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Self-Direction in Learning Helps Develop Confidence in Adults

By Combi31 @combi31

Self-Direction in Learning helps Develop Confidence in Adults

It seems that, no matter what topic I train in, the one big issue with learners that I encounter on a daily basis are questions of confidence, which can be manifested in a number of ways, notably, impatience, frustration and sometimes by mild aggression.

Without wanting to draw too hasty a conclusion, it seems that the adults that I encounter are waging a constant battle against their own confidence levels, which causes them undue stress in their working life.

One of the reasons for this could be the fact that when adults, initially enter a learning situation, they usually go through, at least, a mild state of ‘destabilisation’ where they are putting into question their values, ideas, behaviours, actions and thinking – and embracing change.

I had a conversation with a learner just this morning, where he [sic] stated that when he didn’t know all the answers he felt stressed, lost and irritated, which he interpreted as a lack of patience on his part.

The person then said that he needed to be ‘taught’ things – told what was expected and he could execute and feel comfortable about this.

This was interesting on many levels and I tried to understand what he was saying to me without jumping to (too)  hasty a conclusion.

I’m not, at this point, 100% clear on what he was really trying to say, but I arrived at a selection of possibilities that I now need to pursue with him, but my initial thoughts are:

1. He is not yet ready to be responsible for his own learning

2. He isn’t used to being in a self-direction role yet.

3. It’s a French cultural issue

4. He was used to the ‘teacher’ being the content provider and providing the answers.

5. He is trying to inform me of his preferred learning style.

This kind of situation is not unique – especially in a coaching scenario, but also during training sessions, where people participating, especially in one-to-one coaching sessions, sometimes forget the rules and ask for the answers – which no coach worth their salt can realistically, nor would attempt to give.

I remember situations where a manager, who was having problems communicating with his team asked, “What should I do? – tell me what I have to do” – What would you do in this situation dear reader? (just kidding …)

If the answer comes back as, “I know what I would do, but I can’t tell you what to do”, this can be received as avoidance or evasion of the question, whereas in fact it is an attempt to help the person to find their own best answers to be able then to say, “I know what I need to do” – it’s all about clarity and communication.

This is what I understand as self-direction and autonomy, and it doesn’t matter what we call ourselves – coaches or facilitators – we are out to facilitate a process, not to transfer a body of knowledge, although if some learning, in the form of knowledge acquisition, occurs, all the better.

However, knowledge acquisition can take many forms – the most important being knowledge about oneself and self-awareness, which then serves as a solid foundation for lifelong learning and personal-development.

Situations like these really strengthen my belief in facilitation as the only way forward with (adult) learning, which differs from traditional teaching in a lot of fundamental ways.

Traditional teaching places the teacher at the centre of the learning process in an ‘expert’ stance, where they (are supposed to) know what should be learnt and often How it should be learnt – a wholly misguided and perhaps (unconsciously) arrogant stance – placing the responsibility of learning with the teacher.

Facilitation differs in the way that the focus of responsibility in learning is placed with the learner, which then begs the question as to the teacher’s role in all of this.

The teacher, who becomes a facilitator – moving away from content provider to a ‘manager’, mentor and guarantor of the learning process, whilst being willing (and able) to relinquish control – creating an equal, adult to adult relationship, where they too can accept to be wrong, to discover and to learn at the same time as the learners without feeling any loss of face, if they encounter difficulties.

It’s about risk-taking, and, incidentally, all good learners are risk-takers, who venture outside of their comfort zone to encounter ‘Learning.’

By the same token, an excellent facilitator will also be willing to take risks – they do not know nor hold all the answers, but they can help learners find them.

I love asking the question to learners as they enter the training room, “What are we doing today?” – which, more often than not, is replied by “I don’t know, you are the teacher” – this always leads to an interesting conversation that is in no way anodyne – roles are clearly set out and the ‘philosophy’ of facilitation and learning are clearly exposed.

I can guarantee that once this question has been addressed that it will not come up again.

Nevertheless, it has to be clearly explained and logically justified, especially the question, “What are we going to do?” – it isn’t an admission, “… because I have no idea” question, but rather, “What have you planned to do?” or “Where do we need to focus our time and energy today?” – this is the start of the responsibility and empowerment process – the facilitator is then there to help them discover the ‘How?’ in terms of the learning process.

Research has shown that learners who encounter unfamiliar subjects need more coaxing and more of a leading role from the facilitator – as they get a handle on what could be a new form of learning for them.

Objectives, in the form of a learning contract are an excellent way of helping learners make the paradigm shift from teacher-centred to learner centred learning, as long as the learner is so closely implicated in the objectives setting that they gain ownership from the word go.

A facilitator will also be there to guide learners in the choice of learning materials at the outset, gradually taking more of a back seat as learner autonomy kicks in, to the point where learners are able to deal with the What? (content), Where?, When? and How? of their learning.

As the learner’s ability to make independent choices, and later to making informed choices about learning increases, so too does their confidence and ability grow to take more and more risks with their learning and experiment.

Difficulties are seen more as learning opportunities than events which sap confidence and feed doubt.

Facilitation is an unescapable fact of life and one which will become the norm for learning as the realisation that teaching cannot hope to keep pace with the speed of change in life and in the workplace and in society as a whole.

Facilitation provides the tools and the processes for learning – content being an easier side of the equation to fulfill – humans are able to learn anything, but sometimes a helping hand is needed, facilitators provide this.


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