Sunday, September 19, 2010

If You Force Them, They Won't Learn

A link on Twitter caught my eye this morning: "5 Hallmarks of Good Homework", Much of the content is applicable to L& D (make assignments relevant, have a purpose, that kind of thing). If you're interested in workplace learning I encourage you to take a look. 

One item that struck me: "
Our children are now expected to read 20 minutes a night and record such on their homework sheet. What parents are discovering (surprise) is that those kids who used to sit down and read for pleasure … are now setting the timer, choosing the easiest books, and stopping when the timer dings. … Reading has become a chore, like brushing your teeth."(Kohn, 2006, pp. 176–177)


We see this happen in the workplace all the time.  For instance, "Diversity", "Harassment", and "Ethics" can be really interesting, engaging training topics if handled by good designers and facilitators. But nooooo, the HR Department takes over and loads the policy word-for-word onto 73 PowerPoint slides, no one in their right minds would want to sit through the oral recitation on it, and so HR... makes the training  mandatory.  If people don't want to sit through your program on their own accord, then there's something wrong with your program, not your learners.  Making it mandatory does not send the message, "This is important", but, "This is so awful we have to put a gun to your head to make you attend." This topic becomes a chore and, worse yet, learners have had another bad "training" experience. What could be useful learning just becomes more work.


Another example: I used to belong to a vibrant,dynamic community of workplace trainers who gathered formally once a quarter, and informally at other times, with the stated goal of improving their practice. The meetings were fun and exciting, people brought new topics and activities to share, and many deep and lasting friendships evolved. Without fail, at every meeting, one or two people would show up and say something to the effect of "My boss made me come." Sometimes this was the boss's indirect cowardly way of telling the employee there was a performance problem; sometimes the person was sent to see if he/she could "get" something to bring back to the workplace. Either way, the person sent did not enjoy it, did not get much out of it, and saw the requirement to participate as extra work. (And PS: We didn't enjoy having them there, either.) You won't find many articles or discussions on the topic of communities of practice without someone asking how we can control and manage them, how we can make people participate, and when we should enroll our new hires in them. Here's the thing: You can't. See the bibliography in my dissertation for forty-eleven references that say that. 


Katja Pastoors, in particular, offers research that speaks to the matter of voluntary v. forced learning. From my dissertation:  
"Pastoors (2007) found that motivation to participate in bootlegged CoPs was high, that the bootlegged CoPs allowed for sharing of tacit knowledge and provided a welcome arena for those who shared common interests and “passions” (p. 29), and that those involved in bootlegged CoPs were willing to expend time and energy in its activities. The institutionalized CoP was, by contrast, viewed as the organization’s means of imposing additional workload and expecting work outside of regular working hours. Strict communication plans and procedures were viewed as inhibiting effective activity. By their own report, members felt no ownership of the institutionalized CoP."


The full Kohn citation is: Kohn, A. (2006). The homework myth: Why our kids get too much of a bad thing. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. 


Pastoors, K. (2007). Consultants: love-hate relationships with communities of practice, The Learning Organization  14 (1), 21-33.

11 comments:

Judith Christian-Carter said...

A great and very much needed post Jane. It's about time that organisations got away from the stick-type approach to training, as carrots are so much better and nicer.

Best wishes

Judith

Barry said...

I totally agree with your post. We need to create confident learners who don't fear authority. Mandates of learning leads to fear. I'm a fan of Keller's ARCS model. Of course, i should be as an FSU grad. But, he's correct. Grab their attention, communicate the relevance of the CoP (what, so what, now what), provide resources that help build the learner's confidence, and all of that leads to learner satisfaction or the benefits they perceive from the CoP leads to increased satisfaction.

jefe5565 said...

I agree with most of the conclusions of this post but question its premise. As one who was a compulsive reader in school, I doubt that the kids stopped reading just because they were assigned it as homework. That is comparable to saying that musicians stop playing in jam sessions once they collect their first paycheck. Reading is is its own reward. This sounds like what parents would say as they took potshots at teachers and schools. But the real question is what did the nonreaders do? They were the real target for the homework and they are legion. This sounds like a legitimate effort by teachers who are trying. It needs systematic followup to see if it is working and not anecdotal second hand comments. A lot of teachers like trainers need to improve but too often they are just an easy target for people who feel anyone can teach or train.

Jane Bozarth said...

Thanks for the comments, Jefe, but the piece cited makes a pretty clear link. Also, while I agree that, for me , reading is its own reward, we know that is not always the case for others. The reading gap between boys and girls, for instance, is extensively documented. The real gist of the piece is the philosophical stance of the effectiveness of forced v. voluntary learning experiences. I'll always side with the latter.

jefe5565 said...

Thanks for the reply. I certainly would have sided with you while in high school--I never wanted any homework assignments.

Lynn said...

I am not at all surprised that you have 47 references adhering to the fact that forced learning is impossible.

I taught for a few years at an Inland Empire high school that had a DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) program. I was shocked to the tips of my toes when the students balked at the luxurious 15 minutes to read something of their own choosing, aside from regulated mandated textbooks. But, they did. I tried many different ideas to engage the students into "liking" the concept of reading. I brought in comic books, magazines and even fiction books from my own private collections. The students' attitudes did not budge. For every one student who enjoyed the opportunity, there were 33 who said they "hated" to read.

More currently I have relocated to Orange County and was dismayed to discover that this mandatory enforced "reading" system has already begun to discourage elementary age children. My son just entered third grade and sure enough, the very first week the teacher sent home a reading log to be signed by the parents itemizing the reading the child participated in for 20 minutes per day. In fact, although I initialed each daily reading assignment I forgot to sign off on the signature line for the entire week and my son actually lost his recess!

The education system needs to set itself straight on this and soon. My love of reading did not just open up new worlds to my imagination, it expanded my vocabulary, my grammar and my interests naturally, without needing to study endless grammar sentences (which, by the way, my son is performing much more poorly on since this regimented program began).

Apparently, the designer of this construct for mandatory reading forgot the basics of psychology. No one likes to be forced to do anything, especially children; rather, they will fight to the bitter end, just because they were told to do something they probably would have loved on their own.

Now that it is clear how to create a "hate" relationship with reading, how about a solution for creating a "love" relationship?

Lynn Munoz
student of Walden University
lynnmunoz.wordpress.com

Lynn said...

I am not at all surprised that you have 47 references adhering to the fact that forced learning is impossible.

I taught for a few years at an Inland Empire high school that had a DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) program. I was shocked to the tips of my toes when the students balked at the luxurious 15 minutes to read something of their own choosing, aside from regulated mandated textbooks. But, they did. I tried many different ideas to engage the students into "liking" the concept of reading. I brought in comic books, magazines and even fiction books from my own private collections. The students' attitudes did not budge. For every one student who enjoyed the opportunity, there were 33 who said they "hated" to read.

More currently I have relocated to Orange County and was dismayed to discover that this mandatory enforced "reading" system has already begun to discourage elementary age children. My son just entered third grade and sure enough, the very first week the teacher sent home a reading log to be signed by the parents itemizing the reading the child participated in for 20 minutes per day. In fact, although I initialed each daily reading assignment I forgot to sign off on the signature line for the entire week and my son actually lost his recess!

The education system needs to set itself straight on this and soon. My love of reading did not just open up new worlds to my imagination, it expanded my vocabulary, my grammar and my interests naturally, without needing to study endless grammar sentences (which, by the way, my son is performing much more poorly on since this regimented program began).

Apparently, the designer of this construct for mandatory reading forgot the basics of psychology. No one likes to be forced to do anything, especially children; rather, they will fight to the bitter end, just because they were told to do something they probably would have loved on their own.

Now that it is clear how to create a "hate" relationship with reading, how about a solution for creating a "love" relationship?

Lynn Munoz
student of Walden University
lynnmunoz.wordpress.com

Jane Bozarth said...

Wonderful comment, Lynn, and thanks for taking the time to write. I was always an avid reader. Reading your post, though, brought back a memory: Every day in 2nd grade the teacher would read to us. Sometimes we did a chapter book (it's where I met Pippi Longstocking), sometimes poetry, sometimes a short story. I remember always looking forward to it, and I recall that everyone in the class loved that time of day. I would imagine other teachers did, too, but she had a passion for reading and you could tell she loved the work she was sharing and enjoyed introducing new things to us. Perhaps some of the love of reading is contagious? Do schools still see it as a goal?

PS: The teacher was also widely regarded as the best reading teacher in the entire school system. She finally left because of the politics and bureaucracy. She runs a dress shop now.

Lynn said...

It is ironic you mentioned that you had a second grade teacher who read to you. I taught 9th grade science, but had that 15 minutes of DEAR during second period. When the displayed so much loathing for reading, I actually took the opportunity to read to them a few different books, such as the Giving Tree. My students were amazingly respectful and reverent of the time while I was reading. You could hear a pin drop. One boy came up to me after I read the Giving Tree and he told me he had never had it read to him that way before. He had never made the connection between the tree/boy relationship and a mother/child relationship. Apparently, you are never too old to be read to, especially in this day and age when parents are working so much, the children spend so much time on their own, they miss the feelings of "caring" associated with story reading.

I truly do not have any research to back this up, at this moment, but I have to wonder... perhaps, the problem is not in the students' ability to learn. Common sense would say there is a relationship between positive emotional well-being and learning; perhaps, this generation's emotional tank has run dry because everyone is on the merry go round of life, busy, busy, busy, that the students cannot learn because of an emotional deficiency? Back to Maslow's Hierarchy of needs?

Worth a ponder?

Thank you for responding back.

Lynn Munoz
student of Walden University
lynnmunoz.wordpress.com

Jenn Dryden said...

Can you recommend any good ways to do Harassment Training that don't fall victim to the dreaded trap? I've not ever seen any!

Jane Bozarth said...

Jenn, which trap do you mean? The fact that the treatment is usually so dull, or that it is made 'mandatory'? The first problem with "harassment" training is that it usually isn't really training, but a presentation.

Or did you mean something else?