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Learning is an individual cognitive activity with a social dimension. One learns basically from other people. The Greek philosophers and scientists used social interaction for the advancement of science (next to obervation). Today learning is more than ever integrated in social behaviour, but it’s still an individual process. Nevertheless I see that traditional training methods that focus on collective efficiency still prevail: you put a trainer in the room with a group of people and learning will take place.
I am not sure about that learning part. I am quite sure that teaching will take place in a traditional setting. Looking at the results of traditional training methods, I cannot be enthusiastic. They are in no way a guarantee for success. Moreover, in this approach too much of the responsibility resides with the trainer, and not enough with the participant.
Learning takes place when people see the relevance (they are aware that they need to learn) and take the responsibility for the learning process. These are very individual issues. And even when the former condition is fullfilled, there will be no learning without the latter.
Take the example of the person who wants to improve his personal organisation (priority-setting, time management, …). He or she can be aware that he needs to change certain habits and learn new ways of organizing his or her work, and may decide start a training on time management or priority-setting. This kind of mechanical approach to learning is very often doomed for failure. Why is that ?
The most important question to ask is what that person wants to achieve and what the importance of learning a particular skill is to him or her. Challenging the person that wants to learn is crucial to deepen and stabilize the target setting. The awareness must be fully developed if it is to be a driver of the learning process. Some classical training approaches integrate an intake interview to clarify objectives and expectations. However, people are hardly challenged in their beliefs and convictions. Intake interviews are not seldom sales talks, or formal introductions. And this is understandable because there is no commercial intrest in not admitting a paying participant. Only the strongest trainers will refuse people to participate when they see a mismatch between the participant’s objectives and the training approach.
As learning is an individual process triggered by individual experiences and needs, an individual approach is required. There is nothing worse than sitting in a classroom and being taught what the teacher thinks might be the best answer to the combined learning needs of a group of people. This leads to averages and mediocrity. Therefore, techniques that stimulate individual learning are the future. And coaching is in many circumstances the best way to start.
Coaching focusses on creating awareness and accountability. During a coaching process a lot of attention is given to target-setting. It is the coachee who is responsible for the learning process itself. The coach cannot prescribe the path to follow but can only help the coachee to define/find it. Which actions a person will undertake – including traditional training – depends fully on how the coachee approaches the developmental question at hand and what his or her options are. Therefore every coaching process will be as unique as the coachee and his/her question. And that is why coaching is one of the most powerful ways of developing people.
More on coaching : Coaching: it’s not about the horse

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

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