mentoring, and 10% development happens through attending training and workshops. 

Hence while designing any people development initiatives, we need to focus more on 70% aspect and that can’t be effective with external agencies or trainers. Most of the talent and people development initiatives fail because we ignore the uniqueness of personalities while designing such development programmes. We all have different learning styles. Those styles are developed based on different experiences. Generally, experiences play a major role in learning and development. Based on the experiences people have, there are 4 types of learners. 

  • Learning activists,
  • Learning reflector,
  • Theorist 
  • Pragmatist 

Learners can switch or start their learning at any stage, but their dominant styles decide which learning stage they are effective at.

Learning Activists are the people who learn through experiences and have a preference for this stage of the learning cycle are always active and can't sit still. They always want to try something new. One example is the person who always seems to have a new hobby. This stage is for having an experience. 

They are usually open minded, enthusiastic and thrive on challenges. They get bored easily and are not overly concerned with implementation or consolidation.

As a manager or HR professional you can bet on them to give them more responsibilities. These learners have strong learning agility and are definitely high potentials. 

Learning reflectors have a preference for gathering data. They don't particularly like a "hands on" approach or reaching a conclusion quickly.  They think and reflect on what information or experiences they have. They are naturally cautious and like to observe rather than take part.

As a manager, you can rely on these employees. You can groom them and push them towards having more experiences. They may be in comfort zones, and you have to push them in the growth zone.

Theorists have a preference for reaching a conclusion quickly. They tend to like things which are in order. They value theories that are logical and rational. They feel most comfortable where things "fall into place". They conclude fast through their experiences. 

Lateral thinking or discussions that do not have a direction do not come easily to them

You can retain them but don’t expect more from them like activists and reflectors. 

Pragmatists are the people who are keen to try out the theories and ideas to see if they work in practice. They are down to earth and would not reflect on the merits of a theory but the practical aspects. They are attracted by what works for them. They are good planners and find opportunities to practice but if they are not convinced, they will not listen. These learners are not highfliers but then if you want to change something drastically, you will not be able to push these learners. 

Each person has a preference for one of these styles and therefore as the organisations we should always consider these aspects while designing your talent management and people development initiatives. Every individual should be aware of their own style of learning since this will influence the way in which they will build their experience and execute their learnings. 

Managers and HR professionals need to be aware of the preferences or learning styles of those who will be developed for the future roles. 

Learners can pick up the learnings at any stage and can switch the style based on the experiences as under: 

(This article is inspired from the Learning States Theory developed by Dr Alait Mumford and Peter Honey.)

(Opinions are purely personal & does not represent my organizations, current or past) 

Author's book are available on AmazonFlipkartPothi and BookGanga. Income from books is used for social cause. 

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