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Janet Gregory: Agile Consultant, Trainer, Advisor, Writer, Speaker

We know about how people learn – auditory, visual, kinesthetically. But what about those things we can’t know – like people’s attitude, or how our brain perceives messages. This post comes about because of my reaction to a specific teaching style I experienced lately.

Over the years, I have been exposed to ‘learning games’, the kind where you throw two dice and have to guess the total. The leader knows the rules and you have to figure them out based on what you guess is the total. The leader says yes or no to each guess until you figure out the ‘trick’. Until a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been able to skirt around being the person doing the guessing, but finally got approached one evening at StarEast to be an active participant. I tried to decline several times, but the leader insisted and finally asked if I considered myself a tester and issued the challenge. Looking back, I knew I always avoided the games, but didn’t realize how strong my reaction would be. I actually felt myself have a physical reaction to the invitation. I became very agitated, and finally mumbled something about how I didn’t want to because of ‘childhood issues’ with games of these sorts. I then ran away feeling very stupid and joined another group of people.

I’ve done a lot of soul searching since that evening, and what I have come to realize, is that I enjoy puzzles of the variety I can work out such as logic problems, Suduko, etc., but really don’t like the variety of puzzles that have ‘tricks’ to them. My brain doesn’t work that way, and there are reasons why those types of puzzles upset me – I won’t go into details.

So, what does this have to do with learning? Well, I know I’m mainly an auditory learner so I listen. People who work with me, often think I’m visual because I use a whiteboard or draw in the air. I do that because it helps me explain an idea I’m trying to get across, or my concerns. It is articulating the problem that helps me to reinforce the ideas in my brain. I’m also a people person. Most problems are people problems, and I like to solve issues by talking and listening. I guess that is why I usually have jobs that are not purely testing, but involve coaching or working with teams to adapt new processes.

But, given all that, I also recognize I have blind spots that may prevent me from learning. Jerry Weinberg, through his PSL (Problem Solving Leadership) course, defines problem-solving leadership as the ability to enhance the environment so that everyone is empowered to contribute creatively to solving the problem. As a leader, that means I need to recognize that other people many have similar blind spots and learn to recognize them. When I am in a teacher role, I need to understand that people may not be taking in the message if they don’t like the delivery format. I need to open my mind to the possibilities and observe the feedback I am receiving from participants.

How many of us teachers / trainers have learned this skill? Or even recognize that it is a skill to learn.

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10 comments on “About Learning 2

  1. This is so interesting, I avoid those tricky games too. I actually don't enjoy any kind of puzzles. Sometimes I worry about that, surely someone who loves solving problems in business and software should like all kinds of games and puzzles. I never considered it might have something to do with how I learn.

    I'm a visual learner. I need examples, examples, examples and they need to be drawn out or written out for me. Then I have to work them out for myself.

    I must be ok at some of these games because I took one of those IBM-style logic tests to get my first programmer trainee job and did well. But I don't enjoy them. It's good to remember everyone has a unique perspective on learning.

  2. Years ago, I took some classes in teaching adults. One thing that came up over and over was that people learn in different ways; while the learner has some responsibility for that, the teacher needs to understand it and adapt to the learners.

    More recently, I have had opportunities to learn from both people who knew Virginia Satir, like Jerry Weinberg and Jean McLendon, and many people who learned from them. One of the points that struck me the hardest was that all of us learn better in an environment where we feel safe. Everyone has been in situations as children or adults where we felt threatened and it is difficult not to react to things that remind us of them. I personally block so well in some situations that I neither learn anything nor share what I know; I am so busy trying not to feel that I can't think.

    As a learner, I know it is my responsibility to deal with my problem and with other learning styles. However, as a coach, mentor, instructor, or supervisor, I feel a joint responsibility with the other person. It is very easy for me to do things my way and expect that to work for everyone else. From a learning style perspective, I try very hard to cover material in more than one way. That is comparatively easy. The other sort of situation is both more difficult, and more important. It is easy for what is intended to be a mental challenge to cause a problem, if I am not watching for the effect of what I am doing. I am learning to watch for situations where people appear threatened and try to defuse them. When I use my most generous interpretation, rather than trying to compete and win, I am more likely to actually help someone learn. That, after all, is my intent.

  3. I agree with the comments about trying to orient one's teaching style to work for people of all learning styles. I try to design exercises that allow both introverts and extraverts to think in their preferred mode, for instance, and I also try to ensure that the "S" types get all the data they want, while leaving room for the "N" types to work with less direction.

    The tricky dice and card games leave me cold. I don't find them intriguing or amusing and I tend to go blank when faced with one.

    I did solve the first one put in front of me, but I couldn't do it in the bar where we were. It was only when I was home alone, brushing my teeth, that the answer came to me and I emailed the trickster to confirm that I'd got it right.

    So part of my discomfort may be the intrinsic requirement to think and act in an extravert way that's foreign to me.

    I guess it's quite possible that those kinds of games do say something about certain kinds of testing ability, but I think it's arrogant and unimaginative to assume that all good testers should be able to do them (else, I think the assumption goes, they aren't good testers).

    But often I succumb to the temptation to dismiss those games as boys' stuff.

  4. As an educator, I must agree with the importance of having a risk-free environment for optimal learning. You referred to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles, but there are many more. Including emotional! What I have learned as a very experienced teacher, is that learning cannot happen while someone is in emotional turmoil – sadness, joy, etc. Learning can be attached to those feelings, but it's the memory of the "event", and NOT the learning content or idea that is retained.
    It sounds to me like this event was designed to be a social constructivist approach, where people could articulate thoughts and strategies, but when one person is isolated this can be a high-risk situation. Could this not be done in a partnership? Then two or more people could dialogue to discover strategies, thus creating a richer and more comprehensive response?

  5. Hi, Janet…

    To put an end to any speculation about who it was who issued the challenge to you, it was me.

    To the extent that you felt offended or pressured, I apologize. I'd like to suggest the idea that you were among friends, fellow testers, that you were in a safe environment in that setting.

    That is, I'd like to suggest that, but I can't, because safety isn't an objective concept. It's a relationship between the person and the situation, and it's about how you feel, and felt. If you didn't feel safe, that was the reality. I regret that, but that's the way it was. Moreover, you're identified a blind spot in my perception; as a strong extravert, I have a hard time recognizing an introvert's reaction. I hope I'll be more cognizant of that next time.

    I can understand not liking certain kinds of games. I claim that don't particularly enjoy computer games, for example. Shoot-'em-up, driving games, or violent games leave me cold. Yet every now and then, in the right context and with the right game, I can get drawn in. It takes a lot to get me there, though.

    Fiona: But often I succumb to the temptation to dismiss those games as boys' stuff.

    In my experience the ratio of women to men who are inclined to engage in the dice game is roughly 50-50. (For example, on the evening in question, there was one women and one man playing. By the way, they spontaneously paired, to great mutual advantage.) It seems to me that gender bias doesn't explain people's affinity, in my decidely anecdotal analysis.

    I'd suggest a different factor that does seem to fit: introverts vs. extraverts. The latter seem generally eager to want to solve the puzzle; the former far less so, especially in crowds or noisy environments. Another data point in support of that: among my close colleagues, James Bach and I (Es) are usually up for a new variation of such puzzles. Cem Kaner (male, and an I) really dislikes them.

    Inspired by a conversation with Sherry (thank you!) I now offer a different approach: I explicitly state that no one should feel pressured participate in the exercise. Those who decline are welcome and encouraged to observe the people who are participating, and contribute that way.

    —Michael B.

  6. I was not trying to blame anyone, but raise awareness that not everyone reacts the same to a given 'trigger'. Safety is a personal issue for sure. What this experience taught me was that I also have to be cognizant, not only of my own safety but those around me. When I am teaching or coaching, I need to be aware of people's reactions.

    My reaction had nothing to do with gender or being an intravert (no one has ever accused me of being one). It was purely personal which makes it that much harder to deal with, because it was unexpected.

  7. Hi Janet,

    I love games and loathe ‘clever people’ puzzles. Karen loved them. I don’t know why but they make me feel stupid and I know I’m not… No logic I know.
    We train using TFTBOTR to specifically cover different learning styles in each topic. As we are both extroverts this can be a tad intimidating. We try and build trust during the training to allow people to get comfortable. Whilst most people sing our praises I’m sure there are some who didn’t enjoy it.
    I know we try, and actively reflect and adapt when we notice things… I guess that’s good. I wonder if we could do more?
    Sam

    • Sam, I think all we can do is be aware and try to continuously improve. I know that sometimes I react / respond inappropriately and have apologized to the class – doesn’t happen often, but it does. As an extrovert, I often “think out loud” instead of taking the time to reflect before I speak. We are human, and make mistakes.

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