4 mins read

The need for a deficit before learning occurs

Before thirst comes drought

Have we been over watering the plants?

So I’ve come across a number of ‘catchy’ phrases in Learning and Development Strategies over the past 10 or so years and always wondered what sat behind them.

Phrases like:

“We need ‘thirsty’ learners who are ‘creative’ problem solvers”

Sounds great doesn’t it, I think we all want this. I think we want this for ourselves as well as those we work with, manage, develop and team up with. However! I think we may need a reality check. See before thirst comes a drought. A deficit of water in the context of life and a deficit of learning in the context of development. That said – learning is everywhere so I’m unlikely to ever get that thirsty. This blog is a bit tongue and cheek but begins to scratch away at some of these cheesy strap-lines, and attempts to offer some advice/guidance for creating more ‘engaged’ learners.

1. We need ‘thirsty’ learners

As I was saying above, to be thirsty is to be without something as essential as water. Without water we inevitably die! Apparently we can survive for 3 or so before we need water. However we can probably survive a lifetime in most cases without learning (post 16 at least formal learning). Once we have left secondary school we probably have all we need to get by and only pick up new learning if something gets in our way. So what does this all mean for ‘creating thirsty learners’. I say:

“Before we have thirsty learners we need a drought”

Maybe its time to create a drought, maybe its time to withdraw all formal offers of learning from your context (other than the safety compliance stuff – I don’t want any legal battles please). If there is a gap in provision, if we don’t provide it, I bet you people will choose to go find it! If its not there to be had at the touch of a button, if its taken away I believe there will inevitably be a desire to look for it. Maybe people will choose to learn more if there is less available.

We may have been over watering the plants!!! And if engagement is low ask yourself – Is your learning essential (to life)?

2. We need ‘curious’ learners

This leads me on to curiosity, see to be curious is to care. We cannot expect learners to turn up curious. To be curious is to care about the thing, person, event, experience in question – what if I don’t care! What if I’m not bothered and I’m ok not knowing. What if I’m happy as I am?

“Before curiosity comes apathy and disinterest”

To make the switch we need an igniter, a provocation, a poke of the bear! We need to create a reason to care about, a desire to know, a need to find the answer. This might be by providing a statement that goes against what people believe, something that is quite emotive (an ‘anti-view) or to create a fear of missing out, a onetime only option, some level of elitism in the opportunity. Or something that shows real value to them for knowing more. Otherwise its just information – are you just providing information, that whilst good, people don’t need or desire to know. Can they survive well enough without it?

3. We need ‘creative’ learners

I often here my daughter saying ‘I’m bored’ to which I reply “great”! I go on to explain that boredom is the precursor to creativity. And without boredom we have no reason to be creative. Perhaps the deficit we need to create here is a reduction in fun, less cool stuff, less stuff that keeps people occupied so that they have to come up with creative ways to do the things in there day.

“Before creativity must come boredom”

The monotony of work often leads people to find ways to entertain themselves. Be that socially or professionally. Lets deprive people with less engagement opportunities so that when time arrives for engagement they step willingly into it. If there is to much noise in the huge menus of learning, virtual, live, in person, group, 1–2–1 (and more) then I am flooded with options and select as I go. Are you providing such a volume of opportunity that I never get bored so I never have a internal drive to be creative with my time or my resources?

4. We need ‘collaborative’ learners

“I’m happy on my own, I work well and get on with my job. I do my job. I’m not that bothered about yours. Its yours to do and frankly I don’t have time to care about your work”. Have you heard this narrative, is this you. I have been this person. So whats the deficit?

“Before collaboration must come isolation”

Its not enough to have people working on siloed tasks, we probably need to go one step further here and create collectives in ear/eye shot of those who continue to choose to work alone and focus simply on their KPI’s. We need to up the human response to being separated from others in connection, but yet in contact with what is possible. Perhaps showing people what they are missing through subtle (or not so subtle – depends how mean you are) acts right before their eyes. Not engaging them in this may draw them to what they are missing – shared goals and shared responsibility, a collegiate atmosphere, a place for connection and fulfilment through working with others. Are you showing people what they didn’t know was there to be had?

To Close

Well think I’ll leave it there before I get really silly, don’t get me started on ‘problem solvers’ – before being a problem solver I need the problem to be big enough to slow me down. Otherwise I’m happy doing me.

Please I’m not suggesting you actually do any of these. But I am saying there is real value in contemplating things from the perspective of deficit.

Kurt Ewald Lindley – being the anti-version of my normal self