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The Problem with Learning and Development

Updated: Feb 12, 2022

I've had the unique privilege and responsibility of teaching college faculty how to be better educators, and, candidly, I know that many faculty roll their eyes at the thought of attending professional development workshops and training. It's a reasonable response to what can often feel like a waste of time, or worse, a punishment. Who among us hasn't participated in an ill-considered, poorly executed seminar or workshop intended to improve our instructional skills? How can we make these experiences more relevant for all participants?

We all know that we need professional development and that lifelong learning is essential to our performance as educators. Sadly, it is often the case that these activities fall short of their intended outcome. It can sometimes seem as if the exercise is conceived solely to fulfill learning and development requirements rather than provide meaningful growth for the faculty participants. In essence, we are solving the wrong problem. The problem can't be "we need to get in the required monthly training initiative." It must be something meaningful for faculty to buy-in and reap the intended benefits of professional development.

"A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved." - Charles F. Kettering

We could design the most fantastic learning experience, but even a great solution to the wrong problem is nothing more than a bad solution. Pinpointing the problem when designing a learning and development initiative is more complicated than it sounds, but it is crucial for generating meaningful results. Spending a significant amount of time defining the problem is essential for several reasons. To start, clearly defining the problem allows us to be sure that we are solving a problem that actually exists, rather than a vague problem that exists in theory.

Second, putting in this time and analysis allows us to understand the problem we intend to solve more fully, supporting a better solution. We need to ask ourselves the tough questions, then question the answers. This interrogation ultimately ensures that the solution is well-matched to the problem. Finally, once we have a well-defined problem, we can stay on track when designing a learning experience to solve the problem because the problem is the track.

Learning and development are necessary for educators, but it should be an enriching experience rather than a compulsory one. Putting in the time to clearly define the problem at the beginning of the design process ensures a greater chance of successfully reaching a solution with your learning activity.

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