Why you should unplug the GPS

(c) websteria

Why you should unplug the GPS

Some of my favorite cross-discipline areas of reading in learning to be a stronger manager are learning and design. Imagine my joy to find a book called Design For How People Learn on a trip to my one of my favorite places on earth – Swipe Books in Toronto.   The book is about instructional design and is a great introduction to the topic for newbies like me.

I was reviewing the chapter on “Design for Knowledge” recently and came across a really clear explanation of why we should be providing our teams with high level feedback over specific, detailed notes most of the time.

In the book, Julie Dirksen explains that if we are trying to design for knowledge, we shoot ourselves in the foot by providing detailed step-by-step instructions.  Funny thing is, we will get to our destination, so it’ll look like success on some level.  But, as she articulates perfectly, if all you have is line-by-line instructions on how to do something, but no big picture of what you are trying to do, what happens when a step is missing or you have to take a detour for some reason? How easy will it be to get back on the path on your own?

With the GPS versus map logic, by the time you have arrived at the destination with a GPS, you aren’t likely to have a solid idea of the city as a whole.  The analogy in our work world is that you may be missing the big picture of what we are trying to do and why and how we might do it even if you have technically followed the steps given to improve a product.

Dirksen goes on to explain a key concept: that you need a bit of friction to create learning – this means that you have to let people engage with material and figure things out on their own for retention instead of GPS mapping their way to the finish line on things.

In our world, this applies to the front end and the back end of our work. At its worst, we pre-analyze work to be delegated complete with a detailed map of how to get the job done (who to speak to, which stat to pull from where etc.).  By the same token, feedback after reviews of written work can be presented in incredibly detailed fashion that essentially completely GPS maps how to re-work a document.  This is sometimes necessary – especially when you are in a crisis or severely time-limited situation or you have a brand new employee.  That having been said, this should be the exception not the rule if you want learning to occur.

Bottom line, Dirken argues that we need to give learners less information not more to let them guide their own learning and problem solving and to ultimately cope with variations.  The easier we make the path to the destination, the less learning occurs.


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