The Essence of Destiny Watch your thoughts, for they become words, Choose your words, for they become actions, Understand your actions, for they become habits, Study your habits, for they will become your character, Develop your character, for it becomes your destiny.
Socrates (470 – 399 B.C.) founded the Western tradition of independent thinking. He epitomized the "Golden Age" of Athens. Immortalized in Plato’s Dialogues, his famed Socratic Method has been acclaimed by keen thinkers in every age. But in his own time, his sharp questioning led to his being sentenced to death by hemlock. Now, Socrates has returned to answer YOUR questions – about his life, about 5th century Athens, and about how you can become a better lifelong learner by using his six principles. SOCRATES SAYS: "You can become a better lifelong learner just the way I and my friends did in 5th century Athens. 1. Ask Questions In every one of my Dialogues, with every person I encountered, I tried to pose questions that would steer the conversation onto interesting, useful, exhilarating ground. You can do this by making your questions open-ended." Rather than requesting specific information, pose questions that invite the other person to open up and reveal what they know, think, and feel. (Why not start now, with me!) 2. Know Thyself Often, before entering a conversation, I would go into a kind of trance (see the opening of "The Symposium".) Some people thought I had an affliction like epilepsy – but I was merely getting in touch with my deepest values. Are there ways that you have found useful, to align yourself with your essential convictions, as a way to engage with others more authentically and effectively? 3. Experience Eureka I used metaphors to break through rigid thinking, like the parable of "The Cave" in "The Republic" (ask me about it!), which is a prophecy of virtual reality! Do or could YOU use "paradigm-breaking" techniques to jostle your thinking out of its usual channels? 4. Think for Yourself Everyone I met in the streets of 5th century Athens seemed to be using "conventional wisdom" instead of thinking things through for themselves. The trouble was, these commonplaces all have their contraries: If you cite "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," I can counter with "He who hesitates is lost." You cannot fall back on received wisdom to guide your life. Do you have ways to think your own thoughts? 5. Learn Together
All of us are smarter than any of us, as one of my living disciplines, Warren Bennis has documented in his book on great teams, "Organizing Genius." All of my thinking was done in collaboration with friends and colleagues, in dialogue form. Can you make greater use of other people to stimulate and refine your thinking? 6. Create Your Life Sometimes in life you must break through your present armor, to reveal or open yourself to the next stage of growth – as I did with the Silenus (ask me about it!). Is there part of YOUR life which needs to be broken through, for new growth to occur?" Dialog with Socrates - Chat Transcript On August 23, 2000, About presented a rare opportunity to dialogue with Socrates, the wise and witty sage who has been inspiring people to think for themselves for 2,500 years. Topics discussed included the parable of The Cave, the importance of asking questions and knowing oneself, learning to learn, standardized tests, learning motivation and needs.
Here are ten ways that you might want to celebrate Self-University Week this year, from a list of 52 available at Autodidactic Press: 1. Write a letter to the editor of the newspaper or magazine of your choice expressing your opinion on an issue. 2. Compile a list of books you intend to read during the next year, and pick one to start off with. 3. Sign up for a class on a subject that’s new to you but highly interesting. 4. Watch an hour of public television each night instead of the usual sitcom fare. 5. Ask some of the oldest people you know what were the major lessons they have learned in life. 6. Read the Declaration of Independence and think about its relevance to what is happening today. 7. Spend eight hours as a volunteer in a non-profit organization. 8. Outline the major events in your life as if they were a play. How many acts would there be and how would they be named? What would be the name of the play? 9. If you are a worker read a book about management; if you are a manager read a book written from the perspective of workers. 10. Memorize a favorite poem.
Some people learn best in a teacher-guided, formal learning situation, while others prefer a self-directed, informal or independent study approach. In The Adult's Learning Projects (1971) Dr. Allen Tough claims, "Almost everyone
undertakes at least two or three major learning efforts a year, and some individuals undertake as many as 15 or 20. The median is eight learning projects a year, involving eight distinct areas of knowledge and skill." Consider Jessie, who plans to re-enter the workplace after staying home for a number of years to raise her children. To prepare for this change, she must identify her learning needs, establish learning objectives, determine learning resources and strategies, and evaluate outcomes. Identifying learning needs Jessie's learning needs include understanding the labor market, upgrading her computer skills, updating her job search skills and finding child care. Each of these needs involves one or more learning projects. Establish learning objectives Jessie begins with a general idea that she needs to upgrade her computer skills. By surveying friends and family, she discovers that employers in her desired field most frequently require Windows 95/98, MS Word, Explorer and E-mail. By scanning employment ads, she discovers the degree of familiarity she requires in each. She has now established her learning objectives. Determine learning resources There are many ways for Jessie to develop her computer skills. She may choose to learn formally or informally. If she prefers to learn formally, she can take a continuing education course at a local school. She could also take computer-based training via distance learning, in her own home. If she would rather learn at home, at her own pace and schedule, she can use manuals from the library. She may decide to combine formal and informal options by taking a course in word-processing and learning to type by using typing tutor software at home. By considering her learning style, schedule and finances, Jessie designs the learning program that works best for her. Evaluate outcomes Jessie prepared the way for evaluating the outcomes of her learning projects when she established her learning objectives. For example, she may have discovered that employers will expect her to type at a speed of at least 30 words per minute and compose, spell check, send and forward e-mail to individuals or groups. She can evaluate her own success by measuring her own typing speed and communicating with the recipients of her messages to ensure that she has performed these functions correctly. In formal education, institutions establish learning objectives, determine the means of learning, and assess learner achievement. This control is beneficial in that it ensures that standards are maintained, and that the certificates, diplomas and/or degrees issues by the institution are valued and respected. On the other hand, institutional control can lead to decreased flexibility and a reduced ability to respond to the interests and needs of individual learners. Jessie's preparation for returning to work involves several learning projects. To meet her learning goals, she is likely to select a variety of learning resources which best meet her needs, resources and preferences. Self-directed learning is a flexible and responsive strategy in a rapidly changing world.
Self Study Your Learning Project Plan This site regularly celebrates self-directed learners – adults who choose to plan, conduct, and appraise their learning themselves, rather than relying on an institution. One recent one was Jessie, who designed a learning project to acquire the skills needed to re-enter the work-force. (See Make and Follow a Self-Study Plan). Here’s a simple planning device – the Learning Project Plan (LPP) – that simplifies this process of defining your goals, marshalling your motivation, identifying the best resources, monitoring your progress, and appraising and documenting your learning. Over the past decade, the LPP has been adopted by practitioners in fields as diverse as technical writing, electrical manufacturing, and hospital administration. (I’ll describe their experiences at the end of this article.) Of course, I use it myself. If you asked me right now what I’ve been learning recently, I’d hand you my LPP. It tells what, why, where, when, and how effectively I’m learning this week. Your LPP can be created electronically on your Personal Digital Assistant, or if you’re still a paper-and-pencil person, created on a regular sheet of copy paper folded into a 4 x 5-inch folded sheet which can be tucked into your day-planner. Here’s what’s on the eight panels (front and back) of my current Learning Project Plan. 1. On the front is the Goal, with nine benefits to me and my organization, listed underneath. I’m a great believer in multiple-benefit analysis – I always do my best to identify ALL the benefits and advantages of any learning project, rather than just the most obvious one. It strengthens motivation by drawing from different psychological sources: the utilitarian, the emotional, the imaginative, the altruistic, etc. (“What will this learning enable me to do?” “How will it feel to have mastered this subject or skill?” “What new opportunities will it open up?” “How can I share it with others?”) 2. Opening this miniature booklet, the next panel covers three ways in which I’m making my learning more comfortable by using my personal learning “style.” This personalizes the scheme to my comfort zone. 3. Now, unfolding the paper to its full size to reveal the inside spread, there’s a “mind-map” of relevant opportunities, resources, people, and technology. I like to put these all down in one display, rather than divide them into separate lists, because they so often inter-relate. Moreover, the mind-map format invites continual additions as new possibilities present themselves. At the start of each day, for example, I open the mind-map and think for a moment: “What’s coming up today which could contribute to this Learning Project?” Just about every time I do this, something comes to mind that I would not have thought of otherwise.
Specifically, the LPP prompts me to tap the knowledge and experience of colleagues, to be on the qui vive for input from the media and the Internet, and to identify new sources of information and expertise. 4. Folding the sheet again to reveal the back panels, there’s an Action Plan with deadlines, and a Results panel to monitor my progress and document results. These Results, like the Goals, should be multiple. You should take the time to relish what your learning has meant to you not just in terms of knowledge or mastery of skills, but in enjoyment, self-regard, opportunities, and the prospect of sharing what you are learning with others. This miniature blueprint for learning took me about an hour to draft, then another hour or two, spread over a few days, to refine with additional ideas. Now, it guides and stimulates my learning. All on one simple folded piece of paper! It’s a great way to learn – personal, powerful, and practical – and fun. I’ve been advocating this system to associations of professionals in a variety of fields for several years. When I proposed it to the Association of Professional Directors of YMCAs in North America, for example, the members found it so attractive that the Association adopted it as an alternative modality through which members could fulfill their obligation for Continuing Professional Education. “Learning Plans are one of the most important tools our members have ever mastered,” said APD leader Jim Stooke. Here are the advantages of this form of learning: It puts you in control of your learning. It taps energy and motivation often under-utilized in conventional instruction. It accommodates to your personal style, pace, schedule, and changing interests. It permits fine-tuning of goals, methods, and resources in the course of the learning. It strengthens your underlying capacity for self-directed learning in your life. Your LPP will have a different tone and tenor, depending on your individual and organizational needs. For example, when I presented it to members of the Society for Technical Communication, whose work-day is measured in nano-seconds, it was clear that some steroids were needed kick up the pace a few notches. So we focused on “learning encounters” – down-and-dirty projects to master technical skills and information on the run, including the “Hey, Joe School” (“Hey, Joe, how did you install that new interface software?”) and “Hallway Learning” in which vital information gets moved around an organization through casual encounters. (Dixon, N.M, The Hallways of
Learning , Organizational Dynamics, 25(4), 23-24). Again, when I instigated the approach with medical administrators at a conference on Quality Improvement in Hospitals, I found the conferees embroiled in the turmoil of health care in the U.S. Therefore, we formulated LPPs which strengthened the inner focus of these dedicated professionals, to help them maintain their integrity amidst the roiling waters of controversy. I hope you find the LPP, as I do, an engine, compass, and caliper for jumpstarting, guiding, and appraising your learning.
Training Needs Assessment From Denise M. Ruggieri What, Why and How Are you charged with the task of having your employees trained but do not know where to start? Consider performing a training needs assessment first. You’ll optimize the benefit to your employees while saving on the bottom line. What is a training needs assessment? A tool utilized to identify what educational courses or activities should be provided to employees to improve their work productivity. Focus should be placed on needs as opposed to desires. For example, training dollars would be better spent on a new employee in the accounting department who needs to learn Microsoft Excel for their job duties as opposed to learning Microsoft Publisher which the employees wants but does not need. Why conduct a training needs assessment? · To pinpoint if training will make a difference in productivity and the bottom line. · To decide what specific training each employee needs and what will improve their job performance. · To differentiate between the need for training and organizational issues. How is a training needs assessment performed? There are several techniques that can be utilized individually or in combination with each other. More than one tool should be considered to get a better view of the big picture, however, which tools are used should be left up to company. 1. Meet with management. Since most supervisors are involved with the planning of projects and the future of the company, they know what will be needed. They should be able to communicate where their employee’s current abilities lie and what is needed to get them to the next level for new projects on the horizon. 2. Meet with employees. Discuss what struggles they may be facing from day-to-day and what would make their job easier and more efficient. Remember to keep them focused on what they need rather than what they want.
3. Conduct surveys. Surveys are beneficial because many people can be polled in a short period of time. Additionally, surveys provide employees with the opportunity to confess a need on paper that they may be too embarrassed to admit needing in a face-to-face meeting. Surveys should take the form of a questionnaire and can include close-ended or open-ended questions, or a series of both. Close-ended questions require the respondent stay within certain perimeters set by the person who created the survey. Being that the answers are limited, tabulating the data is simple. Openended questions allow an employee to provide more feedback and introduce new ideas that may not have been considered initially, although tallying the results may be more difficult. A good option during the creation of a survey would be to include a combination of both close-ended and open-ended questions. 4. Conduct focus groups. Focus groups allow for small group interaction, allowing the assessor to uncover details about their target audience. Brainstorming is encouraged allowing for an exchange of new ideas and a revelation of what training may be needed. They should be at least ninety minutes long to initially break the ice and for participants to become comfortable enough to express their thoughts. Depending on time limits, focus groups can be held once or repeatedly. 5. Review company goals and mission statement. A brief review of the company’s past and where they are headed for the future may reveal valuable information for training. A comparison should be made of what employees are currently doing and what will be expected of them as the company continues to grow and change. Three things to consider: · Consider meeting with employees that are already successfully completing tasks. You may uncover useful techniques that can be taught during training to other employees. · Keep surveys brief. More employees will be willing to complete them and tallying the results will be more manageable. · Good hand-written notes should be taken during a focus group and consideration should be given to either audio taping or video taping the session allowing it to be reviewed later for any details initially missed.
How to Perform a Training Needs Assessment From Denise M. Ruggieri Six Steps Mary Coombs, Director of Customized Training, at Salem Community College in Carneys Point, New Jersey, shares the method that works for her: Step 1: Sit down with a business partner to get their input on what they think their employees’ needs are. Step 2: Develop a survey to be passed out to employees. Include some questions using a Likert scale of 1 to 5 and some open-ended questions. For example, have you ever thought, “I could do this job faster and easier if I just….” Step 3: Conduct a focus group.
Step 4: Hold a second meeting with the employer to review the data from the survey and the focus group. Step 5: Develop a specific, customized training plan. Step 6: Execute the training.