The world changes fast, and to keep up, you need to be learning new stuff all the time. And some of that needs to be from a large and complex body of knowledge. Yet, as a working manager, your time is at a premium. So is there any way you can create accelerated learning?
The answer is yes. Over many years, we have accumulated a broad and eclectic body of knowledge about how we learn. It combines experience, practical psychology, and neuroscience. And practitioners bring this all together under the banner of Accelerated Learning.
I am loathe to introduce you to TED, if you don’t already know it. It is like crack cocaine for the intellectually curious. That is, it provides a deep sense that you are awesome and can achieve anything. And it’s highly addictive.
Since the organisation started as a promoter of conferences, it has grown into a worldwide phenomenon and a fantastic intellectual resource base. You can learn about whatever topic or field of human endeavour interests you. TED invites some of the world’s leading thinkers and practitioners to give the talk of their lives – or sometimes a demonstration or performance. And it records those talks and makes them freely available.
Do you want to give your business career a boost? If you do, one of the most obvious answers is an MBA, a Masters Degree in Business Administration.
The MBA is a globally recognised high-prestige business qualification. It’s offered by hundreds of universities in every part of the world. And MBA students aspire to leading roles in our corporations, public services, and not-for-profits.
In fact, providing MBA courses is now very big business indeed. So, why would you want one, what is an MBA exactly, and where can you go to get one? Those would be the questions a consumer guide would answer.
But this is not a consumer guide. Instead, we’re going to look at the MBA as a Big Idea.
Training Needs Analysis (TNA) is now increasingly referred to as Learning Needs Analysis (LNA). This is a reflection of the far wider range of options for how we learn at work. But, regardless of terminology, just what is Training Needs Analysis, and how can you do carry it out?
At the heart of this Big Idea is a recognition that we all need to learn new stuff, to improve our work performance. Life-long learning is a good thing in itself. But as job roles change, and as we move through our careers, it is a necessary part of working life too. So, Training Needs Analysis does what its name implies: it is an analysis of the training or learning we need, to do our job (or our next job) as well as possible.
The idea of Multiple Intelligences is the brainchild of Harvard Professor, Howard Gardner. As big ideas go, they don’t get bigger and simpler than this one.
Big, because the idea of Multiple Intelligences addresses something fundamental in all of us. It’s about our different capacities to excel in the full variety of human endeavours. It has a lot to say about how we should value the people around us, and the best way to educate our children.
Yet it is also disarmingly simple. There’s no single measure of intelligence. And neither should we reserve the label ‘intelligent’ for a narrow band of people who are simply intelligent in one of a small number of ways. Human potential expresses itself in a vast variety of forms. And so does our intelligence.
How do you become an expert at something, and truly master it? The answer, some will tell you, is with 10,000 hours of practice.
The so-called rule of 10,000 hours originated in a best-selling book, ‘Outliers’, by journalist, Malcolm Gladwell. He based the ideas at the core of his book on research that Anders Ericsson carried out, along with Ralf Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Römer.
Then, he was a Professor at the University of Colorado. Now he’s at Florida State University. But here is the thing… Ericsson has been openly critical of the 10,000 hours formulation. And that offers both good news and bad for any of us who want to become world-class masters of any field.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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:
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.