Using Inter-team Collaborations to Promote Critical Thinking Skills

This is part of a 3-part series focusing on applying adult learning theory in the workplace. To see the other articles, view A Brief Intro to Adult Learning Theory and Self Directed Learning as a Training Solution

Current Problem

Teams across 15 campuses are finding it increasingly difficult to track information and share it with the stakeholders. In addition, there is a lack of standardization in the way programs are run, further complicating alignment and adoption of initiatives to solve this problem.

Proposed Solution

Many of these conversations have started with ‘we can’t’ or ‘we don’t’. We can’t change this system or we don’t use this method. I usually ask probing questions to get to the bottom of these opinions. Is the ‘can’t’ related to something tangible? Is the ‘don’t’ due to a lack of structure or something else? Until a problem can be broken down into it’s smallest parts, a holistic fix cannot be created. Asking teams to think critically about their current processes will force all parties to honestly evaluate the problems they face. I highly recommend using this list of Socratic Questions to get past the surface issues. Much like the worksheet found at the bottom of this page, you can create an evaluation worksheet asking similar guiding questions to reach a conclusion.

Why Promote Critical Thinking?

Human beings draw conclusions from past experience – personal or otherwise. We can become entrenched in views because we have had positive and negative experiences that influence what we think will happen. Perhaps we’ve were involved in an unpleasant outcome related to group work that prevents us from trying something new. Conversely, maybe we heard of a new technology and we want in on it because everyone else is raving about it. Either way, it’s necessary to break down and evaluate this feelings or instincts in order to make logical and well informed decisions. Even if they result is less than stellar, you have begun a process of evaluation that allows you to continue build until you reach success.

What Does it Look Like?

Start by creating a list of specific issues that your team is trying to tackle. If you are a manager, create your own and allow teams to do the same. For each issue, have team members brainstorm about the root causes and 2-3 possible solutions.  You can have participants fill out the worksheet to the right, use the template at the bottom of this page, or create your own.

It is unlikely that everyone will have the same answers, or answers that get to the bottom of the problem. Ask team members to share their view of the problem then use Socratic Questions to whittle it down to it’s simplest form. This might look something like this:

Stated Problem: There aren’t enough people or resources available to complete this project

Follow Up Questions

  • Can you give me an example of a time when this was apparent?
  • Can you describe the scope of the project? In what ways can we leverage the strengths of you and your team members to solve this problem?
  • How can we look at this another way?
Do the same for each section of the worksheet until there is a clear idea of what actionable steps can be taken to begin to solve the issue.

Once that has happened, have teams pair off with members of other teams to get feedback on how they handled similar situations. The idea is to have fresh perspectives challenge existing perceptions and require the problem solvers to re-evaluate, explain and if necessary, defend their beliefs and next course of action.

Will this work for me?

  • There is a question or issue that requires deeper exploration in order to resolve
  • You are looking to engage your audience and get them involved through intellectual contributions
  • You  need to change long held thoughts or processes but are facing resistance (change management)
  • You want to empower your audience to go beyond surface knowledge and use their skills and experience to develop their own ideas

Want to try it out? Use this PDF template to build a framework for applying any adult learning strategy to your current work.

A Brief Intro to Adult Learning Theory

There’s a lot of info about learning theory in the early years, but what about for adults?

That’s the first question every adult educator should start with. Unlike K-12 education, there aren’t strict governing bodies that inform every decision made in adult education. Instead, our community depends on years of independent and industry research as the basis for our practice. This means that there isn’t just one, or two, or even three ways in which we believe adults learn. In fact, on a whole, facilitators of adult education haven’t entirely agreed on what that term actually means. They have agreed, however, that a few key concepts are consistent when teaching adult learners.

Adult learners are looking for:

Can you break that down for me?

Of course! We’ll go piece by piece so that you can get an idea of how these seemingly simple components come together to form the complex field of adult education. Before we continue, remember that no one component is inherently more important than the other and there a billion other factors that determine why a student showed up to your class. Also, keep in mind that each learning situation is based on the circumstances and abilities of the instructor, the learners and the environment in which you teach.

Relevance of Content

Do you remember sitting in pre-calculus and desperately wondering why you were learning it? What’s the likelihood using advanced math in your everyday life? It didn’t really matter because someone decided you needed to learn it and so you did. Or I assume you tried to. If you’re like me, you didn’t retain anything after algebra because it held no relevance to you.

There are so many reasons someone shows up to your classroom; job mandated training, skill building for employment, individual pursuit of knowledge. Regardless of what got them there, your students are looking to learn something that means something. It’s important for you, as an educator, to identify that reason in order to ensure the success of your students.

Immediately Applicable Skills

Skills don’t always have to be manual, but for most adult learners, they do need to be immediately applicable. That means that what you teach today should be translatable to what your student does tomorrow.

Regardless of your audience, your content should aim to teach practical skills or knowledge in a way that is easy to relate to. Learners should know why they are being taught the content and how they can expect it to help them in their personal or professional lives.

Involvement in the Process

The most prevalent classroom structure in K-12 is teacher as leader. This means that the teacher, or person at the front of the room, makes all decisions about what and how content is learned. This can lead to passive learning, in which your audience only learns what you teach them with no consideration for their own interests, strengths or preferences.

Involvement level can vary based on any number of factors;  subject matter, government guidelines, time constraints, program structure and audience composition are just a few. Although it may initially sound challenging, there are simple ways to get everyone involved and invested in what is being taught. Having your learners share what they want to learn during the course or what projects they would like to work on, and then integrating that feedback into your lesson are just to examples of how this could work.

Acknowledgement and Inclusion of Prior Experience

One major difference between K-12 and adult education is that children are assumed to have no prior experience to build upon. This is not the case with adults, as discussed by Paulo Friere and to some extent, John Dewey.

The model of ‘educational banking’ does not translate well to higher education because adults are not empty vessels. They carry with them many years a experiences that shape the way they view the world and approach every situation. In order to keep them engaged, it’s important for educators to acknowledge this fact and look for ways to incorporate those experiences into the lesson. Asking learners to apply what they are currently learning to past experiences is an easy way to include student experiences in the classroom and help them understand the value of the content being taught.

Flexibility in the Way Content is Taught

We’re all familiar with the saying ‘one size doesn’t fit all’. That same idea applies to education. Although your learners need to learn the same content, it is unlikely that everyone will learn the same way at the same speed. There are several theories that address this including Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, McClusky’s Theory of Margin and work done by Malcolm Knowles.

Although we have the benefit of technology, finding a video on Youtube or a link through Google does not guarantee learning. When we talk about the way content is taught, consider whether you are incorporating active learning techniques or content that integrates different learning styles.

This is part of a 3-part series focusing on applying adult learning theory in the workplace. To see the other articles, view Self Directed Learning as a Training Solution   and Using Inter-team Collaborations to Promote Critical Thinking Skills

Self Directed Learning as a Training Solution

This is part of a 3-part series focusing on applying adult learning theory in the workplace. To see the other articles, view A Brief Intro to Adult Learning Theory and Using Inter-team Collaborations to Promote Critical Thinking Skills

Current Problem

Where I currently work, we are finding that our instructors need and crave more targeted professional development. As mentioned in the Methodology section, adults want to know that what they are learning is relevant and has immediate application. If there is something that an instructor needs to know to do his/her job, then it is our responsibility to provide it. As a relatively new company, our resource library is limited and does not necessarily address the different skill gaps of our instructors, nor the levels at which they need to address them. In other words, we aren’t practicing differentiated learning. We are taking a one size fits all approach that leaves some instructors feeling lost and others feeling stagnant.

Proposed Solution

At the very simplest – build a searchable repository of professional development resources and pair this with the observations and assessments that are already happening. Ensure that all instructors across all campuses have access to this database and leverage instructor and employee knowledge to further populate it.

It’s extremely important that the resources you provide are accessible, relevant and accurate. Forgetting these simple guidelines can result in frustration (why do I need to learn this?), confusion (what does this mean/this contradicts something else), and resentment (I have to pay/drive an hour out of my way for this information) from learners.

Why Self Directed Learning?

You’re covering a few bases with this approach, most of which are covered in other parts of this site. Above all else, you are providing adults with actionable and applicable items. They can pursue as little or as much as they want to in order to meet the benchmarks set forth by their managers. They can also choose to expand their knowledge outside of the provided resources and are encouraged to improve their in class practice with the support of their instructional leaders.

In a classroom setting, this can be a useful tool for students who often finish early and crave additional knowledge. Conversely, it’s also a great tool for a student who is having trouble grasping a concept that everyone else has mastered. The missing information may be critical to the student’s success, so it cannot be glanced over. Instead, you can provide articles, textbooks, videos or other resources to allow the student to learn the concept on his/her own.

What it Looks Like

For me, this looks like a centralized web-based system that is managed by the instructional leaders across all campuses. Because this will be used by all instructors and is part of the message and culture of the company, it’s important that the information submitted is vetted and that it aligns with what you want to see in the classroom.

For you, this depends on the systems and process already in place for learning. Do you have a learning management system (LMS) like Canvas, Blackboard, Oracle or Schoology? If you answered yes, there might already be add-ons or functionality that allow you to build resource libraries. You may also be able to create videos, quizzes and other assessments that are specific to the goals of your course.

If you answered no, you can still create a system that ticks those three boxes. If you are working in an offline environment, have a listed of links, books, videos, etc to provide to students. Or, if you have books or articles in the classroom, suggest the student has a look during the break. You can also build a simple website, like this one, to act as an extension of the classroom materials.

How can I make this work for me?

SDL is best used when:

  • There are small or simple tasks the audience needs to know before you can move forward. This is sometimes called pre-work and has been used in as a requirement for trainings and classes.
  • A learner is struggling during class but you are unable to a)spend anymore time on the subject, b) provide the depth of knowledge necessary for understanding or c) adjust the lesson to address his/her preferred learning style.
  • A learner is excelling and requires more stimulus to remain engaged in the lesson.

Want to give it a shot? Download this Adult Learning Application Cheatsheet to get started.

Women, Leadership and Workforce Education

Understanding the Origins of Gender Inequality to Drive Progress

Most societies evolved with a built-in inequality between men and women. Many religious texts require women to defer to their husband, something that has been carried into the workplace. Women and men are held to different standards, and are judged by different measures of success.

This disparity between the genders can make workforce education extremely complex. Consider not only religious, but also societal assumptions that unconsciously dictate the role of women in the workplace. Movies, music and tv shows all acknowledge the struggle of women to obtain respect in a male dominated workplace, but few have done so with the intention of affecting change. Instead, it’s a joke or personal story, but rarely is it a call to action.

The separation between men and women can be felt more acutely in Arab nations, where equal rights for women expands far beyond the labor force.

 
In this video, Dr Behjat Al Yousuf, Associate Director of Dubai Women’s College speaks about their efforts to provide educational opportunities for women, within the constraints of their culture.

Gender Equality – Perception Changes Everything

Watch this short TEDTalk by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook as she talks about unconscious gender bias in the workplace and how our own perceptions keep us and others from succeeding.

 

What is ‘the gender pay gap’?

This perception, along with prevailing cultural and societal norms have contributed to what is known as ‘the gender pay gap’. Countless independent and government sponsored studies have yielded the same results – across all industries women are paid significantly less for doing the same job as their male counterparts with the same or similar qualifications.

I’m not telling women to be like men. I’m telling us to evaluate what men and women do in the workforce and at home without the gender bias.– Sheryl Sandberg

In addition to the disparity in pay, there is a perception that some professions are more suited for men instead of women, regardless of previous education. The idea that women aren’t capable of achieving success in a field has lead to overwhelmingly male-centric industries, most notably in science, technology, math and engineering (STEM).

Click here to read more about how stereotypes about the ability to succeed based solely on gender can discourage girls before they even have a chance to try.


Here’s How Workforce Education Can Level the Playing Field

Workforce Education Centers have a unique opportunity. Unlike higher education institutions, they have the unique ability to set hiring requirements for employers. Brooklyn Workforce Initiative, located in Brooklyn, NY, places all graduates at companies that have a minimum starting salary of $12 – $13, guaranteeing that all graduates are receiving equal pay for the same skill set.

In addition, Workforce Education Centers generally teach practical skills with the goal of meeting certification requirements in high demand fields. Teaching the right combination of practical and professional skills – including having leaders of all genders involved in presentations or curriculum creation – can better prepare women for a competitive workplace.

Finally, Workforce Education Centers generally work very closely with employers and can gain insight on what it takes to be successful within an organization. They also have the chance to create mentoring relationships within an organization to support women as they transition into the company.


We Need Diverse Leaders – Everyone Can Have an Impact

Leaders come in all forms. Whether it be a man or a women, change can originate from those who are are truly invested in progressive actions and legislation that promote equity for all genders, ages and races.
These figures from a report by the Pew Research Center shows the trend of women in government positions over the last 40+ years. As you can see, the number of female representatives in Congress has steadily risen from 1965 onwards. 

Having more women in government brings something that is unique to all marginalized populations – perception. This is not to say that men cannot be supporters of women’s rights and equality, but rather that women bring with them experiences shaped by laws, stipulations and biased that influence their ability to succeed. Having a disproportionate number of female representatives in government means that laws for women are being passed without enough representation to really dive into the repercussions they’ll have on the populations they look to serve.

Interested in learning more? Visit the full research project at http://women-wfed.weebly.com/

Using Learning Contracts to Facilitate Success

Learning contracts can be a great tool to clearly define course or training expectations for the instructor/trainer and the student/employee. Although an employer may hope that information provided in a training environment is clear and relevant, it’s necessary to take into account context. Your audience needs to know why they are learning this information and how they are expected to apply it.  Take a look at the learning contract (above or view the PDF here) and course description (below), that I created for my sample ‘Data Management Across Systems’.

Sample Course: Data Management Across Systems

Course Description

This course has been designed to assist Data Administrators in evaluating current data collection systems in their department or company. Regardless of the size or purpose of your organization, you collect data in one form or another. Some of us are used to the old paper and pen method while some of us are almost completely digital. Both systems have pros and cons, which we will discuss in this course. Knowing the reason your company collects various types of data, who the responsible parties are and what the output format will be, has a great bearing on the systems you use and the issues you will face. We will take a look at all of these factors over the next 5 weeks to help you lead or support the implementation of more accurate and robust data collection.

 

Creation of a Learning Contract

Each of you come from a different background and may have slightly different expectations for this course. The purpose of this learning contract is to ensure each student sets and completes his/her objectives. The contract is between the student and the instructor, created as a way to clearly communicate course expectations for both parties. It will be completed at the end of the first week so that you have an idea of the material that will be covered and the options for projects used to demonstrate learning.

This contract should be personal to you and focus on what you intend to get out of this course. To help you begin this process, please complete the KWL chart provided on the first day of class. Use this document, along with the course description to begin developing objectives. During the submission of the Learning Contract, the instructor will meet with you to provide feedback. Once it is finalized, both the instructor and the student will agree on at least one in-person check-in and sign the contract. A copy will go to the student, one to the instructor and one will be kept on file with the department, to be revisited during the follow up meetings to ensure the objectives are being met.

After reading through the information, think about how learning contracts can be introduced in your learning environment to facilitate success.  Does this change the way you approach teaching or training? Are there any aspects of this that you can implement now?

Finding the Ideal Solution: 3 Approaches to Problem Solving

I may have mentioned taking a few courses through UniversalClass.com. So far, I’ve found the Problem Solving 101 course invaluable as it explores the topic in depth, including the identification and allocation of resources, objective and subjective input, and evaluation of outcomes. Moreover, introduces three main categories for to consider when faced with problems in the workplace (or everyday life).

First Approach – Pretty Straightforward

The first category is referred to as the “stop it and mop it” scenario. In this situation, there is an event, behavior or condition that you need to stop from happening, as well as clean up the existing damage. Imagine that you are a landlord and your tenants are complaining about mice eating through the walls. To stop this, you hire an exterminator to find out where the mice are coming from and place baits or traps to catch them. To ‘mop it’, or clean it up, you have the exterminator locate likely areas existing mice might nest and place baits there as well. You also hire a contractor to come in and fix all the places the mice have chewed through. With these items in place, the problem should be resolved.

Second Approach – Some Concessions Are Made

The next situation employs the “current reality vs ideal” scenario. In this case, what is happening in the now does not match up with predetermined expectations or goals. To demonstrate, we’ll use student enrollment as an example. You currently have 250 students enrolled in your school but the Department of Education has budgeted you for 300 students. This means you are 50 students short of the goal. There are two ways to approach the issue and the one you chose depends heavily on which holds the most acceptable outcome:

  • Option 1: Adjust the goal. Is it unlikely that you’ll get another 50 students? Is it possible to increase by 25 students instead? How will this affect your goals and budgets for the remainder of the school year? What about next year?
  • Option 2: Attempt to meet the goal. While this seems like the obvious first choice, it may not be possible. In this example, your pool of students is inherently limited by things like zoning, number of students eligible, class sizes and competing schools. This means that even if you recruit all remaining students, you may still fall short. However, this option might be easier to implement when dealing with products or services, as you can increase production, hire more staff, adjust hours, etc.

Third Approach – Hard work for Lasting Payoff

The third approach to problem solving is the “opportunity for change” scenario. This is best applied to a situation where the problem is something with room for improvement. Perhaps you supervise a call center. You discover that employees spend an average of 5 minutes searching the company database for answers to commonly asked questions. While this might not directly translate into dollars lost, it does affect how many customers can be served. It can also have a negative impact on the way customers view your company. After all, how many of us have spent hours on the phone with the cable company trying to do something as simple as reset a router? This sort of issue, under the right management, can be turned into a learning experience for everyone. Determining whether staff needs better resources, guidance or training can improve or eliminate the problem altogether.

To summarize, there are three main ways to categorize and resolve problems. At the most basic level, each categorization requires identifying what the problem is and then determining what the anticipated outcome is. Approaching adverse situations in this manner can help you structure processes and procedures to avoid similar issues in the future.