You + Me = Learning

You + Me = Learning

The best things in life are usually found when you are not looking for them – love, happiness, learning solutions. Wait…what? Learning solutions? Ok, it would be a big fat lie to say that I was looking to start a training company. It just kind of happened. 

I learn for the sake of learning. That is the why that drives my how and what. I started my career in public safety communications but have since settled into academia. The classroom is my happy place where I can often be found. Visitors to the classroom at the college where I teach are frequent and welcomed. Important people, like local government officials, have dropped by my classroom looking for solutions regarding recruitment, training, employee retention, and complex cultural issues. I’ve sat through many meetings and spent some time listening too. I’ve been asked time and again to help. So there has been much time spent subsequently doing research, reading, and learning. I have some solutions.

Socrates once said that education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. The analogy suggests that the intention of education is to ignite the flame of independent thinking. I can’t think of a more appropriate educational philosophy for public safety. We simply can not train for every situation – solid decisions must be made independently for the protection of self and others. Independent thinking is a critical skill because it promotes problem solving and the application of knowledge to novel situations. How often do we find that an error was made by an employee because of a lack of information? Most often the gap of knowledge is in the ability or motivation to apply information appropriately. 

Yet, we don’t educate in a manner that encourages independent thought. The training approach most often taken is to fill the vessel.  We spend much time and many training dollars transmitting information or giving instructions how to do tasks – filling minds with information. Sharing information and giving instructions does little to motivate behavioral change though. How many of us know that over eating contributes to weight gain? Over a third of American adults are obese despite significant sources of nutritional and dietary education. Information alone is not enough to motivate behavioral change.

Even in higher education settings, we tend to assemble adults into a classroom to attend expert-led lectures with the expectation of learning and behavioral change. This model of transmission from teacher or expert to student is what we have been exposed to since the first grade. The sage on stage model works well for children who are memorizing facts and mastering rote learning. However, adults are not simply overgrown children. Our motivation to learn and experience base is different than children. The transmission model has been proven to have limited effectiveness in adult learner engagement, retention of information, and development of problem-solving skills. This is especially important in public safety communications where higher order learning skills are imperative to success on the job. 

Adult learning is a process of building upon experience. Adults bring years of experience to the classroom as well as established neural networks. We are seeking life relevancy in learning as well. A skilled facilitator creates connections between experience and new information while making the experience relevant. 

My role as an instructional designer is to identify and bridge gaps in knowledge as well as to transform content into a meaningful learning experience. A path to a learning destination is determined based on the gaps and the goals. Design is an intentional process whereas facilitation is a more agile process. Facilitation is more than transmitting content. Each shared learning experience has a unique social dynamic. To be effective, the facilitator must recognize and manipulate the social dynamic while adapting to the learner(s). I play with fire because sparking the flames of thought and learning are my goals as an instructional designer and a facilitator. Truth be told, I’m not above throwing some gasoline on the flame to create an explosion. I aim to inspire lasting behavioral change with an approach that is based in cognitive science and adult learning theory.  In sum, I teach according to how adults learn. My approach isn’t new, rather it’s one that isn’t widely used in public safety learning and development.

The content that I deliver at the college has been standardized, but my classroom is a lab where there is experimentation with methodology. The attrition rate for the courses that I facilitate is zero and student attendance is consistently 100%. Students are engaged in learning and even occasionally laughing. There is high energy as students are thinking and problem solving. The learning experience is interactive and anything but boring. Most of the students that take my courses have been referred by former students. This suggests that good things are happening here. 

Workshops are piloted with focus groups before release as well. With the focus groups, the reaction has been interesting. Those in public safety have become so accustom to the cookie-cutter training methodologies that they are initially disoriented by my alternative approach. Engagement requires a little more coaxing. We get there though, and it is exhilarating to watch the flames of thought ignite.

The issues in public safety communications regarding recruitment, training, retention, and workplace culture share a common thread of doing what has always been done. It is time to think differently. Starting a training company was not on my radar, however I am here because there’s a need for an alternative solution for learning. I invite you to think differently with me and experience the positive results for yourself.

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