Open Future NZ "Both Individuals and companies are strangled by learning disability"
Peter Senge

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Understanding Our Learning Disabilities

Without going to Peter Senge's own work, let me answer this problem in my own way.


We have a learning disability because we've been taught to rely on books and teachers and various kinds of experts to give us ready-made answers to our questions. Schools teach that there are "right answers" and that there are special people who know those answers.

Schools also teach you to ask the sort of question that is easy to answer. What was the date? Who was the scientist that ...? How do we classify trees in the forest? And today schools teach skills and techniques that are intended to make people more employable. Schools train people to be square pegs for square holes. Schools don't encourage independent learning.

Poor Record Keeping

It's important to maintain a written record of what's interesting and is currently occupying your thoughts. It's a simple note making process, but it's seldom done. W Edwards Deming would add, that when we notice a change or a problem that interests us, we should find a way to count it, or to measure it or to quantify it in some way. For instance the local creek floods. How do you record that so that in 10 years time that's a useful record?

Of course most people have no training in statistical methods, so it's unlikely that most observers will bother to count and measure in a useful way.

A presentation by Jay Cross on informal learning at the Informatology Learning & Development Forum in London, November 16, 2006

Communities of Practice

Communities of practice support informal learning, which is the most effective way to help your experienced staff to learn.

Most firms devote too much money to formal training, and fail to achieve their objectives.  Communities of practice can be encouraged by using tools like wiki or social networks or just a simple couch, some coffee and time to talk.
Jay Cross - Communities of Practice (9 min)

Lack of Social Support

Even if we know what we should do, sometimes it's socially painful to comply. For instance, if you want to stop smoking, but other family members or friends smoke.  There is social permission to keep on smoking.  Similar social rules apply to diet and exercise.  If others around you approve, and perhaps lead by example, it's much easier for you to follow that lead.

What we already "know"

The biggest barrier to learning anything is prior knowledge. Prior knowledge that "this topic isn't important" would be a prime candidate. But prior knowledge that "I already know" is also important. In fact researchers have often found that the solution to a problem was delayed for long periods because of "knowledge" that proved to be wrong.

Because some of what we know is "wrong", even when you know the "right answer", the "wrong answer" might keep popping up. Here's a funny example. I used to live in Invercargill. I've been in Christchurch for 18 years. Sometimes in my speech, when referring to Christchurch, I say Invercargill. It's not that I don't know, it's just a little brain trick, I play on myself.

Unlearning is as important as learning for adults. If we can't unlearn some of our old habits, we can't change.

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