Saturday, October 3, 2009

Enhancing your Learning skills through the Development continuum

We live in the era of virtual information explosion. There is unimaginable content that is available on any topic just at a stroke of a keyboard or click of a mouse. Individuals working in the Software arena have been rightly referred as Knowledge workers. There are many competencies and skills that help define the success or failure of a Software professional. One of the prime competency for Knowledge worker is one's Learning ability. With the knowledge workers virtually needing to deal with tons of information, assimilate it, sniff it and intelligently absorb or reject the information- One's Learning ability has definitely taken a center stage. Learning "How to "Learn" is going to become a buzzword if it is not already. The entire activity of learning can be easy or difficult depending upon one's talent, flair for understanding new things, technical know how and many more related factors. In my experience, i have felt that there are a lot of challenges associated with learning something new-
- How often have you started learning something new and left without completing it ?
- What are the ways can you enhance your technical know how ?
- Is it right to start learning something and leave mid-way ?
- How often did your mind wander to pick up something else to learn instead of what you are learning currently ?
- Though you have worked to understand the basics and intricate details of the subject yet you are very cautious to stand up to questions ?
- How many people feign something that didn’t know ?
The list can go on further but i better stop and arrive at a point.

Of late, I had been reading a book- "Self Leadership and the One minute manager" by Ken Blanchard, Susan Fowler an Laurence Hawkins. This book introduces several interesting concepts about Self leadership and one of the part that i found very relevant is "The Development continuum". I will spend some time in the next section to represent how i understood the Development continuum and how it can be beneficial to deal with the multiple challenges associated with Learning or mastering something new.

What is Development Continuum ?
Simply put, the Development Continuum defines a staged approach to learn or master something. This continuum defines four phases that are involved when an individual takes up learning something new till he/she becomes a master.

What are the Stages involved in Development Continuum ?
I have listed the entire phases in the Development Continuum in the URL below-
The Development Continuum

Please note that this is my representation of the Development continuum as i understood when i learned from the above mentioned book. Just a note that all the credit of coming up with this fabulous approach rests with author(s) of the book "Self Leadership and the One minute manager".

To Summarize, the Development continuum defines 4 different stages of learning in correlation with 2 important aspects-
"Competence"- Competence can be equated with possession of required skill.
"Commitment"- Commitment is ability of an individual to give best effort towards the goal in question.
- When an individual intends to learn something new, he/starts as "Enthusiastic Beginner" that is when the Competence is Low, Commitment is High.
- The next stage in learning is- "Disillusioned Learner" that is when Competence is Low and Commitment is Low. Commitment becomes Low primarily because the learner comes across unforeseen problems in quest for learning something new and doesn’t get answers.
- This stage is followed by "Capable but Cautious Performer" that is when Competence is Fairly High and Commitment is variable.
- The Last and Final stage is "High Achiever" stage which is characterized by High Competence and High Commitment. This is a stage where the learner reaches a level of expertise.
After going through the stages, the next question that comes to mind is-

What does the Development Continuum suggests an individual to do if he/she is at "Enthusiastic Beginner", "Disillusioned Learner" or "Capable but Cautious Performer" stage ?
Each of the earlier phases of Learning is characterized by either Low Competence or Low Commitment. The Development Continuum says "When your Competence is Low, you need DIRECTION; When your Commitment is low, you need SUPPORT."
If your Competence is low, someone can help you provide Direction by Setting a goal, provide deadlines, help you with Technical concepts, track your progress and provide feedback etc.
If your Commitment is low, someone can help your provide Support by Empathizing with you, Listen to your concerns, Provide encouragement, Share their experiences, help you focus on task etc.

My First Impressions:
I believe the above sections would have set the right context of what this model is all about. After learning through this, i was definitely excited to know that a model of this sort is exciting. This model not only helps to understand where we are at while learning anything but also provides an yard stick to measure the entire learning activity. At any given instance, one can know which stage of learning an individual is in and what needs to be done to move to this next level. Coming back to some of the questions that i touched upon during the Introduction section-

At what stage of learning do the learners tend to give up ?
In my experience, the learners generally tend to give up during the stage of "Disillusioned learner". It is at this stage, with Competence and Commitment being low, the Confidence of an individual also takes a beating. People tend to give up at this stage unless they are provided with the right kind of Direction and Support. In this situation, an individual needs to take a call if it is actually worthwhile spending his/her time in the activity. I know in many work related situations, we do not have a choice but in those situations also a discussion is warranted with higher-ups. To me, a situation where an individual slogs meaninglessly on an activity which he/she is not naturally inclined or talented to do results in lot of unproductive situations.
It is in the situations like these; this model can help and proactively find alternatives. So, giving up Learning something new is not always bad.

Can an individual use this model for Self assessment ?
Definitely Yes. If applied honestly, this model can help in some extent to eliminate Blind spots. Blind spots are the unproductive behavior patterns that an individual might have in his/her personality but for some reason, he/she refuses to acknowledge. This model can help provide an fairly reasonable assessment of learning abilities and even help strike a meaningful discussion with superiors.

What are the other Advantages of using this model ?
In my experience in using this model so far, the greatest benefit i have noticed is knowing when to ask for help. Learning is becoming an increasing complex activity and more often than we believe, we require help and assistance of people who has already gone through the similar knowledge enhancing activity. More often it is the case of Individual's ego coming in between asking someone for help for something even though it means delay. People sometimes refrain from asking for help not realizing the consequences it may have on project. This model enables the self leadership in a way that it enables the Individual's thinking to ask for necessary Direction and Support from others and also helping an individual decide what Leadership style is apt for leading self in a given situation.

Are there any limitations this model has ?
Based on my limited experience, i am not sure if this model for Learning is applicable to diverse situations. I am really keen to apply this on situations which require quick learning i.e. when the deliverables are short termed and the learner is expected to perform/give deliverables in a short span. In this situation, the learner will need to be self reliant. It would be interesting to see how Direction and Support can be leveraged in this situation.

What are the opportunities available with this model ?
In principle, this is a Self leadership model which can be applied aptly in many situations other than learning. One of the key areas (other than learning) where this model can be applied is assessing the gaps between Individual's current and future role in the organization. The development areas can be identified in the stages described by this model and with necessary direction and support, the skills gaps can be reduced. The greatest benefit of course, is knowing the status quo and gaining the understanding of what needs to be done to move to next stage.

These were some of my thoughts on learning about this unique model of staged learning. Please do share your thoughts and also experiences related to any learning strategies you have adopted to master something new.

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