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Published on April 30, 2018

Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

I think you’ll agree with me when I say:

“We do not understand the difference between Information and Knowledge.”

As it turns out, most people assume they are the same thing, yet they are not. In fact, Information is required for Knowledge, but we are missing one key element… “Thinking”.

In this article, we will look into the process of learning information, and how we can really transfer it into learned knowledge.

What is transfer of learning

Professors at Cornell University and authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us that Knowledge = Information X Thinking. They are on a mission to introduce “Thinking” back into the classroom. Let me demonstrate one way in which they are doing this.

    Through the Cabrera’s Systems Thinking theory of Distinctions – Systems – Relationships – Perspectives (DSRP = “Thinking”), they show us how disparate subjects are interconnected and that DSRP increases our speed of knowing something. Essentially, it will increase our transfer.

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    Transfer is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. We can do this through a variety of ways, yet let’s examine two:

    1. Vertical Transfer (also known as Far Transfer). A child learns something in third grade and applies it in fourth grade (or even as an adult). This is the more difficult form of transfer as you are applying what you are learning to something completely different — like learning the game of Wei-chi (aka Go) and applying it to strategy.
    2. Horizontal Transfer (also known as Near Transfer). A student learns something in one subject (i.e. English) and transfers it to another (i.e. Math).

    The Cabrera’s illustrate the significance of the transfer of learning. In fact, if a student or person has a high transfer, he or she will then become their own best teacher. As mentioned in Thinking at Every Desk,

    “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

    Thinking about thinking

    When we understand the importance of transfer of learning and use DSRP to bring it about, we see phenomenal results in three important areas:[1]

    1. Increased Metacognition (thinking about thinking).
    2. Increased Deep Understanding (you learn the difference between analysis and synthesis).
    3. Increased Transfer (you are able to make vertical and horizontal connections).

      Let’s examine some practical approaches to use in the discovery of these hidden ideas:

      Break Apart + Put Back Together = Learning

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        My absolute favorite transfer of learning technique is one outlined by the Cabrera’s in Systems Thinking Made Simple:New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems. The technique is the “Parts Lessons Firetruck” and is a fun exercise to use with your children.

        Using this technique with my 3-year old daughter, I had the opportunity to demonstrate the Systems Rule (or part-whole) lesson with her by building a cardboard firetruck. By examining the firetruck through part-whole, my daughter was able to identify more parts of the truck than before.

        Applying what you already know

        Vertical or Far Transfer is the most critical. I recommend the following quick video published by Education Week for a deeper understanding of transfer of learning:

        Let’s take a quick look at the 5 strategies outline in the video for applying transfer of learning:

        • Explicit teaching. Using and applying what you are learning every day (an argumentative essay leads to persuading your boss to give you a raise).
        • Group learning. The more you are involved with a group in a classroom, the more likely you will be able to learn in a group while in the workforce.
        • Reflection. If taking notes in a class helps you learn a concept, then taking notes in other areas (i.e. class or work) will help you learn there as well.
        • Use analogies and metaphors. Analogies and metaphors take what you already know and apply it to a new situation to understand it better.
        • Generalizing. Push yourself to generalize broader principles from specific situations. If you study one thing and uncover elements needed to create something, use the same approach and discover key elements for another.

        How to apply transfer of learning (Step-by-step guide)

        You might be wondering, how can I apply this?

        It’s actually quite simple:

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        Step 1. Use previous knowledge

        Let’s say you previously learned how to play the game Wei-chi (aka Go). Using your understanding of the game, you can apply those skills in another context.

        Step 2. Applying previous knowledge to a new context (contexts that appear alien to one another)

        If you are in a position where you must understand the strategy of another country (for example: China), you could use your previous knowledge (the game of Wei-chi).

        Step 3. Strengthening connections

        The game of Wei-chi and understanding the strategy of China are two highly abstract (yet identical) concepts. As you dive deep into your learning process (understanding of China), you will find your understanding of Wei-chi will assist you in your conscious search for new connections.

        Step 4. Document and reflect on new connections

        Make sure to document your ideas and connections throughout the transfer of learning process. Reflect throughout the process and think (cognition) about your thinking (metacognition). This will improve your ability to abstract profound principles underlying the new idea being examined.

        Hidden connections between ideas

        Lastly, let me demonstrate how I use transfer of learning everyday.

        As an author of books on foster care and a former foster child myself, my mind is always coming up with ways to fix the foster care system. One of the things I am currently researching is how to build a more effective and efficient communication network to quickly help a child who is being abused.

        Due to my understanding of transfer of learning, I was able to immediately grasp the importance of uncovering the link between two completely different ideas.

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          First, I came across an article on asknature.org while searching for ways termites and ants communicate. In an article titled Collaborating for Group Decisions, I noticed two key sentences:

          • The researchers will develop ad hoc communication networks to spread critical information among first responders, similar to how a virus spreads.
          • Models of collaboration based on the study of ants and bees may be useful in understanding the basic principles and best practices when developing strategies to coordinate knowledge sharing in chaotic social settings.

          The key elements I connected were: how a virus spreads and knowledge sharing. Thus, I am working on a strategy in foster care to collaborate (and communicate) and spread knowledge like a virus (specifically Influenza A). This led me to an analysis of two key concepts:

          1. I had to analyze (break apart) the structure of the Influenza Virus and Network Theory (I chose to focus on Small World and Decentralized Networks).
          2. I then had to synthesize (put them back together as a new whole) and form my idea on how to improve communication and spread knowledge like a virus in the foster care system.

          It is only through the discovery of hidden connections between ideas and by introducing “Thinking” back into the equation that we can gain actual Knowledge. A special thanks to Derek and Laura Cabrera for introducing me to DSRP!

          I will leave you with one last quote,

          “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose!” – Dr. Seuss

          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

          Reference

          [1] Derek and Laura Cabrera: Thinking at Every Desk

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          Last Updated on March 15, 2019

          How to Be a Leader Who Is Inspiring and Influential

          How to Be a Leader Who Is Inspiring and Influential

          When I began managing people 15 years ago, I thought having a fancy title was synonymous with influence. Over time, I learned that power is conferred based on likeability, authenticity, courage, relationships and consistent behavior. When leaders cultivate these attributes, they earn power, which really means influence.

          Understanding influence is essential to professional growth, and companies rise and fall based on the quality of their leadership.

          In this article, we will look into the essentials of effective leadership and how to be a leader who is inspiring and influential.

          What Makes a Leader Fail?

          A host of factors influence a leader’s ability to succeed. To the extent that leaders fail to outline a compelling vision and strategy, they risk losing the trust and confidence of their teams. Employees want to know where a company is going and the strategy for how they will get there. Having this information enables employees to feel safe, and it allows them to see mistakes as part of the learning journey versus as fatal occurrences.

          If employees and customers do not believe a company’s leadership is authentic and inspiring, they may disengage, or they may be less inclined to offer constructive criticism that can help a company innovate or help a leader improve.

          And it is not just the leadership at the top that matters. Middle managers play a distinct role in guiding teams. Depending on the company’s size, employees may have more access to mid-level managers than they do members of the C-suite, meaning their supervisors and managers have greater influence on the employee and the customer experience.

          What Is Effective Leadership?

          Effective leadership is inspiring, and it is influential. Cultivating inspiring and influential leaders requires building relationships across the company.

          Leaders must be connected to both the teams they lead as well as to their own colleagues and managers. This is key as titles do not make a person a leader, nor do they automatically confer influence. These are earned through trusting relationships. This explains why some leaders can get more out of their teams than others and why some leaders experience soaring profits and engagement while others sizzle out.

          Eric Garton said in an April 25, 2017, Harvard Business Review article:[1]

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          “… inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control.”

          How to Be an Inspiring and Influential Leader

          To be an inspiring and influential leader requires:

          1. Courage

          The late poet Maya Angelou once said,

          “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

          Courage is required in the workplace when implementing new strategies, especially when they go against professional norms.

          For instance, I heard Lisa TerKeurst, bestselling author and founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries, explain her decision to move away from her company’s magazine. While the organization had long had a magazine, she saw a future where it didn’t exist.

          In order to make the switch, she risked angering her team members and customers. She took a chance, and what started out as a monthly newsletter, has grown into a multi-dimensional organization boasting half a million followers. Had Lisa not found the courage to change the direction of her organization, they undoubtedly would not have been able to experience such exponential growth.

          It also takes courage to give and receive feedback. When leaders see employees who are not living into the company’s mission or who are engaging in behavior that may undermine their long-term success, one must risk temporary angst and speak candidly with the colleague in question.

          Similarly, it takes courage to hear constructive criticism and try to change. In business, as in life, courage is necessary for being an inspiring and influential leader.

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          2. A Commitment to Face Your Internal Demons.

          If you feel great about yourself, enter a leadership position. You are likely to be triggered in ways you didn’t think possible. You are also likely to receive feedback that may leave you second-guessing yourself and your leadership skills.

          The truth about leading others is that you get to a point where you realize that it is difficult to take people to places where you yourself haven’t gone.

          To be an influential and inspiring leader, you have to face your own demons and vow to continually improve. Influential leaders take their personal evolution serious, and they invest in coaching, therapy and mindfulness to ensure that their personal struggles do not overshadow their professional development.

          3. A Willingness to Accept Feedback

          Inspiring and influential leaders are not afraid to accept feedback. In fact, they actively solicit it. They understand that everyone in their life has a lesson to teach them, and they are willing to accept it.

          Inspirational leaders understand that feedback is neither good nor bad but rather an offering that is critical to growth. Even when it hurts or is an affront to the ego, influential leaders understand that feedback is critical to their ability to lead.

          4. Likability

          Some people will argue that leaders need not worry about being liked but should instead focus on being respected. I disagree. Both are important.

          When team members like their boss and believe their boss likes them, they are more likely to go the extra mile to fulfill departmental or organizational goals. Likable leaders are moved to the front of the line when it comes to being influential.

          Relatedly, when colleagues feel management dislikes them, they experience internal stress and can spend unnecessary time focusing on the source of their manager’s discontent versus the work they have been hired to do.

          So, likability is important for both the leader and the people she leads.

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          5. Vulnerability

          Vulnerability is critical for being an inspiring leader. People want the truth. They admire leaders who can occasionally demonstrate vulnerability. It promotes deeper relationships and inspires trust.

          When leaders can showcase vulnerability appropriately, they destroy the illusion that one must be perfect to be a leader. They also demonstrate that vulnerability is not a dirty word; they too can be vulnerable and ask for a helping hand when necessary.

          6. Authenticity

          Authenticity is about living up to one’s stated values in public and behind closed doors.

          Influential leaders are authentic. They set to live out their values and use those values to guide their decisions. The interesting thing about leadership is that people are not looking for perfect leaders. They are, in part, looking for leaders who are authentic.

          7. A True Understanding of Inspiration

          Effective leaders are inspirational. They understand the power of words and deeds and use both strategically.

          Inspiring leaders appropriately use stories and narratives to enable the teams around them to see common situations in an entirely new light.

          Inspirational leaders also showcase grit and triumph while convincing the people around them that success and victory are attainable.

          Finally, inspiring leaders encourage the teams they lead to tap into their own genius. They convince others that genius is not reserved for a select few but that most people have it in them.

          As explained in the article True Leadership: What Separates a Leader from a Boss:

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          “A leader creates visions and motivates team members to work together towards the same goal.”

          8. An Ability to See the Humanity in Others

          Inspiring and influential leaders see the humanity in others. Rather than treating their teams as mere tools to accomplish organizational goals, they believe the people around them are unique beings with inherent value.

          This means knowing when to pause to address personal challenges and dispelling with the myth that the personal is separate from the professional.

          9. A Passion for Continual Learning

          Inspiring and influential leaders are committed to continual learning. They invest in their own development and take responsibility for their professional growth.

          These leaders understand that like a college campus, the workplace is a laboratory for learning. They believe that they can learn from multiple generations in the workplace as well as from people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

          Influential leaders proactively seek out opportunities for learning.

          The Bottom Line

          No one said leadership was easy, but it is also a joy. Influencing others to action and positively impacting the lives of others is a reward unto itself.

          Since leadership abounds, there is an abundance of resources to help you grow into the type of leader who inspires and influences others.

          More Resources About Effective Leadership

          Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com

          Reference

          [1] Harvard Business Review: How to Be an Inspiring Leader

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