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.

 

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Reflecting on Facilitating Forum Discussions

While I am technically done my instructional strategies course and thus do not have an obligation or incentive to maintain my blog…I…am…going…to try. That’s right one of my quasi new year’s resolutions is to maintain this blog–quasi meaning I made it up right now.

Anyways, I wanted to share a passage from my reflection on facilitating forum discussions. The experience of leading a forum discussion led to some deep insights regarding learning and the role of facilitation vs participation.

One of the things I found very interesting is that the more we engaged in the topic as a group the more controversial the technique became. Some of the first posts were polite with participants indicating they may try that method. By the end of the forum, most people where either firmly for or against the technique. I think this is an important insight about learning. At first learners may have surface reactions/commentary about a topic. However, by probing with questions, the learner needs to reconsider those insights and begins to articulate an opinion. It was quite remarkable to watch this in action, while also experiencing it myself.

This insight also leads to an important insight about facilitation. While the forum is a vey self-directed activity, without facilitation it would not lead to the kind of deep learning I described above. Most people would just state their initial reactions and comments, then move on. Facilitation adds challenge to the learner’s view, so that they reflect more, articulate, and refine their view. Facilitation encourages learners to become more invested in the topic, rather than passively acknowledging the topic exists.

This also highlights the difference between facilitation and participation. As a participant, you have not obligation challenge another participant’s view. Even when you do challenge another participants view, it is usually to put forward your own perspective which may be in conflict. However, as a facilitator you have an obligation to challenge participants. The nature of the challenge is different too. It’s not to demonstrate another perspective or correct, but to lead the learner to think deeper.

This insight is quite important to me, as I have often struggled with seeing the purpose of my role. I am a strong believer in self-directed/regulated study. My most enriching experiences as a learner have been self-directed. I also prefer distance and online classes. And I think the ultimate goal is for everyone to be as comfortable as I am with self-directed/regulated. But doesn’t such a strong belief like this eventually lead to defeating the purpose for teachers?

Yes and No. It changes the role of teachers. The more self-directed/regulated, the more the role becomes one of a supporter/challenger. As a self-directed/regulated facilitator, you are an expert in learning and challenging, not the content or subject.

Before this insight, rather than asking doesn’t my philosophy defeat teacher, I should have been asking “why do I as a self-directed/regulated learner keep returning to institutionalized learning when I could do it on my own?” Hopefully, it’s not because I have to buy my friends.

 

 

Personality, the Gogies, and Whole Brain Teaching

So who was Whole Brain Teaching made for? Is it more effective on certain personality types (ie. extroverts)? Is this technique suitable for adult learners?

When I saw my first Whole Brain Teaching video, I was pretty immediately uncomfortable. I know as a student I would not be able to tolerate it–I would look to escape or drop the course. As an instructor, I would also be uncomfortable delivering lessons using this  technique. But I don’t necessarily trust my opinion. I am an introvert, so a loud, super quick paced activity like this would be difficult.

Through the forum I am facilitating and sharing the video with friends, it seems the consensus is that this technique would alienate introverts. There is a mix of reactions–some would run like me, while others may ‘play along’, mouthing the prompts much like the back row of a church choir. What surprised me though is that extroverts also do not love this. So there appears to be more than just the loud, quick pace that detracts learners and instructors from this method.

While proponents of this method claim that this technique can be used in any class, I think this is more suitable as a pedagogical technique. You can find examples of uses in the college classroom (I posted one in a previous blog), but this technique violates many of the assumptions we make about adult learners. The big ones for me is adult learners are self-directed. In this technique, the teacher controls almost everything, leaving little room for self-directed or autonomous behaviour. A common reaction from people seeing this method for the first time is that it is ‘childish’, which I would have to agree.

So it appears that the idea audience for Whole Brain Teaching is very narrow. As a class management teachnique, it seems to be created more for teachers than students. To me employing this technique for any extended period, would be a risk.

 

Facilitating Discussion Forums

In the Instructional Strategies course I am taking, we have a lively discussion forum. Each week there are new topics and we all get a turn at being the ‘facilitator’.

I love these discussion forums. It makes the course very lively. I have taken a lot of courses with discussion requirements, but the way this is structured makes the participation more frequent and really feels like a classroom discussion.

This week it is my turn at facilitation. I was really looking forward to this. My topic is whole brain teaching, which is interesting and has a lot of angles for examination.

However, It has been more of a challenge than I expected. First, I have strong opinions on the topic, so it can be a challenge not spelling out my opinion, but rather questioning and directing learners to examine different aspects.

I also ran into some issues at the very start. Initially, when I was planning this out, I wanted to introduce multiple threads, so that it would be easier to follow. In the end I chose not to start this way. No one else was doing this, so I felt it would be confusing and look like I’m ‘showing off’ or something.

2 days into my forum our Professor advised that we consider using additional threads to make the forums easier to follow. While this was not directed at me, I felt really bad that I contributed to the confusion. I should have went with my instinct. Either way, I ended up starting additional threads a couple days in.

While I am excited about this forum, the asynchronous nature has also been a challenge. Responses can be slow and not everyone jumps into participate early. When you’re monitoring your threads frequently, it can be hard not to take it personally. However, I think about my behaviour as a non-facilitator and realize that this is just a scheduling phenomena.

As I have done a lot of research and thinking about Whole Brain Teaching, I will also be doing a multi blog post series on this topic. So please stay tuned!

Self-directed Learning? Cognitive Dissonance?

How do you get a Philosopher off your porch? You pay for the pizza.

I learnt this joke early in my University education and it has become one of my icebreakers. As most arts or humanities students can relate, you’re often questioned on what you’re going to do with your education. The fact of the matter is most university students will not land jobs in their discipline. Rather, you’re degree represents a collection of essential skills, such as critical thinking, time management, cultural sensitivity, written and oral fluency etc…

If you watch the news enough, you will also hear about ‘skilled trades’ shortages. These also require higher education and provide students with essential and employable skills. Since this is a more direct route to the end goal of employment, what value does a university degree hold above technical or trade diplomas? While I think these programs offer much of the same essential skills as a traditional university education, I think it deviates in several essential ways.

The first big quality is self-directed learning. Now this would not stand for all university programs, but at least when I was in University as an arts/humanities student, there was an expectation of some self-directed study. Most courses required independent research, which often made up the bulk of the grade for the course. Professors were available for help, but most work occurred outside of class hours, so it was upon the student to find resources or make time to attend office hours for additional help from the professor.

Cognitive dissonance is another quality that I think is more present in “Academia”. The very nature of research and experimentation requires one to ‘prove’ your own hypothesis is wrong.

It could be argued that technical and trade schools do offer these opportunity too. And I don’t doubt that they do! However, in a traditional university program the skills that are taught are generalized and cemented so that they can be applied broadly in a wide variety of contexts, rather than a specific field. This ultimately is where the value is–flexibility.

My icebreaker has come in handy over the years. While I may not have a diploma in a technical field (and I work in a technical field), my atypical education sets me apart. I can troubleshoot with the best of them, while making jokes about Hume or Rousseau that no one will understand.

I’m back!

So I had big plans for my time off. I figured that after a few days I would get bored and miss work. I was planning on spending the time perfecting my digital project. While my digital project is nearly finished, I could have been more productive. Although, I guess that is what vacations are about–getting away from work.

I spent most of my time reading. I wish I could say there was learning/education/development content to it, but really is was pure pleasure reading. I am addicted to books, but I find during the course of a normal week, I may only get 30 minutes per day for my pleasure reading. Sure that still sounds like a lot, but I wish I could be reading 12 hours per day.

Why do I read so much? I think this can be answered with a education/learning theme. Reading exposes me to new perspectives, topics, and ideas I may not give much thought to. I’m often inspired after reading a good book, which compels me to research the topic or context further.

A good example of this is one of my vacation reads: “Sport of Kings”. This book spans a few generations–from 1950s to present day–of a couple of families living in Kentucky (with a few jaunts in Ohio). The book dealt with contrasts between race and socioeconomic status told through the workings and evolution of a farm.

What initially attracted me to the book was that I knew nothing of the topic. I know little about the region in which it takes place and I know nothing about race horses (in fact I have a life long dislike of horses).

As I read the book, what was really interesting to me was to learn about the differences between the two states (Kentucky and Ohio) and just how close they actually are. In some parts, the only thing that separates the two states is a river. Even more interesting, is the fact that Ohio was a free state for African Americans during slavery, but Kentucky was not. Cities like Cincinnati attracted many African Americans seeking refuge from slavery in states such as Kentucky, Virginia, and the Carolinas.

Having most of my education in Canada, I have had little exposure to US history. Before reading this book, I did not think of Ohio much. I knew it was a big state of some importance, but it’s not something that enters into one’s books an intriguing place to travel. It’s no New York or Washington. It’s changed my opinion somewhat. OK so it won’t be on my bucket list, but I would gladly enjoy a long layover there sometime.

We have an office in Columbus–maybe I can increase interest with Vancouver employees with this trivia.

 

What’s in a Meme?

I have to start with an apology. Recently, joined a forum discussion in one of my PIDP classes on self-directed learning. Joined is a loose word. I jumped in with the spirit of an internet troll starting the discussion completely off topic, but eventually connected it back to the main topic: self directed learning.

In the forum, someone jokingly asked what a “meme” stood for anyways. I jumped in explaining that a meme is a cultural concept or idea that is passed from one person to the next. This term was originally coined by evolutionary psychology Richard Dawkins. While an internet meme is slightly different, the core concept is similar, but often involves an element of mimicry. What occurred to me when I saw the posting referring to memes is that they are a great demonstration of self-directed learning. Sure some memes just circulate via shares, but many people use meme generators to express their feeling about an issue or as a way to articulate current events or difficult concepts.

Not only are they an example of self-directed learning, they are an example of learning at it’s highest level, as it involves creating and evaluating learning.

Aside from it’s self-directed learning qualities, it would make a great addition to the classroom. In my management background, I have used memes a lot. Sometimes when communicating a new procedure or policy, I will include a meme in the email. I also used meme creation as an engagement technique by holding contests for best work-related meme. Employees loved these contests. Not only did it engage them, but many used memes as an outlet to express frustration or other emotions on particular issues or cases they were dealing with. These contests often helped me gauge general team morale too. When submissions dwindled, this sometimes meant we needed a team booster.

So while memes seem like a goofy internet phenomena, there can be a lot more to them and they can be used as a tool in the classroom.

The least I can do for starting as a innocent troll is raise visits to my classmates blog. Please visit: https://davidvisentinblog.wordpress.com/

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:

http://customerthink.com/six_characteristics_of_adult_learners/

.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.

Motivation

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.