Learning to Learn quotation

Learning to Learn: Welcome to the 21st Century!

This from a colleague: “Hi Corin, a few of us were ok’ed to take an excel class, we were going to do it from Fred Pryor, but Anna said she took the course and she had to help the instructor. I did a google search and found very bad reviews. Can you recommend something for us. We are interested in some help with 2010 and both basic and up.”

Using AAAAARGH! Using Excel as my example, you’ll see my response below. Please use your best 21st century skills and apply this information to other application with which you work.

Learning to Learn quotation

Picture credit to: miffdesigner

You’re not going to like this. All your canned Excel courses are going to be like Anna’s experience – it’s why she needs another one instead of absorbing the information from the classes she’s taken in the past. No one can know everything about Excel, it’s too vast. You all use it enough so that you’ll come with specific questions and they are probably going to be somewhat deep and very specific based on your jobs. If the instructor doesn’t have that particular piece of knowledge, it will look like they need help. The reality is they actually just need the time, not in front of a group, to figure out how to solve the problem and get back to you. Your teachers will have good searching strategies as well as time and experience using Excel but they still won’t know it all…ever.

Welcome to the 21st century. Software changes too much and is too large to have it and all its uses effectively taught even over a college semester.

People from the ESD have taken classes from a local agency which is seemingly now gone as they aren’t showing up on my searches. The problem has been that the content doesn’t really have staying power. When you need that one skill someone taught you in a class 6 months earlier, you still need to look it up – which is what you should be able to do now…without spending hundreds of dollars on a class. Here are some FREE ideas that should work better if you’re willing to do a bit of planning. Based on how research says content and skills get cemented in the brain (conversation, practice and collaboration) the following experiences will help you remember what you learn.

Form a users’ group around the business office’s (agency?) use of Excel. Use the training we get free because we pay Microsoft’s astronomical campus fees. You can break groups up into smaller pairs or triads depending on self-assessed levels (basic, novice, intermediate, advanced, etc). Hold these groups for a couple hours every two weeks or so.

Hone your searching skills. You’ve got resources ALL OVER THE INTERNET. They are YouTube videos, user forums, recorded webinars, and websites full of resources. Microsoft has done a great job with videos at http://office.microsoft.com A class in effective searching is probably the best way to spend agency money. However, you can get training on this for FREE as well if you look for it on the internet. I take webinars on this constantly and there is a lot of useful documentation at your favorite search engine.

Because you can stop, start, practice and discuss the content in each module it’s going to stick with you far longer than what you’ll get in a couple of face-to-face sessions with someone standing and delivering in the front of the room. The human brain is not meant to sit and get information for long periods of time with only a lunch break but the format is so engrained in our hearts and minds it’s all we know. Time to break the pattern because the paradigm isn’t working.

Tips and Tricks for users groups:

  • Everyone must hold the time sacred. Pretend you’re paying for the session and you can’t miss it. NOTHING should get in the way of this time. Be adults and plan accordingly.
  • Set up away from your regular desks. Reserve a conference room. Participants should be completely engaged. Avoid leaving your email open and if you must check it only during scheduled breaks. Everyone likes feeling important, but if someone else needs you RIGHT NOW and one of your children is not dying, you need to set different expectations and enable people less.
  • Pull your own learning cart: come with questions and be ready to help answer the questions of your colleagues.
  • Bring wine to the picnic: arrive with your best strategies and ideas for effective use, time management and effective problem solving. Be ready to share.
  • Use some of that money you were going to spend on a class for refreshments to keep people comfortable. Brain research says people need to be operating in the larger parts of the brain to truly be learning. This means you need to be hydrated, warm and your stomach needs to be full. Otherwise your brain is just thinking about how uncomfortable you are. Working in survival mode will not allow your brain to absorb information you need.
  • Work collaboratively through the modules in small groups according to level. Stop to practice, ask questions, take notes and cement information so you can retrieve it later.
  • Have the technology ready so you can try things. Make your less technology-savvy people drive at times and be patient with them.
  • Get up and move around frequently and take deep, cleansing breaths. Switch tasks, pulling relevant information from resources outside of the written curriculum. For example, if you study pivot tables in the module and they still don’t make sense, find a YouTube video for a little more information or clarity. If you have specific questions about, for example, pivot tables use Microsoft’s website or user forums to look up the information. Use good search terms to get your answers, if you don’t find it, try something new. Your tenacity will pay off. You’ll be able to find your answer more quickly next time and the hard work will help you remember the information for which you’ve looked. It’s easy to have someone tell you the answer but you’ll forget it more readily than if you need to work to get it.
  • Avoid side conversations about unrelated topics (work or otherwise) or make them short (your brain needs them). Appoint a task master if this is difficult for your group. Make sure this person is efficient and outspoken. They’ll need to watch the clock and firmly guide the group.

Phew! It’s probably not what you wanted to hear, but your best instructors are not going to know Excel to its core and your best users of Excel won’t be great teachers except in rare cases. I’d be more than happy to facilitate these sessions or just get you started by directing the group and being your initial task master but I think you ladies down there are more than capable of effectively doing this on your own.

Corin Richards

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