I’ve been way too quiet on this blog lately, spending most of my writing time on a longer article about how we learn through relationships. The piece I’ve been working on has a variety of potential outlets, not the least of which is that it provides advice related to the “people” components of the learning environment design framework. I thought I’d share a portion of that article and ask for some feedback from you all…
- To what degree is it helpful to lay out all of the different ways that people learn through relationships? In what ways will this summary be helpful to share with developers and learners?
- In writing about how to leverage relationships for employee and management development, what else needs to be addressed?
Here’s the excerpt from the longer draft article:
How we learn in developmental relationships
Relationships are dynamic and unique; they vary in terms of how people interact with one another, how often they connect, the activities they engage in together, and the degree of closeness they engender. It’s understandable, then, that the ways that people learn from and with each other also vary widely, and it seems to be a daunting exercise to put our finger on exactly what is occurring so that we can encourage those actions that generate learning.
Nonetheless, a number of studies have looked at learning processes and teased out specific actions on the part of developers as well as actions engaged by learners. These processes are summarized in the chart below. These activities may be engaged sporadically with a wide range of people in an individual’s network. For example, a learner may draw out lessons (vicarious learning) from listening to a personal anecdote presented by an organizational leader (personal openness), but the two do not have a developmental relationship. Effective developmental relationships, on the other hand, engage most if not all of these processes in an exchange characterized by compatibility, trust, authenticity, and meaningful dialog. In that context, the activities below accelerate learning.
Many of these activities can be conceived of as a type of call and response: the developer acts as role model, the learner observes and emulates; the learner practices, the developer critiques and coaches; the developer challenges the learner to think more deeply, the learner reflects out loud and engages in a discussion of options and ramifications, etc.
In the “work activity” category of processes, though, the dynamic changes. In the activities of day-to-day work, knowledge is discovered and new skills emerge. Oftentimes in working together the distinction between developer and learner disappears as they become engrossed in co-creating knowledge and co-inventing practice.
In all of these instances, there is a degree of intentionality to the learning. It isn’t just stumbled upon or accidentally absorbed. There is deliberate action meant to transfer knowledge or develop skill, and deliberate pursuit of learning. We could also describe the characteristics that make each of these activities effective. We know from research, for example, that critiquing is most impactful when it is timely, focused on changeable behavior, and specific. We know that it is important to gradually reduce scaffolding and let learners take on more and more of the action on their own. Across all of the activities, key characteristics include clarity, relevance, genuineness, candor, focus on behavior, gradual lessening of degree of support (whatever its nature), and good communication and listening skills.
Experts in developmental relationships recommend that HRD leaders promote developmental relationships by working with people to identify goals, develop excellent communication skills, and learn particular techniques related to whatever process they want to engage.6 It is important that developers and learners are aware of the full range of learning processes available to them; having the full picture may prompt them to engage processes they had not been considering.
The learning processes were synthesized from:
Hezlett, S. A. (2005). Proteges’ learning in mentoring relationships: A review of the literature and an exploratory case study. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 7(4), 505.
Jones, J. (2013). Factors influencing mentees’ and mentors’ learning through formal mentoring relationships. Human Resource Development International, published online June 28, 2013.
Lombardozzi, C., & Casey, A. (2008). The impact of developmental relationships on the learning of practice competence for new graduates. Journal of Workplace Learning, 20(5), 297.