Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Photo Radar and Adult Learning

This is a public service announcement. Photo radar is out there and it will get you. Traffic tickets are a consequence of not learning.

For those Albertans reading this, the warning is personal. The Town of Devon has reinstated photo radar on Highway 60. For those of us who take the west bypass around the City of Edmonton and travel past Devon, BEWARE. Last year, Devon collected over a million dollars from photo radar.

This is also a story about how adults learn. Last year, as a Devon resident, I contributed significantly to the photo radar fund. My story about how I learned from photo radar illustrates the steps in adult learning.

There are some fundamentals that apply to our work. If you work with partners on growth opportunities, do research, develop information products, deliver programs to clients, develop policy information, you are dealing with adults who are learning. Here are the steps as they learn.

How I Learned from Photo Radar:
Awareness: How many time do I have to see the speed limit sign before I see the speed limit sign?

Seven, 7, IIII II, VII, 7, 7, 7. By the way, the speed limit is 70 km/hr.

Recognition: The first photo radar ticket arrives. I am aware and this is important. The innovator in our household, my wife, tells her story about how she uses cruise control and has no traffic tickets.
Internalization: The second photo radar ticket arrives. This is important; this applies to me and I need to change. My Executive Coach, my wife, points out that the family budget is on a sharp nose dive. She tells me a success story about how innovators use cruise control and consequently avoid traffic tickets.
Testing the Practice: Let's try it out. I try cruise control (occasionally). My Executive Coach, my wife, reminds me regularly (every time) when I pull out of the garage.
Practice Adoption: Practice change starts. I regularly (but not always) turn on the cruise control when I pull out of the garage. My Executive Coach, my wife, gives me a look (gentle nagging) when I don't turn on the cruise control.
Yep! It Works: The practice change has taken. My neighbour complains about photo radar tickets. I tell him my story about how I avoid photo radar tickets by using cruise control. I occasionally get the "look" from My Executive Coach, my wife, when I pull out of the garage. I also get praise from My Executive Coach every time we pass a grim-faced driver pulled over in front of a police car with flashing lights.

Why This Story? In our organizations we will hear words like initiatives, growth, industry consultations, practice change, marketing, development and program review. These words all require Change. Change requires Learning. The people we see as clients in these activities are adults. We are dealing with adult learners. In these activities, we are very often coaches to our clients (acting in the same way as my Executive Coach, my wife).
We ourselves are adult learners. You are asked to solve new problems regularly at work. To do that well, you need to learn ...., quickly.

Knowledge management is about helping staff to learn fast.

Elaboration on the Fundamentals:
If you haven't said it seven times, or put your message in 7 different places for your clients to see, they haven't seen or heard your message yet. Just about the time you get tired of saying it, your clients start to see or hear your message. Don't quit. Say it once and you are speaking to an audience of one.
Recognition: It takes a success story (or a disaster story; guess which is more riveting?), told by someone credible (usually not the coach, usually a successful entrepreneur), for your adult learner to start to pay attention. The story has to speak to the element, "what's in it for me?", before the adult learner starts to engage.
The Recognition Stage and Denial: What was my reaction to the first photo radar ticket? ...... *&@%!! photo radar ...... Denial. The meaning of Denial ......... (Don't Even Know I am Lying (to myself)). The coach's role is to keep asking the tough questions: "Is this important? Is this going to go away? Can you afford to ignore this?" Coach for honest answers.
Internalization: Get this to happen and you have gotten to first base. Internalization takes place after the demonstration; the workshop, the meeting. You, the coach, need to follow-up with more than "What did you think of our meeting?" to get clients to do the imaging to see themselves making the change. Good coaches at this point 'gently nag" to repeat the reasons for change, remind the client about the success story (or disaster story), and encourage the client to set a deadline to make a decision about the change.
Measuring Success: Want to know the effect of your program, your initiative, the industry's development? Survey your clients to find their level of behaviour change. Each of these adult learning steps has an associated behaviour change. You can measure how far you have gotten by asking (surveying) your clients on what their behaviour change is relative to what is being learned.

Much of what we do involves communications for adult learning. Be very clear at the start of your project what outcome you are trying to achieve. And then choose the right communication strategy.

Number One Lesson in Adult Learning: You can't get "Practice Adoption" without the previous steps.
Adult Learners Need Coaches: Adults learners do not commit, change and continue to practice the change without a coach. Change is never a journey of one. I needed a coach. So do your clients. Do you know how to coach? For the kinds of changes we are trying to influence, we have to be very good coaches. Go for training. Keep training. Keep learning.

The Role of the Coach: A project management coach with whom I worked closely said that "Coaching is about helping your client see the possibilities". It is also about being a gentle nag. My Executive Coach reminded me (regularly) throughout the steps of "Testing the Practice", "Practice Adoption" and "Yep, It Works" to commit, to try, to keep doing, to not quit. Positive images helps; so does praise. You do not coerce change. And there are those who will not. Work with the willing (always). The coach's best revenge: Observe those who resist change carefully; they will supply you with engaging stories of disaster .... or they will show you another way.

Learning Styles:
Know your customers’ learning style(s). Educational background and the way they work are important factors. We each have preferred learning styles:
Learn by doing: Active, influence through action, get things done, take risks.
Learn by feeling or talking: Concrete, learn from specific experiences, relating to people, talking out what they are learning
Learning by watching and reflecting: Reflective, observe before forming judgments, looking for the meaning
Learn by thinking and analysing: Abstract, logical, look for models, planning
Ask your clients how they like to learn. Tailor your communications and coaching to their learning style.

Fast Learning:
There is a model of change leadership that can be summarized as fast learning:
State what you are committed to,
Learn (Sense and Respond).

This is the leadership process for change and crisis management. People’s reactions to this learning process will depend on what learning style they are ingrained with. Learners who learn by doing will be supportive. Feeling learners will look for consultation. Learners who learn by reflecting will be terrified. Logical learners will look for patterns (there are none).

There is a caution about expecting your adult learners all to be willing to welcome the fast learning style. My analogy is diving off the high board for the first time:
Commit (climb the ladder)
Act (Dive)
Learn (How was the dive and what to change).

I am an engineer. I am analytical. My first experience diving off the high board was to carefully watch other divers and visualize the steps, the bounce, the rotation of the hips and the entry. Then I climbed the ladder and realized the fallacy of my model. Only a fool bent on self destruction hurls himself headfirst to the water 3 metres below. Only the embarrassment of retreating back and down the ladder sent me over the edge. So be cautious about expecting people all to welcome and behave as fast learners. To some it will feel like coercing change.

You are a coach. The people we work with are adult learners.

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