Monday, March 16, 2009

Wherefore Passion?

Dave Ferguson has revived the Working/Learning Blog Carnival and has asked for thoughts on "work at learning: learning at work". Here's what's on my mind this rainy Sunday.

My dissertation research focused broadly on communities of practice (CoPs), and narrowly on a single community comprised of workplace trainers who gathered voluntarily to “stamp out bad training”. The group, now in its 24th year of evolving membership, has served members well as a vehicle for developing skills and camaraderie. They worked together to develop workshops and a lengthy train-the-trainer course; they used meetings as an opportunity to “dry run” new programs or activities and get helpful feedback from other practitioners; they learned by watching one another work and by working with one another. The CoP provided them the opportunity to learn about their work while learning while doing their work. (The whole dissertation – be warned, all 345 pages of it – can be found here )

While my interviewees offered myriad motivations for joining and participating, virtually all of them, thinking back on their time as novices, expressed frustrations with being hired, or placed, into positions for which they admitted they did not feel qualified or were inadequately prepared, expressed their lack of clarity about what a trainer did and how one knew if one was doing it well, described their feelings of isolation at being the organization’s only trainer -- or the only one in a training unit interested in improving -- and reported what seemed a shocking indifference about their job performance on the part of their supervisors.

While this may be where they began their work as trainers, by the time they were in my interview pool most described themselves as “passionate” about their work. Where does passion germinate? Why does one worker become passionate where another gives up and moves on to another role? While it was beyond the scope of my study, the matter came up enough for me to start asking, “When did you become passionate about training?” Without fail, the answers tied to feelings of confidence and efficacy. This was not necessarily tied to expertise – some interviewees said they became passionate long before they felt they had achieved mastery – but to a feeling of effectiveness: “When I saw that my training really made a difference.” “When I saw my first ‘a-ha’ moment in a learner’s eyes.” Is it, then, confidence that generates passion? And in turn, is reasonable to infer that it is passion that drives the desire to become more expert? And another thing: Is it a matter of achieving, and feeling comfortable with, the state of "conscious incompetence"? ("I know I don't know everything, but I'm confident that I have the ability to learn more, and I want to?")

Confidence and efficacy over mastery and expertise. Role clarity, feeling one knows what one’s job is, and whether one is doing it well. Finding outlets for overcoming feelings of isolation and the indifference of a supervisor. Comfort in the "I don't know now, but someday I may" zone. Passion may be what drives the desire to achieve mastery.

What does this tell us about our role in developing more passionate learners?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

State of E-Learning 2009

Elearn Magazine asked me for 500 words on my views about the current state and future of e-learning. The piece begins:

"As the news about the economy grows ever bleaker, organizations are finally forced to take a hard look at travel and other expenses associated with traditional classroom training. I predict this will bring several changes to the e-learning horizon—some good, some perhaps not."

The other 456 words are here.