Sometimes what we know may hurt us and those we want to help.
Our expertise may actually work to our detriment, Frans Johansson writes in The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, & Culture. The mental associations which we naturally make, he suggests, “inhibit our ability to think broadly. We do not question assumptions as readily; we jump to conclusions faster and create barriers to alternate ways of thinking about a particular situation” (Johansson, The Medici Effect, p. 40).
We help ourselves and our students if, on a regular basis, we consciously work to break down these associative barriers—including our own assumptions of how easy a particular subject is to master. If we have, for example, learned how simple it is to use wikis, blogs, or RSS feeds, we also have to remember that there were moments when we struggled with these subjects.
There is nothing quite like the experience of returning to a classroom or a workshop to remind ourselves how our students—and we—feel while learning something new. We might, for example, be sitting in a class and find ourselves annoyed by an instructor who is impatient or annoyed because we are not quickly grasping a concept which the instructor finds elementary. When this instructor makes the mistake of criticizing us for being slow, we snap in two ways: we remind the instructor that we are trying to learn, and, more importantly, we remind ourselves of how we hinder learning when we are insensitive to our learners’ struggles.
Through this associative and empathetic process, we become better teacher-trainer-learners. Those whom we help become equally excited by the possibilities they might otherwise have ignored. And our entire community—onsite as well as online—becomes more vital than it was even a moment earlier. We learn. We grow. And everybody wins.
Next: The Intersection, Failure, and Success
This item was originally posted on November 6, 2007 on Infoblog at http://infoblog.infopeople.org.