Relationships, Transformation, Focus and Learning

There are a number of differences between learning, training and development; specifically, learning takes place anywhere at any time, concerning anything, while training suggests a designated time and place concerning most likely the work environment, and development suggests stages individuals attain as a result of learning. But, it is my opinion that HRD practitioners must focus on the similarities between them and the characteristics individuals must have regardless of the setting or the content delivered. While it seems that Society has high jacked the concept of learning and placed it in classrooms and training centers, learning is a natural human characteristic which include: Relationships, Transformation and Focus.

Initially, with regard to humans, learning is concerned with relationships as we learn from those around us. Some of our well known learning theorists such as Vygotsky, Dewey, Bruner and Friere focus on the intersubjectivity between the learner and the teacher, especially during the social context as with Vygotsky. For Vygotsky the social setting was significant for learning to take place, and if one reads Lave, they will discover Vygotsky as the foundation of her Situated Learning, and Communities of Practice. With the exception of Dewey who did not read Vygotsky, Bruner and Freire, and I would argue all Social constructivists are based on Vygotsky and the importance of relationships to learning.  I might add here that the concept of relationship can include the relationship to oneself, to the teacher, other learners, to the content, and to the institute, organization or setting the social setting.

A second area we must consider concerning learning is the concept of transformation, or transformative learning. Mezirow has gone into great detail describing the process of transformation in adults when learning takes place. While transformation is an individual and subjective experience, few can argue that learning is not a life changing experience at some level.  In the case of transformation, the content must be meaningful and important to the learner, which implies a degree of reflection, and self-efficacy which seems limited in the Thai context. While group learning in a collectivist society is important, individual responsibility is the key to learning, which brings our attention to Focus.

If there is one term I seem to use constantly with my students, it’s the term Focus, and while they might not understand what I’m getting at, the concept itself is crucial to learning, especially another language. Focus now seems to be falling in disfavor as people become attached to electronic devices that draw their attention away from the actual learning moment. Focus is a concept that is difficult to conceptualize, yet its importance is undeniable.  Without focus learning is short term, where content is easily forgotten and exchanged with other information. Without focus, lessons are not learned, and transformation does not take place. Daniel Goleman, the author of Social/Emotional Intelligence is coming out with a book on Focus, which I expect it will be a best seller.

What do these three characteristics have to do with HRD? They are vital for any kind of learning activity, whether it be training in a classroom or on the job training. Activities must be designed with relationships as the focal point; trainers must establish rapport with the learners, and create a context that is fluid and contextual to the work environment.  The learning must be transformative, meaning it must be meaningful! While the content may be meaningful to the owner or the manager, the learner must be drawn into the meaning by making it important to the learner’s life. And finally, the learner must be focused in order to make learning long term instead of short term.


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