Friday, December 14, 2018

What I have learned (so far) from teaching KM

Teaching is all about knowledge transfer.  Understanding the challenges of knowledge transfer from an organizational learning perspective is very helpful in creating parallels for teaching (and the other side of the coin, learning).  Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning could borrow a little more from learning theories and instructional design.  The Learning and Development (L&D) departments of most organizations could also learn from Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning.


In the fall of 2018, I focused my professional activities on teaching, but since i was teaching Knowledge Management, a lot of merging happened.  That merging of ideas is something akin to Nonaka and Takeuchi's Combination stage of knowledge creation perhaps.  Now I can't help cite some of my classes mandatory readings they're so present in my mind.

I taught two sessions of a Knowledge Management class for undergraduate students completely online and a semester long graduate level class on Knowledge Management Strategy face-to-face in a Friday evening/Saturday all-day format that accommodates working students. The two courses are taught completely differently.  There is some overlap in terms of the content, and the target audiences are very different.

In both courses, I've enjoyed the part that actually involves TEACHING through my interactions with the students.  With the graduate level class I have a lot more control over the methods and content and much more flexibility to adjust anything I need the next time I teach it (assuming I am asked to come back to teach it next year).  With the undergraduate level class, I am adjusting to a rather rigid format and content I have limited control over.

Regardless of the format and challenges presented by each class, I found myself often wondering how much learning was actually going on.  Obviously I was teaching but that's just one side of the equation.  It's like a conversation.  I could be talking while no one is truly listening. 

In both classes, there were disappointments and challenges.  There were things I wasn't fully prepared for, such as the 4.0 student who isn't quite happy with anything other than 100% on every assignment, the general reluctance to read, the overzealous reliance on Google to find answers to everything and the nagging feeling that there is some cheating going on (in the online class).  I was troubled by all of this but I was also inspired and in awe of some of the learning that I witnessed.  There were a few times, both online and face-to-face when I reviewed an assignment and I genuinely thought I could not have done it better if I had tried. 

The online learning environment can be particularly challenging because it requires much more self-discipline on the part of students.  I have seen good students (those who were really good before stepping into my virtual classroom) take advantage of what was being offered and learn a lot.  I have also seen weaker students make strong efforts to take advantage of my advice and support throughout the session and improve tremendously.  Somewhere in the middle, 50% of the class just wants to get to the finish line and will do the minimum required.

The face-to-face environment is challenging in a different way.  The students are working adults.  On Friday evenings, they are not in the best state to absorb four hours of teaching or engage in deep learning.  They want to get through the evening.  When they come on a Saturday they've had another class the night before.  Again, these are not ideal learning conditions.  Most of the work they have to do in-between classes involves a group consulting project which is also quite stressful (if they take it seriously).  Those who take it seriously learn the most, but there is a toll to pay.

While I have learned a great deal this Fall semester in terms of my own teaching and there are lots of little things I can change to improve the classes and their delivery, the most important things I have learned probably relate to my increased understanding of the students themselves, their strengths, weaknesses, motivations, attitudes, and how to react (and not overreact) when things don't go exactly as planned.

I look forward to more teaching and developing new classes.


Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Evidence of Learning

As I have taken on more teaching assignments this fall, I find myself asking new questions.  How do I know that the students are learning?  Am I transmitting something?  Am I transmitting something of value?

Since I am talking about traditional post-secondary education rather than continuous professional development, the obvious method for determining whether the students are learning comes in the form of assessments (papers, quizzes, participation in class discussions, etc...).

Since I am relatively new to this, I recognize that my insights are those of a newbie.

In a class of 25 students, it is easy to see with the initial assignments that they come into the class with a wide range of existing capabilities and prior knowledge.  I didn't teach much of anything to the student who writes the perfect answer in the first week of class.  However, I can "see" the learning when they start the class struggling with the concepts being presented, but by week 4 of an 8 week class they are getting more comfortable and by week 8 their final paper demonstrates a significant change in the way they are thinking about the topic. 

In a class of 25 students, at least a third is there to check the box and graduate as soon as possible. They will do the minimum possible and since that has probably been their strategy for a while, they are cruising without learning much of anything. This manifests itself with answers to discussion prompts that repeat something from the assigned readings and does not make any effort to connect to their own experience. Do I give up on that third of the class?  No.  I make them work for it. I try to ask them simple questions that would help them connect the concepts being discussed to their daily realities. I've also learned that it's dangerous to make quick judgments and assumptions about any student's particular approach to learning, their motivation for being in the class, etc...  The reality is that I know very little about them, especially in online classes. 

I have really enjoyed teaching (grading not so much!) and I am most proud of the students who have told me I made them think very hard.  So, that's it.  If I made them think, they built up their thinking muscles and they learned. In online classes, I have to follow strict rubrics for grading.  Those are useful at the beginning, to establish clear standards for the students to follow, but these rubrics are also hampering real conversations and learning from each other.  I'm happy when I see some independent thinking, regardless of whether the readings are cited properly or not.

The students are learning and I'm learning.  What else could I possibly want?

Friday, August 10, 2018

Job Crafting & Stretch Assignments - How to continue to learn

About a year ago, I started on a new professional path, committed to launching a new stage of my career, leaving behind the relative security of a full-time federal government contractor job for the freedom and uncertainty of consulting and teaching.  It was meant primarily as a learning journey. 

Growing and learning require stretching.  That stretching can get quite uncomfortable.  Every single thing I did over the past year was a stretch and therefore the level of discomfort was at times very palpable.  It helped (a little) that I knew this was likely to happen and I was somewhat prepared for it. 

Here are some things I've learned in the process:

  • While I often talked about this past year as a "Year of Learning", it was a form of learning that was meant to help me craft a path forward, not just learning for the sake of learning.    Specifically, I learned that while my initial expectations were to do 80% consulting and 20% teaching, the ratio was perhaps not the right one.  A 50/50 split might work out better. 
  • Stretching should not be confused with pushing oneself to the edge of burnout. In fact, overloading on work and getting overwhelmed only guarantees a decrease in "learning."  If it is impossible to set aside time to reflect on the job/assignment, then I can almost guarantee a lower quality output and no learning (other than not to do that again).
  • As I move forward and leave the idea of the "year of learning" behind, I will focus on the concept of job crafting for myself, which is easy as a self-employed consultant/part-time faculty.  I am writing my job description with a blank canvas.
  • I also want to continue integrating and combining my areas of expertise, looking for deeper insights as well as innovative solutions to stubborn challenges. 

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Action Learning and On-the-job Learning - a Follow up

This is perhaps a demonstration of how we learn just by being exposed to a diversity of conversations and how a simple blog and some prompting by others online can generate unplanned learning.  A few weeks ago I posted some questions reflecting my confusion around action learning, on-the-job learning, action research, experiential learning and similar terms.

My understanding of action learning was very fuzzy at the time and it has now evolved to the point where I see it as a specific group learning technique with a narrow range of applications in the same sense that After-Action-Reviews are a specific group learning/reflection technique.  It's a process with a specific set of rules.  It needs to be facilitated by an action learning coach, and it is meant to help solve a specific problem which first needs to be identified carefully so that it can in fact be addressed through this action learning process.

I'm both satisfied that I have a better understanding of the process and somewhat disappointed.  I wanted it to be more than that.  With a name like 'action learning', I expected more.

Is it on-the-job learning?  There is a learning component to it.  Using action learning as a process is a way of learning group problem solving.  It's probably a useful mechanism to improve critical thinking skills and team dynamics.  It's entirely about a work-related problem and therefore it's "on-the -job". However, it's not really what I would call 'learning by doing."