Stay Oriented During Confusion

By Paul R. Scheele Ph.D. | Learn

How do you start a training program?

If you acknowledge how far someone has come in order to be here now, you are reinforcing the fact that valuable resources are already in place and working successfully.

If you point out what isn’t working and that learning and change must take place, you are dwelling on deficits. Adults generally don’t like to feel that they are ignorant or unsuccessful.

This blog series presents strategies for “learning how to learn” anything your employees need to achieve in their work. All of these strategies lead people to more effectively recognize and apply the full potential within them as a naturally gifted learners.

The most gifted learners are receptive and persistent. These indispensible attitudes allow them to “keep on keeping on,” even when the way is exceedingly difficult. The two most important learning-to-learn skills promoting these attitudes are the capacity to “embrace paradox” and “tolerate ambiguity.”

The Adult Learning Paradox

Isn’t it a funny paradox that the starting point for all learning is a state of not knowing what needs to be learned, yet few adults want to admit they are in that state. They fear being found out, and the concerns for employees in an organizational training program can be heightened.

The state of “not knowing” is often accompanied by feelings of confusion or disorientation, and can lead to dysfunctional coping mechanisms, distraction, frustration, and helplessness. What is needed is curiosity that will lead to positive learning behaviors and success.

Here’s how you can get there.

Drive Fear Out

The goal of all learning is an internal feeling of certainty that gained knowledge and skills will lead to competent performance on the job. But that feeling of certainty must be the final experience, not the initial experience.

The ideal starting point for an adult learner is to be open and receptive, curious, and comfortable in the state of a “beginner’s mind” This can be accomplished when facilitators help learners feel physically and emotionally safe. Learning environments that promote unbridled curiosity and exploration will naturally lead to discovery. Drive fear out. Allow the normal vulnerability of being in the “beginner’s mind” to be free of outside concerns of being judged or persecuted in anyway. This keeps learners focused on the exciting task of acquiring the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

Teach About Paradoxes

A paradox is a true situation opposed to common sense, a statement or observation that contradicts itself. For example, in order to create safety, you must allow yourself to feel vulnerable. Also, in order to know, you must first not know. Similarly, anything worth doing is worth doing badly at first, as it is the only way to begin. Each paradoxical statement, although true in fact, does not seem to be so when first considered.

Helping your learners to embrace the essential paradoxes of adult learning and development creates a level playing field on which to begin. It naturally produces a lovely state of curiosity. This strategy develops sensitivity to differences between facts and popular notions which produced great myth-busting opportunities. And there is nothing like busting a myth to get someone’s attention and introduce new ideas.

Increase Tolerance of Ambiguity

The best learning experiences provide scenarios that are challenging and intriguing. Get creative in thinking about an exercise that will capture learners’ attention. Try to find the optimal zone for learning between boredom and anxiety, in which participants can be fully engaged with a lack of self-conscious awareness. Playing to win in a collaborative learning environment is a great set-up. Keep the stakes high with high perceived risk and low actual risk. Mihalyi Csiksentmihalyi described this as a state of “flow” and Vygotsky called it the “zone of proximal development.”

In reflecting after a learning event, present open-ended exploration of the situations that emerged, without encouraging or forcing closure. This builds an increased tolerance for ambiguity—one of the greatest gifts of the most gifted learner. Guiding your learning debriefs in this way will naturally reinforce the three ideal learning attitudes of being receptive, generative, and persistent.

Apply this Now

What gets learned will more easily transferred back on the job when you teach paradox and create an increased tolerance of ambiguity.

Take a moment to think of a meeting or training program you will be facilitating in the near future. What is a key area of performance improvement you would like to achieve?

How can you help participants using the strategies shared here; driving fear out, embracing paradox, and increasing tolerance of ambiguity?

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© Paul R. Scheele, Ph.D. | Scheele Learning Systems | All Rights Reserved