I've been thinking about this topic a lot over the last couple of months. It is a topic that I'm figuring out with my team. I'm just going to throw it out and see what the feedback is like.
I’m going back to my college days for this the first part of this essay. What I want to discuss is the different modes of learning. This will probably come as no surprise to most of you: Different people learn through different means.
Some learn by listening. Remember people who just sat in class and absorbed the entire lecture ? They learnt by listening. Then there are those who learn by writing. They take notes. Some people learn by reading. They just sleep in all the clases, then go home, read the text book and ace the exam. Some learn by talking. They need to discuess the topic with someone else to clarify their thinking. Finally, we all know that student who could write great programs on the computer, but could barely follow what was going on in class. They learnt by doing.
These five categories represent the different modes of learning. [These are actually a combination of modes. For more on the theory, check out these links - 1, 2, 3]. They are not mutually exclusive. Some people can learn in multiple ways, but most people have one dominant mode of learning and other minor modes of learning.
Think back to your college batch, and you would find a few classmates who fit each of the above categories. The college environment is designed to present multiple methods of learning. You can either listen to the lecturer, try out excercises, attend lab sessions, talk to your classmates about a topic, or read the textbook.
Now, someone is going to point out that (in most of India at least) lecturers are often recent college graduates who couldn’t get any other job, that the textbooks are written to maximise your exam score rather than teach anything, most students take down notes verbatim without any understanding and the labs are underfunded relics. This is a topic for another day. For now, lets just assume that they support all methods of learning.
Let’s get back to the present now.
Scenario I: Your company has a training programme under which they have called someone to give a seminar on Design Patterns. You’re a Project Manager. Madhav, a member of your team, will be doing some design work soon, so you send him over to attend the seminar. The only problem is that Madhav learns by reading, not listening. Not surprisingly the seminar is extremely boring for him and he sleeps through it.
Scenario II: You are working on a new project and have just recieved a thick list of requirements. You pass the requirements to Priyanka, the lead programmer, and ask her to take a look. The problem is, Priyanka learns by talking, not by reading. The next day, the coversation goes like this:
You: So did you have a look at the requirements I passed you?
Priyanka: I had a look, but they look complicated. Can we have a meeting to discuss them?
You: I’m busy right now. I’ll be back in two days to check on your progress.
2 days later…
You: So how are the requirements? I need to give an estimate for the completion date this evening.
Priyanka: I’m not sure I understand it. Can we discuss it?
You: You still don’t understand it? I gave you two extra days. What more do you want? Meetings are just a waste of time. Can’t you just read it and give me an estimate? I need to give an estimate today.
Meanwhile, Scott Adams is drawing you in the next Dilbert strip.
Most managers don’t really understand the modes of learning of their team members. If Priyanka learns by talking, the manager should know it and let her talk about the requirements. Forcing her to read the requirements will go nowhere. Similarly if Ramesh likes to read, his manager should pass his some reading material before he attends the seminar. The primary responsibility of a manager is to enable his or her team members to do their work as best they can, and knowing their learning modes can help with this.
Companies also like to talk about how employee oriented they are, and about their professional development policies, but in most cases this just means that they shove their employees through a couple of seminars a year, just because they have to.
Real professional development is a lot more than just sending everyone to a few seminars. Companies need to take a hint from colleges where most of the real learning takes place. They need a good library where the readers can hang out. They need cool co-workers so that the talkers can talk with each other and learn. They need ad-hoc groups of people who learn by doing to get together and do side projects. They need to create internal blogs so that the writers can write stuff, and of course, the good old seminars for the listeners to attend.
Any comments? How is it at the companies you work (or worked) at?
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