Our need to be right is persistant and we learning professionals are no exception. The key to be an effective and helpful learning professional is to tame that need and accept that learning is a complex and dynamic process with the learner. The least effective learning professional is the one-dimensional teacher.
Yes we are in the knowledge business and supplying superior knowledge is our credo. But when we each reflect on the most influential teachers we have met in our lives, we understand that it wasn’t just the superior knowledge that they gave us but something else that was most helpful from them, right?
When people only “teach” us one-way, that act itself often triggers our psychological defensive routines and however adequate and correct the contents are, we can’t listen. Good teachers back-off when they sense this, catch their own need to be right, and shift modalities of learning. And wow, what beautiful things they do. I guess that’s what they inspired me to be a learning professional too.
So what are these different modalities of learning? I’m sure there are a lot of variations among the different professions of learning such as a school teacher or university professor, martial arts master, faith leader, craftsman and artist, and I can only speak about my experience as a learning professional in mainly the corporate world. In my case the broad categorization is coaching, training and facilitation, and supplementarily teaching, advising, consulting and mentoring.
This consciousness that as a learning professional we have many faces, hats and modalities helps me stand on neutral ground when working with clients.
For example, I might find that a self-consciously bureaucratic, waterfall process oriented client organization is actually quite well organized and performing despite their ask to become agile. So, classic watershed case between don’t break what’s working, and, break to change or risk obsolescence. The client assignment is the latter and the temptation to go in with full-on agile coaching, training and consulting is strong. But will that get the job done? If providing agile coaching and training is the job, then yes. But we’re learning professionals, and we know that that’s not the real client ask.
As a matter of fact, finding out and continuously finding out what people really want to learn, develop and change is an essential trait of a good learning professional, I believe. It’s at times like this that makes me conscious that a push and pull and shifting between the different modalities of learning in my toolkit is very helpful. Maybe starting by “smelling the air” of the organization and asking at different levels of the organization their desire for change, with acknowledgment that things actually seem to be working as is, could be a better starting point in this case.
Teachers, sometimes it’s ok not just to teach. Coaches, at times have the courage to deviate from coaching. Consultants, go ahead and be a coach and facilitator too regularly. Trainers, leave room in your programs to let your learners explore, experiment, wander.
Fellow learning professionals, I encourage you to license yourself to redefine and develop your practice freely. We can do learning in many, many ways.