FORMAL EDUCATION + SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING experiments
The further we all move into the 21st Century, the clearer it is that this century is going to be unprecedented. Already it's awash with amazing new technologies and startling new scientific discoveries. each of which comes weighted down with demanding challenges and scary new opportunities and responsibilities. Moreover, phenomena like globalization, automation, genomics, and cyber warfare, to name only the most inspiring or scariest of today’s headline grabbers, are bringing to life the proposition that everything we've learned at our mother's knee may be wrong. The point: many of this century's most radical ideas about how the world works may actually be much better ways for us to understand ourselves, our relationships, and the world than anything we learned while we were growing up.
Every day it seems there are more and more reasons why each of us should question the fundamental beliefs we inherited from our moms and our dads. More reasons why we should dismantle and rebuild the basic architecture of our homespun, school-bread worldviews. In this regard, I believe that each of us probably needs to learn how to do three things;
1. Improve the personal and professional skills we already have.
2. Develop the new personal and professional skills we need to succeed at work and in our lives.
3. Reframe the outdated modes of thinking we have about ourselves and our lives in ways that help us respond effectively to the complex challenges that this new century is bring to our front doors.
In this context, to accomplish any of these three tasks successfully we all must learn how to take the knowledge and insights we’ve acquired through our formal educational efforts and use them as a resource we can use to transform our ordinary, every day behavior into effective self-directed learning experiments. To to do this, we must see these formal educational efforts of ours as the “Front-End” phase of a life-long learning journey, and our subsequent real life experiences as opportunities to launch the “Back-End” phase of this learning journey. We especially need to realize that these two elements — the Front-End and the Back-End steps — are both parts of one complete process. Two steps that need to be integrated into consciously designed and effectively implemented learning experiments. This is the learning equation we need to be familiar with and able to implement:
"Formal Education + Self-Directed Learning Experiments = Successful Personal and Professional Development"
FORMAL EDUCATION AS THE FRONT-END
According to the Association of American Colleges & Universities, formal education includes all our knowledge development efforts, but especially the ones we pursue trying to understand how to deal with the complexity, diversity, and change that is currently shaping our 21st Century lives. A high-quality education is the step that initiates our acquisition of useful knowledge about specific areas of personal and professional interest. Most particularly, a high-quality equation provides us with perspective about the kinds of complex thinking and problem solving skills we need in today’s real-world settings. In short, our formal educational experiences, whether they’re pursued through traditional bricks and mortar institutions or virtually through on-line learning programs, are all a part of the Front-End phase of our real-world learning efforts.
SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING AS THE BACK-END
Forty years ago, Herb Simon discovered Back-End learning. In his book Skill in Chess (1973), Simon offered what has become one of the most famous learning propositions ever published: “There are no instant experts in chess--certainly no instant masters or grandmasters. There appears not to be on record any case (including Bobby Fischer) where a person has reached grandmaster level with less than about a decade's participation with the game." With these words, Simon opened our eyes to the idea that mastery in any endeavor is always going to involve a long period of trial and error that includes specific sequences of highly focused, small-scale learning experiments that are designed to operationalize in our real lives what we’ve already learned conceptually. Simon showed us how and why experiential skill building is the Back-End phase of all learning.
In 1984, David Kolb elaborated and concretized Simon’s Back-End ideas in his book, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. The big step forward that Kolb offered us is the idea that experiential learning necessarily involves four iterative steps; expanding personal awareness, deep reflection, conceptual model building, and real-world experiments. Since Kolb articulated these four steps, every adult who’s seriously interested in personal or professional development must, after they’ve finished developing the new knowledge turn their attention to consciously moving through Kolb’s learning sequence over and over and over again in order to transform the knowledge they’ve developed into what they can do.
THE ESSENTIAL POINT
Formal education, whether it is acquired at a university or online, is what provides you with the kind of Front-End learning that helps you create the mental models that become the platform for your Back-End learning efforts. Self-directed learning experiments are the Back-End skill-building opportunities you use to both facilitate and accelerate the transformation of your new knowledge into relevant skills.
Tailor-Made Learning programs
Whether you’re trying to improve existing skills, learn new ones, or reframe outdated beliefs into a new mindset, real learning takes time. Time to explore, to think through, to practice, practice and then practice some more. It also takes the support of a trusted thought partner, someone who can guide and encourage you through critical learning-journey tipping points. Regardless of whether you're improving an existing skill, developing a new one, or successfully reframing an old belief into a new mode of thinking, the learning journeys you launch will nearly always follow a path marked by risk, loss, and vulnerability.
At Transformational Learning Opportunities, we offer the guidance and support you need for your Front- and Back-End learning efforts. Whether you’re a private individual, a coach, a consultant, or a senior executive, we offer learning experiences that use TLO’s new Front-End / Back-End Learning model to help you create new knowledge and improve your existing skills, master complex new skills, and/or develop new, more sophisticated modes of thinking, feeling, and acting. We, in particular, offer you learning partnerships that are tailored to support your unique style of learning and meet your specific learning needs and interests.