Friday, March 31, 2006

Doing v Becoming

I'm so excited about this post from Explanazine. As someone who spent the better part of two decades as a classroom based trainer, the gap between practising a skill and applying it is an issue very dear to my heart.

During IT training sessions, I would often see people come to grips with features of Word/Excel/PowerPoint that they had previously not known about. They would become very excited about these features and see immediate potential for their use in their job role. However, it was not unusual for these same people to find themselves unable to recognise the circumstances under which to apply the skills or use the features they had learned.

Having an existing framework of understanding to build on, the more confident users without fail found it easier to take ownership of new skills than the less proficient user. Unsurprisingly, they were far more able to make connections between existing and new knowledge. However, even the most experienced and confident user sometimes hits a wall.

I have a confession to make: I have never "got" pivot tables. Let me just say that I lo-ove Excel. I think it's the finest piece of software Microsoft ever produced... by some margin. I taught it on many levels for many years. From beginners to power users. I even taught pivot tables. Many of my learners went on to create the most marvellous pivot tables imaginable in the day-to-day job roles.

The thing is, I never found myself looking at a sreadsheet and thinking, "You know what I need here? I need a pivot table!" I have this blindspot. I can't recognise the situation in which to apply this feature. I know what they are, I know how they're done, I even know why (sort of) - I just don't know when. Those learners who took away from my workshops the ability to create these beauties already had that when sussed. The figures they worked with on a daily basis cried out for a pivot table and, the minute I introduced them to the feature, they recognised that fact. Learning the skill was easy for them, since they could place it in context - connectivism again.

In search of the answer, I underwent every single piece of online learning I could find on the subject. The thing was - any JIT learning was aimed at the person who knew that they needed to create a pivot table, but didn't know how. No use to me. I enrolled on as many ILT courses as I could get away with in search of this vital piece of information. I even borrowed course manuals from friends and colleagues who had attended courses elsewhere. Sadly, every single one of them taught how to create a pivot table. Time after time I would ask the trainer what set of circumstances should make me think that a pivot table would be a Good Thing. It was evident that most trainers were in the same position as I was - they didn't know!

To this day, no-one has yet said the thing that will provide me with my eureka moment. I'm still waiting for that penny to drop. The doing bit is easy. I have "done" pivot tables on a monkey-see-monkey-do basis more often than I care to remember. I have yet to "become" on this point. I can so relate to the tale of Andy Giles.

The Tale of Karyn and the Pivot Table demonstrates that a learner will only "become" when he/she has taken on board the when and why, not just the what and how.

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