As Training professionals, we often are looked to as experts on adult learning theory, curriculum development, content delivery, and many other specialties. Equally often, we are expected to step outside our own knowledge comfort zone to figure something out and then teach it.
This is a big part of the thrill of our field. Yet, when we assume the role of expert, we can inadvertently give the impression that we are done learning. As Training professionals, we ask people to change behaviors, to be willing to be uncomfortable, to grow and adopt new habits.
A key component of skillful training—and of influencing your company’s training culture—is modeling a learning mindset.
THE LEARNING MINDSET
My working definition of a learning mindset: Everything is learnable, and focused practice leads to improvement. Further, I believe people and organizations thrive on continual development and learning. And finally, all of our skills and abilities are “in process” rather than static.
This view is influenced by the seminal work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck (“Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” 2007). When we model this way of thinking, we give permission for others to ask questions, to wrestle with ideas, and to work through the discomfort of trying new things.
LEARN OPENLY AND PUBLICLY
- Seize opportunities to learn. Model saying, “Yes,” and figuring it out along the way. This openness to being a learner, with all the discomfort and excitement it entails, can be infectious.
- Co-develop your work. Recently, while working with the CEO of one of our business units on a communications audit, I could have laid out a 10- unit plan and it likely would have been adopted. Instead, I asked: What are your key needs? What ideas do you have? What problems are your teams grappling with? What do they want to know and how? This set me up as a fellow learner with the CEO, drawing upon his expertise and knowledge of his people to make the content and approach better and more relevant.
GIVE UP THE DRIVER’S SEAT
- When working with subject matter experts (SMEs), listen more than you speak and let them teach you their topic. Let them “see” you wrestling with concepts, testing for understanding, and gaining fluency.
BE A LEARNER-FACILITATOR
- Ask open-ended questions and be honest when a participant teaches you something. Recently, when I was teaching an Assertiveness workshop, a couple of participants shared that they felt the term, “assertive,” had, in their lives, been used as a smokescreen for aggression. I was surprised and could have just re-explained my four-quadrant model for assertive communication. Instead, we took a few minutes to discuss this, proposing other ways of thinking of “skillful communication” or “civil communication.” This not only honored their experiences and insights (which were obstacles to them adopting the assertive communication skills), but it also showed them we all had something to learn from each other.
- Always include emerging trends and ideas you’re working on in your training presentations. For example: “I didn’t spend a lot of time on the cognitive science of persuasion today because it’s a topic I’m still researching. But here are a couple of early takeaways I’ve gotten from my reading I wanted to share. In the future, I may develop more content from this.”
- Ask for feedback and act on it. Over time, if your colleagues see you are changing your approach to training because of their feedback, you will underscore the benefit of the learning mindset.
- Always keep an eye on ways you can add new research or interesting insights from outside your industry. This will keep you learning and keep your content fresh.
To create real change, and to maximize our long-term impact as Training professionals, it is critical to embrace our own evolution as we learn, grow, and impact others. If we do this openly, who knows how many people may join in?
Craig Fischer is the Training manager at SCAFCO Corporation, an Ethics instructor at Whitworth University, and a blogger at workfulblog.com. Fischer has more than 15 years as a manager, trainer, instructor, and facilitator. He recently joined the Training and Development field full time, so the learning mindset comes easy to him!