Desirable Learning Conditions for Development & Creativity
One of the most important factors with learning is the conditions of learning, or more specifically the learning environment.
I remember watching a sports star talking about being in a learning environment in an interview. My eyes were telling me this seemed off, the exact same issues seemed to be occurring for a few years. I felt he was rehashing a phrase that didn't have a lot of substance.
Not long after, when losing a big game I noticed one of the management team essentially saying "we worked on it, the players didn't carry it out". Alarm bells always ring with this. Blaming the players would not indicate a learning environment, not my understanding of it at least. Another member of management later bemoaned "all the mistakes we made".
In time I would find the Manager didn't do video reviews, didn't feel the need. So, a lack of reflective practice.
This definitely was not a learning environment. You could say it was the opposite. No reflection, a culture of blame, over-emphasis on mistakes, not seeing mistakes as learning tools, and more.
You can tell me its a swan, but if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...its a fucking duck.
People listen, and even if it's not that obvious or we are not totally tuned in we can feel something is off. We may not totally understand what the Manager or Performance Coach is talking about when saying "learning environment," but when it's clearly not and we are not learning, then anyone is going to cop that, and it does affect motivation.
Deep down you feel short sold. You may even subconsciously merge into "this guy is a bluffer" mentality. No matter how fair that is. Once you are there with a team or in a workplace it's all over. It may not be that incredibly obvious, but it is.
I worked in an Aussie Rules club once, it was just below Elite, semi Pro/Pro kinda level. We made a belter of a start. Pre Season was great, won 5/6 of the opening games and play offs were becoming a possibility for the 1st time in 25 years.
The alickadoos were getting shifty. As the strength coach I was getting these strange, clearly very wealthy, men coming up slapping me on the back (literally) saying how great a job I was doing. As it was a decent level there was media cover, so I would read the odd article or watch tv interviews around our games.
Took no notice of much of it for a while, the usual boring stuff we all get these days. Then we lost a game, something about the Head Coaches' Interview threw me...I couldn't re-watch at the time, but it alerted me. The next loss at Game 7 was a poor loss, but I was looking out for reaction. And it hit me. He changed from "We" to "the boys" depending on whether we won or lost.
We won (Me, the great coach in charge). They lost (The players didn't listen to me, the great coach).
No learning there. No humility there. No Reflection there. No team there.
Although there was learning for me. Watch your language around such things when talking to or about players. If I copped that surely out of a squad of 50 players, others did too. In the following weeks he would lay it on the fitness and medical team - "not fit enough", "should have been allowed to play" and so on. Leadership is not easy, it takes practice. But it also takes humility.
As a very smart sounding Greek man once said "power doesn't corrupt, it reveals".
What has this got to do with Learning?
A lot - A psychologically safe place might be a newish term. Some may even see it as "some new bull shit makey uppy term". That can sometimes be my reaction also to a term like this when I hear it at first. But this one has real value, in work, school, and in sport.
It's been around since the early 2000's when a Occupational Psychologist called Amy Edmonson coined the phrase and described it as this "a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes". It is seen as one of the big reasons for the success of Google's workplace atmosphere and development.
Do you feel like that at work or at training? Do you act like this, without the fancy term, as it is as a leader? Because there is so much value in this approach for everyone.
The learners, the people we want to help get better, learn better and will be more creative when they feel they are allowed to explore and mistakes are allowed.
Let's say you meet an athlete or an employee or student that might be a little shy, comes from a more autocratic background, or is low in confidence. Then we can have our psychologically safe place but we also may need another underpinning supportive approach. We may need to frame and outline the plan first. The player might be looking for guidance, but one clever way to bring them from that place to a more creative and autonomous position is to co-create.
Build the plan in tandem with them. It might be very simple things like having 80% of the program or job planned, but just getting their input on a few simple aspects. This will be a starting point to start building trust and afford them the opportunity to build confidence.
Co-creation can start off slow. When I work with coaches and clubs to support them with S&C or game design, I take a co-creation approach. This is slow and cumbersome at the start. Many expect me to give them games or solutions. However, if I give them everything they want to just slot into their training sessions there will be limited learning and I am of limited value.
While there is a struggle at the start, the struggle is always worth it. But I try to co-create. I will use what the coaches already have, the games they use or have stolen from somewhere and tack these to the objectives they want from their sessions and we will create together. This is undoubtedly a better long term approach.
As we discussed last week, learning happens best when layered onto something we already know. So if the coaches have been using a game, they will have observed the reactions to this by their players. I can then layer on constraints, progressions, and regressions to help them broaden their design knowledge.
This is laying the foundation for a psychologically safe place, and when we reach that, creativity and confidence grows.
So that's it for this week, next week we will discuss the Optimal Learning Theory. A really nice piece of work that will in particular help sports coaches allow for deeper learning with their players.
Have a great week.