The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Learning with a problem

When there is a problem to solve one interesting angle to solving it can be the person’s understanding of the problem. It connects problem-solving with learning but also vulnerability.

An element that is the most basic one is what the person knows about the process they are engaging in. What the person knows depends a lot on their experience. It is surprisingly easy to underestimate how much a person might not know. A young coachee I’ve been working with didn’t know for example that he could use a company’s website to do more than understand a company’s offering.

And knowing this wasn’t sufficient to know what to do with this knowledge. In his case, it meant to understand what information he would be able to find and which one would be useful for his interview with the company. Being a value-oriented person it made sense for us to dig into the companies values. The idea being that it would help him see how the companies values could resonate with his values. Our conversation gave him a framework allowing him to filter the information on the website and an understanding of what it is he could do.

Once he started investigating the website he found himself confronted with the values the company had announced which felt confusing. He had perceived that there was more to it than simply the content. He had noticed that the announced values were not represented on the rest of the website. We had reached the third level of learning, which meant to not only understand what he could search for, but also how he could do it. Typically this is a step that requires practice and moves into the doing. It’s establishing the ability to use what one has learned until then and actively apply it.

That’s when our work reached the fourth level of learning. He was using what he had learned and could assemble quite a lot of useful information. While he had understood the principle, he was doubting himself. He wondered if his findings were the right ones and if he could he take his interpretation as an assessment. In this last level of learning it is self-confidence that is being established. It is believing that one has used the learning successfully. It is believing enough in one’s results that one is willing to use them. It doesn’t make all the answers found the right ones, but it creates the space to validate one’s results.

In this case, the coaching process meant exploring the four different levels of learning. We looked at his not knowing, developed an understanding of what he hadn’t known, figured how he would be able to use the new knowledge, and worked on helping him believe that his learning worked well and delivered results he could use. Naturally, such learning is also a cycle that opens the door to much more one doesn’t know.

The more competent people become, the more vulnerable they can become when it comes to learning. There is fear to lose status if someone notices that they are not able to deal with either level. It’s a fear that can bring them to avoid the learning altogether. Or, as it happened during the coaching, by seeking to show how much he knew while using previous knowledge. And, on the other side, asking for the solution whenever the challenge to try to move from one level to the other seemed to be too daunting.



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