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PHIL HARDWICK — People learn in different ways so figure it out

PHIL HARDWICK

People learn in different ways. And no one way is best in every situation. Experts say there are basically three types of learners:
» Listening learners;
» Seeing learners; and
» Touch/experience learners

When it comes to training a team to do a certain task to learn something, the best method might not be showing them how to do something, but letting the group “figure it out.”  This is an example of learning by experience, but it can also be a way for businesses or organizations to solve a problem or create an opportunity. This subject is on my mind because of three recent cases in which I saw how offering a group the opportunity or challenge to solve a problem resulted in some impressive outcomes and made me more aware of how learning occurs.

Last year, I was an advisor to a team of graduate students who were assisting an entrepreneur in the early stages of start-up. The business owner was a baker who knew a lot about her products and how to market them. She specialized in “sweet” bakery items such as cakes and cookies. She also knew how to use social media successfully. Demand for her products reached the point where she moved from her home kitchen to a business incubator. What she didn’t know much about was city and state regulation of businesses such as hers. She knew she needed permits, but was not sure which ones, nor how to get them..

That was a perfect opportunity for the student team to assist her growing business.  One of the members of the team inquired of yours truly as to what permits were needed. Being in the middle of a busy day I didn’t have time to tell the student team where to find the information, so I just said, “You figure it out.” Several days later, the team did indeed figure it out. They helped the entrepreneur get her permits. The business is thriving. One of the team members told me later that having them figure it out was one of their best learning experiences. They had to deal with a bureaucratic process and learn about laws and regulations. It also reminded me that sometimes the best learning happens when the students do it themselves.

In the second example, a few weeks ago I was volunteering at my grandson’s elementary school. I happened to be in a fourth-grade math class when I observed the teacher use the same method when a student asked a question. The student, who was part of a team researching constellations, asked a question. Instead of answering the question, the teacher replied, “You’re part of a team that can give you the answer. Ask them to help you figure it out.”

The third example is from my son. I asked him if he had ever participated in a team that learned something on its own. Here is his reply:

“In 8th grade English class we were given an assignment at the beginning of the year for a book report. The assignment was open-ended. We could write an essay, interpretive short story, give a speech to the class, or get more creative. I was assigned to a small group with another student who was obsessed with big Hollywood movies. Winsor had the “story” know-how, while I had the technical skills and equipment to make video. Together we decided to recreate some of the scenes from the book we both read, but as a big Hollywood movie.

“While I had some previous experience in using cameras and computers, Winsor would come up with the staging, action, dialogue, and any special effects. We basically just copied what we saw in big movies and the ‘behind-the-scene’ outtakes they put at the end of DVDs.

“Our first video was completely butchered. But the process was so much more fun than writing an essay, and we scored a passing grade. Thankfully, our English teacher saw potential in our process and friendship, and encouraged us to make several other short videos throughout the semester. After a few of our own videos for class projects, we realized we had something going. We continued to make videos throughout middle school and high school, going on to win several regional film festivals and art competitions. Currently, I now work as a full time camera operator and video editor, while Winsor is a thriving film producer in Los Angeles.”

» PHIL HARDWICK is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist. His email address is phil@philhardwick.com.

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