Category Archives: Learner’s

David Kolb: Experiential Learning

As with so much else in psychology these days, the long cherished idea of learning styles is coming under deep scrutiny. The empirical basis for the idea was always weak, and now new experiments are finding null or statistically weak results.

Yet the ready association that many trainers and educators have between David Kolb’s name and the idea of learning styles is an over-simplification of his deeper thinking. David Kolb gives us a valuable model that should be better known among practising managers, who see part of their role as being about developing the capabilities of their teams.

David Kolb

David Kolb

Short Biography

David Kolb was born in 1939 and went to the private Knox college to study psychology. After receiving his BA in 1961, he went to Harvard, where he completed his MA in Social Psychology in 1964, followed by a PhD in 1967.

He took a teaching position at MIT as Assistant Professor of Organizational Psychology and Management, and left there (as Associate Professor) ten years later, to take up a chair in Organizational Behaviour at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

In 1981, Kolb and his wife, Alice, co-founded Experience Based Learning Systems (EBLS) to commercialise Kolb’s thinking on experiential learning and, in particular, his learning styles inventory.

Experiential Learning

At the heart of Kolb’s thinking about learning is his simplified model of Experiential Learning, which he co-developed with Roger Fry. This is fully documented across numerous highly-cited papers, and his major academic book, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development.

Kolb and Fry sought to synthesise the work of many earlier thinkers and researchers into how experience leads to learning. Kolb has said that he was particularly influenced by Dewey, Piaget, and Lewin. Their model of learning is most easily summarised as a cycle, although they were at pains to point out that this is just a simplificatiion. Because things are different on every iteration, Kolb prefers the metaphor of a spiral. Nonetheless, we will follow the commoner and easier to read metaphor in the illustration below.

Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle

Experiential Learning Cycle

The principal critique of this model is one Kolb is fully aware of. It oversimplifies a complex and  more messy learning process that involves other faculties, like memory, and can proceed via different routes from this cycle.

This is a fair critique. The strength of the model, however, is that it provides a helpful framework for developing workplace learning opportunities. It is very much the basis of Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT approach to instructional design.

Learning Styles

Kolb went on to argue that we are not all equally able or motivated in the four abilities of cultivating experience, reflecting on it, generalising it, and applying our insights. Indeed, he went on to suggest that we tend to develop an orientation towards one pole of each of the two dimensions:

  • Experience – Abstraction (or Feeling and Thinking, in Jungian language, which Kolb seems to like)
  • Applying – Reflecting (or Doing/Sensing and Reflecting/Intuiting in Jungian language)

This leads to four learning styles:

Kolb Learning Styles

Kolb Learning Styles

I think the empirical evidence for this is based mostly on testing of the Kolb Learning Styles Inventory and I am not competent to assess its strength. However, it does seem clear that we all have two things: preferences and adaptability. You may find some colleagues have one or another learning style preference, but you will also find that we can all adapt and use multiple styles.

This is as it must be. Learning is a whole brain activity, and if, as James Zull suggests, different learning styles call upon different brain regions, then surely the best learning takes place when all are fully integrated.

The Experiential Learning Cycle & Regions of the Cerebral Cortex

The Experiential Learning Cycle & Regions of the Cerebral Cortex

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Howard Gardner: Multiple Intelligences

It’s not how intelligent you are that matters,says Dr Howard Gardner. Rather, what really matters is how you are intelligent. Howard Gardner is an eminent psychologist who gave us the theory of Multiple Intelligences, and is now working on an even bigger topic; what it means to be good.

Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner

Short Biography

Howard Gardner was born in 1943, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His parents had fled Nazi Germany before the war. He was a scholarly and musically able student and in 1961, he entered Harvard College to study Social Relations, gaining his AB in 1965. After a year spent studying Philosophy and Sociology at the London School of Economics, Gardner returned to Harvard University to study for a PhD in Social Psychology.

In 1967, during his doctoral studies, Gardner joined the new Project Zero research team at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as a research assistant. He has remained a part of that project throughout his career, becoming a director and now Senior Director of the project. As a major research centre and intellectual powerhouse for researchers into education, it has been a superb base for much of Gardner’s research and thinking.

In 1979, Gardner was among a number of Harvard researchers who collaborated in the Project on Human Potential. This opportunity led directly to Gardner fully developing and publishing the theory he is best known for. That theory is the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which he published in full, in 1983, with his book, Frames of Mind. This model has been widely welcomed in educational circles, although it has also been criticised, especially by some psychologists and researchers into intelligence. We covered multiple intelligences in an earlier article.

Gardner’s ample academic career is marked by hundreds of articles (both scholarly and popular), around 30 books, dozens of awards, a CV (dated 2012) that runs to 87 pages (!) and steady progress up the academic career ladder:

  • 1971-72: Post-doctoral research at Harvard Medical School, into Aphasia
  • 1972-86: Lecturer at Harvard
  • 1986-98: Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • 1998- now: John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

In 1996, along with psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon, Gardner co-founded The GoodWork Project – now The Good Project. This collaboration researches into the meaning of good work, effective collaboration, digital citizenship, and civic participation. It sits within Harvard’s Project Zero.

Multiple Intelligences

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences continues to dominate his reputation, and justly so. Wherever you sit on the scale of critic to convert, it has clearly had an impact on education in many places. And whether the model turns out to have an underpinning in the neural structure of our brains or not, the over-arching principle – that people have different abilities in different areas – is hard to deny. If that means we are better at valuing people for their various talents, rather than deprecating their lack of ability in one or two arenas valued by a selective system, that must be a good thing.

And Gardner continues to weigh in on many big debates in educational theory;  not least the nature versus nurture debate. I suppose the biggest critique of Gardner’s approach – particularly in his work on Multiple Intelligences – is his focus on observation over experimentation. Much of his analysis results from careful intellectual (and therefore subjective) analysis of observation. But careful is the operative word. For many years, he has resisted wrapping new intelligences into his framework of eight – despite much advocacy from varying quarters. he does not find their cases compelling enough. However, his criteria are not clear and do not seem to have any testable, quantitative under-pinning.

The Good Project

In The Good Project, Gardner and his co-workers are interested to understand what makes ‘good’ work, ‘good’ education and so on. In this, he seems to be returning – with psychological and sociological methods – to the Greek fascination with what makes a good life.

Their conclusions can be summed up in three words. Being good in all the endeavours they have studied requires:

  1. Excellence
  2. Engagement
  3. Ethics

Interestingly to me, the first two very much echo the ideas Csikszentmihlyi developed in his theory of Flow.

Howard Gardner at TEDx in 2015

Here is Howard Gardner, ranging across his two primary interests; multiple intelligences, and what makes good work. You will see he refers to the work of Angela Duckworth.

You may also want to take a look at

  1. The Learner’s Pocketbook
  2. The Accelerated Learning Pocketbook

 

 

Tony Buzan: Mind Mapping

The title of Tony Buzan’s first book, mirroring his BBC television series, set a manifesto for the work he has pursued vigorously for over 40 years. If there is one thing that Tony Buzan enjoins us all to do, it is to Use Your Head. And he has become one of the very foremost articulators of a toolset to help us. One of his tools, the Mind Map, is now a part of our culture.

Tony Buzan

Tony Buzan

Short Biography

Tony Buzan was born in 1942, in North London. There, he grew up until, in 1954, the family moved to Canada, and he continued his youth in Vancouver. He attended the University of British Columbia, where he took a double first in Psychology, English, Maths and General Sciences. He went on to study for a masters degree at Simon Fraser University, completing his studies in 1966.

From there he returned to England. After a spell as a teacher, he became editor of The International Journal of MENSA (1969-71), and continued a project to develop his understanding of how we can use our minds to best effect. He had already developed techniques that gave him a prodigious memory and an astonishing reading speed.

In 1973, he worked with the BBC to present a ten part series called Use your Head. The spin off book, of the same name was an instant best-seller, quickly going into the first of many reprints. The current (2010) edition of Use Your Head remains a best-seller, but looks very different to my 1982 reprint. This doubtless reflects the huge developments in brain science, and the evolution of Buzan’s thinking. Title aside, this is not the same book!

What has followed is a series of books that must number nearly a hundred by now (no, I haven’t counted), along with constant rounds of speaking and instructing, often with some of the largest and most prestigious companies and institutions. Whilst Buzan’s writing and thinking roams widely over the whole range of learning skills and mental disciplines, there are three topics to which he constantly returns:

  • speed reading
  • memory
  • mind mapping

Of these, Mind Mapping has a special place. He has written far more about this than anything else, and it is with this technique that his name is virtually synonymous. Indeed, he holds the trademark for the term ‘Mind Map’ in a number of jurisdictions. In more recent years, he has seized the initiative in a crowded market for mind mapping software, creating his own software implementation of the tool he popularised.

Mind Mapping

Whilst Buzan refined and popularised Mind Maps, the underlying idea of a concept map is old. There are many variants in use, with differing layouts and approaches, from Work Breakdown Structures to Fishbone Diagrams.

In developing his guidelines for producing Mind Maps, Buzan tried to tap into as many modes of thinking as he could, using the best knowledge of how our brains process information, that was available in the early 1970s.

His Mind Mapping approach combines words, images, colour, shapes, spacial organisation, symbols, size cues, sequencing, positional cues and logic. They are therefore a rich representation of a connected set of ideas, which can help our thinking in many ways:

  • Pattern forming to create connections and insights
  • Ordering and organising ideas, to build linkages and distinctions
  • Learning through making connections and seeing relationships
  • Enhancing memory by tying together multiple visual and spatial modes
    (and linking these to the kinaesthetics of drawing the mind map, for the creator)
  • Harnessing creativity through finding surprising connections
  • Powerful information storage because note-taking becomes non-linear and multi-modal

Mind maps come in all sorts of shapes and sizes…

Mind Maps

Mind Maps come in all shapes and sizes

How to Create a Mind Map

There are many prescriptions for a creating a Mind Map. Here is my approach

  1. Choose the largest available piece of blank paper and some really nice pens and pencils
    The perfect shape paper is a square, but if you use an oblong sheet, start with it in landscape orientation. Feeling good about the quality of the paper and pens will help you savour the process and a blank sheet imposes nothing on your own thought process.
  2. Start with a central image depicting your theme or topic. An image can be much more powerful than words, especially if colourful, witty and bold. If you choose to use words, make these colourful, witty and bold, with interesting, 3D lettering. Use images, symbols and doodles throughout.
  3. From the central theme, draw big branches to the main associated ideas or sub-themes. It is the associations you make and the structuring that you choose that are most important: not the ones from your source. Your source may think differently to you. For the main branches, make them thicker than the lesser branches you will draw later. Curves and colour can add interest and impact. Label these lines with key words and little pictures
  4. From the main branches, split off smaller sub-branches to capture subsidiary ideas and divisions of the subject. Use different fonts and sizes to indicate importance – perhaps UPPER CASE for main branches and lower case for smaller ones. Use colour to group ideas and colour or size can denote importance . Highlighters and boxes can add powerful emphasis, as can pictures and symbols.

Mind Mapping Software

There is an astonishing array of software tools available, for computers, tablets and mobile devices. iMindMap is Buzan’s own, with prices ranging from free to very expensive. Some integrate well with other applications, some stand alone. Some are basic and follow Buzan’s guidelines closely, others are quirky. Some offer exceptionally rich graphics, others have little more than basic symbols and lines. You pays your money (or not – some are free to try, even to use) and you makes your choice.

Mind Mapping Books

There are a huge array and many by Buzan himself, either alone or in collaboration. Two to highlight are:

The Power of a Mind to Map: Tony Buzan at TEDxSquareMile

As you know, here at Pocketblog, we are big TED fans. Here’s Tony Buzan…

Ikujiro Nonaka: Knowledge Management

Ikujiro Nonaka has been described by a long-term colleague and collaborator as the ‘Father of Knowledge Management’. He takes a radical view – in the true sense of radical: he goes to the route of how we acquire, create and share knowledge.

Ikujiro Nonaka

Very Short Biography

Ikujiro Nonaka was born in 1935 and grew up in Tokyo. He studied political science at Waseda University, gaining his BS in 1958. He started work that year at Fuji Electric, where his principal accomplishment was to create their management programme. He went on to further develop this, in alliance with Keio University.

Nonaka left Fuji in 1967, to study in the United States, at the University of California, Berkeley. He was awarded his MBA in 1968, and his PhD in Business Administration, in 1972. He took posts at US universities (Claremont Graduate University and then the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley), before returning to Japan, as a professor at the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy, Hitotsubashi University.

There he collaborated with another staff member, whom he had known as a grad student at Berkeley, Hirotaka Takeuchi. It was the latter who describes Nonaka as the ‘Father of Knowledge Management’.

The Knowledge Creating Company

Together, Nonaka and Takeuchi have written numerous articles, and the highly influential 1995 book, The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. Two of their Harvard Business Review articles have been particularly influential:

A more recent article is also well-worth reading:

At the heart of Nonaka’s thinking is the rejection of the common view of Knowledge Management as fundamentally an IT function. The data management part of knowledge management is a minor – indeed, incidental – component. The fundamental part is the creation and sharing of knowledge, which takes place via the relationships between people.

He therefore asserts that spending tens, or hundreds of thousands of dollars on technology systems misses this essential truth and argues that true knowledge creating companies are ones with a generous community feel.

Ba

‘Ba’ is a word Nonaka coined to mean a meeting place for minds. Whilst it can be a physical space within the organisation, Nonaka sees it more as a mental state, where people are able to share and create knowledge together. He likens the concept to that offlow – in the sense that both are states of total focus and immersion. However, unlike flow, Ba is a shared mental state.

The SECI Model

Nanak and Takeuchi’s most notable contribution is their SECI Model of how knowledge transforms in organisations. Regular readers of Pocketblog will know just how much we love models, so here goes.

The SECI Model - Nanaka & Takeuchi

The SECI Model – Nanaka & Takeuchi

The SECI Model is a representation of the dynamic way that knowledge flows from explicit to implicit and back. It sets out to unite the Western preference for Explicit knowledge (‘Know why’ or, to use the ancient Greek term, ‘episteme’) and the Japanese focus on tacit knowledge (‘know how’, or ‘techne’).

Nanaka and Takeuchi start their cycle with social knowledge sharing to build tacit knowledge and move around to internalization of explicit knowledge to make it implicit, or tacit. They then see that knowledge being shared, restarting the cycle (they originally drew it as a continuos spiral, but I prefer the loop metaphor). At each stage, knowledge is converted, and made more useful.

Phronesis

In his latest work, Nanaka draws the ancient Greek analogies of episteme and techne, and highlights a third sort of wisdom that the ancients cherished: ‘phronesis’, or ‘practical wisdom’. He describes phronesis as the wisdom to know what must be done – judgement, if you like. He sees this as the antidote to an overly rigid focus on theoretical know-why knowledge, or practical, know-how. In Aristotelian ethics, phronesis is usually seen as rational thinking and prudent judgement.

Nonaka thus connects up knowledge management with leadership.  Phroneis gives us a clearer understanding of how our organisation relates to the rest of the world: purpose, choices, actions. This can give the organisation a resilience that a less self-aware organisation will lack. Nonaka argues that phronetic leaders can foster improved judgement and decision-making by creating a culture of sharing, nurturing, and creating knowledge through informal social connections: ‘Ba’.

Nonaka in his Own Words

Donald Schön: Reflection in Action

Donald Schön (Schon for the rest of this article) differs from other thinkers and managers in this series, because he was more a philosopher than a business thinker. Therefore, his ideas are subtle, but no less important for managers and professionals to understand; at least in outline.

Donald SchönVery Short Biography

Schon was born in 1930, in Boston and grew up nearby. In 1951, he gained his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Yale and went to France to study music at the Sorbonne. He returned to the US to pursue philosophy at Harvard, where he earned his PhD in 1955.

After a short spell teaching philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Kansas City, he joined consulting firm Arthur D Little in 1957, and remained there until 1963 (AVGY).

From then on, he produced a series of books, joining the faculty of MIT in 1968 and becoming Ford Professor of Urban Studies and Education in 1972. It was in the years that followed this that he collaborated fruitfully with Chris Argyris.

Donald Schon’s Ideas

Within Schon’s writing are three big ideas that are especially relevant to managers and professionals.

The Learning Society

The rapid pace of technological change means that our systems and technologies no longer provide a stable base for society or its organisations. This means that we need to be constantly learning. This idea was picked up by Peter Senge in his writing on the ‘Learning Organization’. We need to be constantly learning lessons as we go and the same is true for society as a whole and organisations within it. Yet governments and organisations both like to centralise their policy making processes, isolating them from the people who have the experiences to understand and therefore solve the new problems that emerge.

Generative Metaphors

Schon wrote about how powerful a metaphor can be in framing the professional response to an issue. Schon suggested that the challenge is often less in problem-solving, and more in problem-setting. How we state a problem dictates the type of solution we find. So, for example, if the problem of poor communication is fragmentation, then we look for a solution of co-ordination. An example he gave from the social sphere was when we refer to the problems of a neighbourhood as a ‘blight’ and therefore frame our response as a treatment for disease. This is something that is the subject of current research, not least by Paul H Thibodeau and Lera Boroditsky. I have written about the dangers of metaphor choice elsewhere.

Reflection in Action

Perhaps Schon’s most important contribution was in thinking about the process of learning. In addition to his collaboration with Argyris – which led to three books and the idea of double loop learning; he also focused on reflection.

He started by setting out reasons why what he termed ‘technical rationality’ is a poor model of professional learning. This is the process of filling new students and professionals-to-be with knowledge at the start of their careers, and expecting them to apply that knowledge. The common response to this approach was then ‘reflection on action’. This is the process of stepping back after each piece of work, project, or experience, and reflecting on what we have learned from it.

We know that this is an excellent route to developing wisdom, but Schon argued that professionalism requires something else, as well: the ability to think o our feet. For this, we require the ability of ‘reflection in action’ – reflecting while we are carrying out our tasks and exercising our skills. This seems to me to be intimately linked with both Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of ‘flow states’ (in which we lose ourselves in activities where we are able to constantly monitor our progress) and Kolb’s idea of ‘Experiential Learning’ (in which we learn through a constant cycle of experience, reflection, generalisation, and application).

Peter Senge: Learning Organisation

If business strategy is the search for competitive advantage, then the Journal of Business Strategy would seemed to have endorsed one strategy above all others. In naming Peter Senge as their ‘Strategist of the Century’ they implicitly set his concept of The Learning Organisation on a strategic pedestal. Indeed, they described Senge as someone who ‘had the greatest impact on the way we conduct business today’.

Peter Senge

Short Biography

Peter Senge was born in California, in 1947. He attended his local university, Stanford, where he earned a BS in Engineering. He moved to MIT where he studied Social Systems Modelling for his MS, followed by a move to the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1970, where he gained a PhD in management that he completed in 1978. He stayed on, continuing his research into how we learn, within organisations.

His research culminated in his best-selling synthesis of these ideas, ‘The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization‘. This book has been rated by Harvard Business Review as one of the seminal management books.

His subsequent work has built on this theme:

What is The Learning Organisation?

The learning organisation is one that encourages continued learning for both groups and individuals, as a source of competitive advantage. People at all levels from shop floor to senior management will be continually developing their skill levels, knowledge and experience. It is like building an institutional ‘growth mindset’ by increasing the creative capacity.

When Senge published The Fifth Discipline in 1990, the ideas were not new. Indeed, Senge acknowledges his debts, especially to Chris Argyris, and his 1978 book ‘On Organizational Learning‘; and to Arie de Geus. The term “Learning Organization’, which Senge has made his own, was coined in 1987 by Bob Garratt, in his book ‘The Learning Organization and the Need for Directors Who Think‘.

In The Fifth Discipline, Senge describes five core components of personal development. This book is often viewed as highly theoretical, so his follow-up Fifth Discipline Fieldbook set out practical answers to the questions he received about ‘how’ to implement these ideas.

The five means of development, that create a Learning Organization, are:

  1. Personal Mastery
    Individual, continuous, life-long learning. Senge also emphasises the importance of spiritual development. This, he argues, allows us to understand the tension between reality and vision. He suggests this is the source of creativity.
  2. Mental Models
    Senge suggests that we carry implicit mental models of our world and our organizations. We need to understand and challenge them. In the Fieldbook, he offers the tool of a ladder of inference, that climbs up from observation of data, to selection of the data, to applying meanings to them, to making assumptions, from which we draw conclusions, from which we adopt beliefs, that drive our choices of actions. This process helps us to analyse our values, beliefs and actions.
  3. Shared Vision
    When team members create a vision that they share and jointly own, this brings them together, serves as a basis for creativity, and readies them for change.
  4. Team Learning
    Senge believes that group development will outpace individual development in driving team performance. He also distinguishes between dialogue (an exploratory process) and discussion (a process for narrowing and selecting from options).
  5. Systems Thinking
    This is the ‘fifth discipline’. It requires us to see an organization as an inter-connected whole, with a complex set of inter-relationships. Processes do not work as simple chains of cause and effect, but as complex interacting feedback loops that reinforce or counteract each other.

Two Videos of Dr Senge Describing his Central Ideas

Introduction to Organizational Learning

Introduction to Systems Thinking

Chris Argyris: Organisational Learning

In last week’s Pocketblog, we met a thinker, Roselinde Torres, who compels leaders to ask difficult questions of themselves. Chris Argyris was another thinker – an academic this time – who demands we ask difficult questions.

Chris Argyris

 

Brief Biography

Argyris’ early academic career brought him into contact with the great psychologist, Kurt Lewin, and culminated in academic posts, first at Yale (1951-1971) and then at Harvard.  He was a behavioural scientist who devoted much of his research  to understanding organisational behaviour and learning, noting that:

‘individual learning is a necessary but insufficient condition for organisational learning’

His Ideas

His early work focused on the practice and development of T Groups; a form of training (the T of T Group) in which managers are able to learn through social interaction. These were popular in the 1960s and 70s for the success they had in shifting interpersonal behaviours of participants. However, Argyris and others became disenchanted as evidence grew that the impact of these interventions was not sustained back in the workplace.

This led Argyris to theorise that the way we behave within organisations is different from the ideas we claim to profess. He labelled the two sides of this distinction: ‘theories in use’ for what we do, and ‘espoused theories’ for what we say. Our behaviours – theories in use – are driven only partially by espoused theories, and to a greater extent by fears, pride, entrenched patterns and the need to conform. Indeed, he suggested that we don’t just behave as we do, rather than as we profess; but we are often unaware of the gap.

His most famous single contribution, articulated in his book, co-written with Donald Schön, called ‘Organisational Learning‘, was the idea of  ‘double loop learning’.

Argyris argued that reasoning needs to take pride of place as the basis for decision-making. However, the prevailing model of learning that he and Schön defined as ‘single loop learning’ is an impoverished approach.

In Single Loop learning, we look at the results of our actions and re-think the strategies we chose.

Single-loop learning

 

The flaw in this, they argued, is that our chosen approach comes from a deep seated set of interpretations, assumptions, values and models. What we should be prepared to do is to challenge those and search for better, more reliable assumptions and models. This is Double-Loop learning.

Double-loop learning

 

Argyris further pointed out that learning comes from either a match or a mis-match.  If our actions produce the desired result, then we can learn from the well-selected behaviours. If they do not, then we can learn from the mis-match either by correcting our actions (single-loop learning) or by revising the governing variables (assumptions) that led to our choice of actions (double-loop learning).

You can learn more about Argyris and Double Loop Learning on the excellent infed website.

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