On a Bit of a Rant: Motivating Our Learners…and Ourselves

“I was on a bit of a rant the other day…” may not seem to be the most auspicious way to begin a dynamic, wide-ranging, and inspiring conversation about fostering self-motivation among learners. Nassau Library System Outreach Services Specialist Andrea Snyder, however, may have hit upon a training-teaching-learning truism when she made that admission earlier today on the latest episode of Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training—the unspoken truism being that we are often motivated (to rant as well as to learn) by our levels of passion about a given topic or situation.

T_is_for_Training_LogoSnyder’s alleged rant—and the entire T is for Training discussion—was inadvertently inspired by one of her colleagues who not only seemed completely unaware of an important element of contemporary librarianship, but displayed little interest in plugging that knowledge deficiency. Listening to Snyder’s description of the situation, we couldn’t help but understand the underlying challenge: how do trainer-teacher-learners help their colleagues in learning fill critically important gaps in their knowledge when those learners don’t even seem to be aware that those gaps exist?

The underlying problem for so many of us, as Coleman noted at the beginning of the discussion (available online in an archived recording and briefly described on the T is for Training site) is that we don’t know what we don’t know. That, as we all agreed during our discussion, is where trainer-teacher-learners play important roles grounded in our own passions about learning—our own learning as well as the learning of those we are committed to supporting.

“It’s tough because there are students who are self-motivated…and then there are students who come into a program…and think ‘You’re going to tell me what I need to know,’” T is for Training colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl suggested. And it becomes even more difficult when contemporary learners don’t seem be aware of the need to commit to a program of lifelong learning: “You don’t just come out of a degree program and stop learning.”

ccourses_logoFor me, it begins with acknowledgement of and commitment to fostering collaborative learning—the type of learning where everyone has a role to play and there isn’t necessarily a single person serving start-to-finish as the primary mover in the process. It’s the type of learning that we see in connected learning settings, in the best of our connectivist MOOCs (massive open online courses), in well-nurtured communities of learning, and so many other settings where the role of learning facilitator is shared in an ever-changing way between the person or people designing and delivering a course or other learning opportunity and the learners themselves. In terms of workplace learning, it’s the difference between a learner showing up to a mandated two-hour “Preventing Sexual Harassment” session online (where the learner passively absorbs canned lectures and then completes the learning experience by taking a quiz) and the same learner showing up for an interactive onsite or online session that provides essential information, includes discussion and chances to absorb and immediately use the information through deeper and richer explorations, then extends to opportunities back in the workplace to demonstrate an ability to apply, in a positive way, the lessons learned. If we’re serious about supporting our learners, nurturing their self-motivation to learn, and gaining the most from the time and resources invested in learning opportunities, we need to passionately and with great dedication show that appropriate application of learning is more important than simply attending a session and passing a test.

What is abundantly clear from that T is for Training discussion and numerous conversations I’ve had with colleagues in training-teaching-learning is that the best of those colleagues really do care about the learners they serve and are motivated to support their learning—which is why we spend relatively small amounts of time ranting about the sort of situation Snyder described and much larger amounts of time seeking and implementing ways to help learners identify what they need to know and then supporting their efforts to fill their knowledge gaps. Again, this is collaborative: if we make ourselves accessible to our learners by visiting their worksites, listening to their concerns and watching for gaps they themselves might not have identified, and working with them to create effective, creative, engaging learning opportunities, we all rise together in our learning efforts.

Jill Hurst-Wahl

Jill Hurst-Wahl

It’s far more than an attempt to justify the time, energy, and money that goes into workplace learning and performance/staff development/staff training programs; it’s an acknowledgement that those who aren’t self-motivated and well-supported are not going to survive in contemporary workplaces: “We’re in an economic environment where if you’re not a self-directed learner…you’re going to get left behind,” Hurst-Wahl observed. “That being left behind may not happen immediately [but] in some way, you’re going to be left behind. People are going to look at you and say, ‘Oh, you don’t know that thing? Huh. OK. I’m moving on.’”

None of which is to say that learning facilitators don’t have important roles to play and that a commitment to the learning process is anything less than an essential element to be cultivated by all parties in the learning process: “I talk about things that I have at least some sort of feeling about,” Coleman noted. “When I’m out presenting or training, usually I feel some affinity for the material…I’m energized; I’m buzzed by it. I want people to be energized by it, too [and talking about it]. If you’re talking, you’re engaged”—and, I would add, cultivating the passion that fosters self-motivation among learners as well as among those of us supporting those learners.

 

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