If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

This is an amazing TEDtalk!

Helene Polatajko is an occupational therapist. I know what you’re thinking–what could this possibly have to do with education?

As  Polatajko discusses in this video, the perspective and starting point for many therapists and even expert teachers is to observe what a student is doing wrong when trying to learn a skill. This is often unsuccessful.

Instead of starting from a point of looking for what’s wrong, we should acknowledge the differences. The task then becomes about learning–How can we accomplish the same thing in a different way? This teaches the student to learn how to learn and they can often progress faster and continue to develop with less assistance.

It’s an interesting take on learning, check it out!

The Power of Mindset

A few posts back, I posted a video about “Growth Mindset”. It’s interesting because it connects to a project I am working on for customer service training.

I was researching some different ways to approach customer service training. One of the most interesting ideas I ran into were about building a “service mindset”. A service mindset is customer focused. This seemed perfect to me as one of our values at my company is customer focus.

What really appealed to me about this “service mindset” is that it penetrates all activities. You do not have to deal with customers to be customer focused. Rather, the customer is at the heart of what every actions and choices you make. For an example, if you are a developer, you don’t work tons of hours non stop to get a promotion. Rather, you do it because that work leads to enhancing the product for customers. A truly customer focused person thinks in terms of how your actions and choices impact customers.

Another important aspect is internal dialogues. As with anything, that running dialogue we have in our head can affect how we behaviour. If you have a negative self talk before giving a presentation, there’s a good chance you’re not going to be going in with full confidence. Well, the same concept influences customers service too. If you have a negative customer dialogue, you’re setting yourself up to impact your service.

This idea of service mindset makes me think of our roles as educators. While we are all aiming to help our learners, I think there are many factors where we may not fully hit the mark when it comes to our mindset. Career pressures, different stakeholders, fatigue, and workload can all set us off course. We too need this service mindset. Our students are our customers.

In many ways, most of our practises as educators put the learner at the forefront. Most of our actions are influenced by our learners. Our textbooks and continuing education practises all emphasize the centric position of our learners. We have the impact thinking down pat! While it is woven into our practise, I think we need see this as a mindset, so we can catch any detours that come our way.


Traps of Evaluation: Education and Management Intersect

I have been reading “The Art of Evaluation” by Fenwick and Parsons.

Amongst many different topics on evaluation, they introduce 4 traps of Evaluation

  1. Evaluating what’s easiest to measure
  2. Underestimating the learning embedded in evaluation
  3. Unexamined Power
  4. Reductionism

Upon reflecting on these ‘traps’, I realized that these are very similar to some of the difficulties in goal setting and performance evaluation.

Take good old customer service as an example. It is often very easy to report on how many phone calls or customer contacts a representative has. However, it is way more complex to measure the quality of those interactions or customer satisfaction.

In goal setting with employees, all too often we select goals that are easy to measure, rather than what is important or has value. I think this brings in reductionism too. By limiting the goals to what we can measure, we are reducing development to a tiny box. Not only will this lead to missing opportunities, but it can also affect employee engagement. Limiting the options could lead to easy or repetitive tasks and not valuing development in other areas. I’ve worked in these circumstances—it is very demotivating!

Another aspect is the learning in evaluation. All too often training in corporate environment lacks evaluation. This is a missed opportunity. It is an important tool for educators to develop better programs. Also, evaluation is valuable to learnings, as it gives them insight into the direction where they should apply more effort. Without this, it is like working in the blind, which again can be demotivating. One might argue that training is evaluated through work performance, which is fine. But all too often feedback in the workplace is scarce. Lack of feedback without fail is one of the main reasons employees look for other jobs.

Finally, power. Power is becoming one of my favourite topics in education, as you saw in my examination of “Whole Brain Teaching”. There is an inherent power authority in evaluation. Most people have some form of anxiety surrounding evaluation already, but with adults it can be all the more as they may be uncomfortable submitting to the criticism of others. Team this with other factors, such as coercive management or an authoritarian teaching style and you could have some really stressed out learners! With adults, as educators we need to look for ways to limit this unequal power. Transparency in the evaluation is a good first step.

Evaluation, whether employee performance or learning, is an important tool. Personally, I see it as a tool for growth and development. Avoiding these traps is important to keep with that philosophy.

One of my professors sent me a link in relation to this topic. Growth mindset–check it out!



The Question of Power in the Classroom


I’ve been pondering the role of power in the classroom since investigating “Whole Brain Teaching”.

I’m not a fan of hierarchal power structures. Even as a manager, I would describe myself as a servant manager. As an educator, I’m a facilitator or even partner in learning.

I attribute a lot of this to my feminist rearing. But also it’s a very contemporary view not in education, but also management and even economics.

But what sort of effect does power have on learning? Is there any benefit to reducing the hierarchy of the classroom?

Actually there is! There is evidence that autonomy affects level of motivation and mastery. Daniel Pink is a big proponent of the link between intrinsic motivation, autonomy, and mastery, which is described in this video:

So autonomy is important. But can we ever eliminate the hierarchy in the classroom? As much as we try, typically there still needs to be a teacher. To answer this, I think we need feminist pedagogy. Feminist Pedagogy looks to challenge hierarchies in the classroom. I found an interesting article that discusses how to limit the power imbalance in the classroom:


This article acknowledges the power that is inherent in the existence of a ‘roster’, but suggests this can be overcome by introduces democracy to the classroom. Interestingly, this can be achieved with many of the teaching strategies I’ve discussed in this blog. The key is to balance engagement and ensure that all views are heard and that no one person dominates the class.

Feminist Pedagogy shares many of qualities with other contemporary perspectives, such as transformative and andragogy. But it also acts to disrupt hierarchies and dominance, which has many benefits for learning. It makes me wonder why this perspective it is  missing (or just glanced over) from most textbooks on adult learning.



What’s really interesting about the feminist pedagogical perspective is that it shares a lot of qualities with other contemporary views, such as andragogy and transformative learning.

Preparing for Instruction 5: Transformative Learning

Transformative learning

One of the most powerful experiences I’ve had studying adult learning theories is each time a new theory is introduced the thought that goes through my head is “Yes! This is what I want to do!” While I struggle identifying any one learning theory that represents my personal teaching philosophy, I definitely lie somewhere in the spectrum between humanism and constructivism.

Transformative learning is a growing area in adult learning.  Jack Mezirow is one theorist who has made major contributions in transformative learning. To Mezirow, transformative learning is a process by which learners use their experiences to change their perspective. The outcome is not just learning, but a change in ideas and perspective.

There are many links between transformative learning and the business world. Indeed, transformative leadership is a popular topic in leadership. One of the main drives behind this is the link between employee engagement and empowerment and the positive affect this has on business. Employers are looking to increase engagement as this increases companies competitive advantage.

The interesting things about both transformative learning and empowerment is these are not things you can force on people. You can create an environment or curriculum that enables and support it, but you cannot just transfer empowerment or transformation. This comes from the learner.


The above article discusses transformative learning in a coaching environment. I use coaching a lot for training, as a lot of the learning opportunities in my workplace are on the job. This article explains that the coaching relationship encourages transformative learning by presenting learners with a different perspective and encourages reflection.

In relation to leadership, this article suggests that coaching is more valuable than traditional techniques, as it is based on action, not routine. The increased interest in coaching might also be a reflection of changing values and needed competencies in business. Globalization and technology are requiring businesses to be more agile to keep pace. Learning agility and critical thinking therefore has more value than direct team leadership and performance management.

While coaching is used in a lot of workplaces, I think one things we need to keep in mind as practitioners is that this is a dialogue. It can be easy to rush the process—there are tons of tasks that need to be done in a day. Coaching can easily become a “do this thing this way next time”. We need to dig deeper to make this a learning opportunity. Instead of giving the answer, facilitate the discussion so that the learner reflects and finds their own way to improve.

Preparing For Instruction 1-Characteristics of Adult Learners

I must admit when I embarked upon the study of adult learners and education I reduced a lot of the differences between adult and child learners to psychological and physiological differences. Adult brains are fully developed which should make understanding complex concepts a little easier. On the flip side of this, children can pick up on new lessons with relative ease as their brains are still developing. I think this is a common or popular view amongst people who have not studied or worked with adult learners. I quickly discovered this is a very limited view of the field.

Malcom Knowles is a much discussed writer in the field of adult education or andragogy. In his work, he outlines the characteristics and assumptions of adult learners. Unlike the popular view, many of these characteristics are not directly associated with psychological or physiological traits associated with adulthood. Most of these characteristics highlight the goals, self concept, roles, and experiences that adult learners bring to education. Further, unlike children who need to acquire a breadth of knowledge and education to use throughout their lives, adult learners are “problem centred” in that they seek education to fill some specific need or goal.

There is a plethora of information on the internet discussing the characteristics of adult learning and Malcom Knowles work. I like to connect theory to practise, so here is an interesting article applying Knowles’ characteristics to the customer support environment:


.In this article, Matt McConnell outlines 6 characteristics of adult learning: the need to know, self concept, role of experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning, and motivation. For each of these characteristics he applies this to a generalized role of customer support agent. I would like to take this one step further with specific examples from my experience.

The Need to Know

This characteristic assumes that adult learners need to know the ‘why’ or value of the learning opportunities.

In most customer service environments, new products, campaigns, or process are introduced to the team regularly. The need to know is vital for buy in and adoption by the team. For an example, if a new process is introduced to the team without explaining the need to know, often times this is met with resistance or even seen as an arbitrary introduction of a new rule from the top down. On the other hand, if you explain that this new process will reduce call volume or increase customer satisfaction, most agents will gladly engage in the training and adopt the new process easily.

Self Concept

This characteristic highlights the assumption that adults are autonomous beings that can make their own choices and self direct in learning.

This can be a tricky characteristic to apply in the workplace, as often times training is required for day to day business. In the customer support environment, while there is a certain level of required training, it is common to see elective training programs. These include self directed learning opportunities to become a product matter expert or different certification programs. These programs allow agents to choose to learn as much, as little, or even directed in specific skills sets that interest them.

Role of Experience

This assumption acknowledges that adult learners approach learning opportunities with different backgrounds and goals, which influences not only what they want to learn, but also how they learn.

In the customer support environment, experiential learning is one of the primary training methodologies. New hires often ‘job shadow’ a senior representative to understand the types and how calls are handled. This is then applied and compared to their previous experiences. Another common opportunity is projects where agents get to work with other departments on broader company initiatives. These give agents the opportunity to compare and contrast their experiences and perspectives with others.

Readiness to Learn

This characteristic assumes that adults are more attune to learning opportunities that they can apply to real life situations.

In the customer support environment, these opportunities are frequent. Coaching via case or call recording is one of the most frequently used learning opportunities. In this situation, an agent would listen and discuss how they handled a specific call with a coach or manager. While the coach or manager may offer feedback on areas for improvement, this is also a good opportunity for self evaluation.

Orientation of Learning

This assumption outlines how adults are “problem centred” learners.

While this is very similar to readiness to learn, I think this extends further to include a curiosity of learning. For an example, an agent may identify a ‘gap’ in knowledge or process on the team and actively seek for ways to learn more and fill in this gap or solve a specific problem.


This characteristic outlines how adult learners are responsive to both external and internal motivators. Internal motivators are often the more powerful motivators.

There are tons of studies done on external versus internal motivators for performance. In the customer support environment, external motivators are very common in the form of individual and team incentives for reaching a goal. Internal motivators, I think are an industry weakness—one I have worked very hard to overcome in my own practice. Career development, opportunities to work on interesting projects, and informal leadership opportunities are often readily available in the support environment, which can easily garner interest and commitment to learning initiatives.