It Works for the Corporate World Too!


Last week we talked about the learner always being “right,” and we really were discussing K12 classrooms.  But it’s so important to remember that this applies to any learning situation.

I talked to my friend, Kevin Munson, Ph.D., who is the Chief Learning Officer at Sears Holding Corporation.  Kevin and I were graduate students together, so we’ve known each other a long time.  I asked him to share his perspective on this idea of the learner always being “right.”

“When learners aren’t performing, we can’t always assume that lack of training is the only root cause,” Kevin said.  “We have to look at it from their point of view, including whether they are personally motivated to engage in the right behaviors, whether they have social systems around them that are supportive, and whether the work environment around them is set up to provide the right motivation and structure that will enable the performer.”

I think Kevin makes a great point.  On Friday we talked about how we can look at changing our instruction if it’s not producing the learner performance we expected.  But as Kevin rightly points out, the instruction isn’t the only variable that may be impacting performance.  We may have successfully taught a learner, but the performance may still not be occurring.

I like to make a distinction between what I call “can’t do” and “won’t do” performances.  “Can’t” do performance is that for which the learner does not have the skills and further (or better) instruction is needed.  “Won’t do” performance if that for which the learner has demonstrated the skills, but still isn’t doing the work, job, task, etc.

So if you know that your learner, whether at home or school, has mastered a performance (because he or she has demonstrated it for you), but it’s still not happening…follow Kevin’s advice!  The learner is still right!

Please share…have you encountered this in your teaching or training?  And how did you approach it?

You can follow Kevin Munson on twitter: @kevinjmunson

About karen mahon

i am a behavior and learning scientist. i hold an ed.d. in educational psychology and am trained as an instructional designer. i have spent more than 15 years working in education and instructional software design.
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11 Responses to It Works for the Corporate World Too!

  1. Mair says:

    Agreed! Unfortunately, many employers believe that a paycheck is the only necessary motivation. I really love Kevin’s quote and could not agree more that those variables are so important in keeping anyone engaged in their work, whether that be in the classroom or a work environment.

    I also love the distinction between “can’t” and “won’t” do performance. We often fail to recognize, in my opinion, that there are many behaviors in which we “won’t” engage, though we know them to be beneficial to us (e.g., working out, meditating, eating healthfully, etc.) and we have the capacity to perform, yet somehow we justify them differently than when someone else “won’t” engage in behavior that we think they ought to…

    • karen mahon says:

      Mair, I think we all would agree that the paycheck is pretty important…but many of us have (or know someone who has) left a well-paying job. What are some of the other things that you’ve found are critical to keeping employees motivated on the job? And conversely, what are some of the mythologies around what “should” keep them motivated?

  2. Whether the instruction is being delivered in a classroom setting or a corporate setting, the learner is still the learner. An effective trainer/educator/facilitator reads the audience and can gauge the general level of success of the lesson. Karen, as you point out, and as Kevin reiterates, — an effective trainer/teacher also examines his/her teaching methods,style, content before blaming the learner for a failed learning experience.

  3. Missy says:

    This is one of my biggest frustrations as a teacher-educator. My students demonstrate mastery on particular skills in class and on projects. A few months later they call:
    Teacher: can you help me with a student who is acting out?
    Me: Yep. Bring your data by the office and we’ll talk.
    “crickets”
    Me: What’s the first thing you should do when you have a student acting out and basic support isn’t working?
    Teacher: FBA
    Me: I’ll send you FBA observation forms.
    Teacher: Oh, I still have the ones you gave us. Just haven’t used them.
    Me: (slams head on desk)

    There is so much disconnect between learning and application.

    • karen mahon says:

      Missy, isn’t it fascinating? The interesting thing about training teachers on this, in particular, is that often their class projects require them taking data in the classroom. But once the requirement is gone…poof! Data collection is difficult and time consuming! What are some methods that you’ve found make the job easier for teachers who have classes of 25-30 students?

  4. Missy says:

    1. Only take data that will be meaningful.
    2. Schedule. Instead of trying to collect data all day, pick times when the behavior is most prevalent.
    3. Make it simple. No complicated data-catchers.
    4. Bring someone else in to help.

    I work through ways to accomplish all of this while they’re my captive audience.

    I’m glad you brought up this topic. I need a research agenda and I think this is going to be it. Teacher education is pretty useless if they don’t apply what they’ve learned.

    • karen mahon says:

      I think this would be a great topic for research. It would be interesting to get a community of teachers online to participate in applying some of your findings. Sort of a beta test.

      My experience is that the problem isn’t that teachers disagree with taking data, but that they just haven’t found a way to incorporate it easily with their daily practice. When your students collect data as part of their course requirements do they find the collection easy? It seems that there must be some contingency that is preventing the application. Is the data collection aversive because it’s inconvenient? Is having good data aversive because then something needs to be done with those data? Or is having the data not reinforcing for some other reason?

      Any thoughts?

  5. Missy says:

    My thought so far is to look at FBA. If you do it right, the intervention practically writes itself. And there is a observational data collection component, if you do it right. Also thinking that I should do a FBA of sorts to identify contingencies (or lack of) that support avoidance in those who don’t use FBA, and contingencies that support teachers who do use it. And of course from there, changing contingencies.
    So instead of catching up on grading during my spring break, I’m thinking of a plan of attack 🙂

  6. fran says:

    Karen and Missy – fun to “hear” your back and forth scientific jargon. After 38 successful years teaching students and teachers, I want to suggest that teachers have little time to collect data on forms. Good teachers do collect data automatically and they know that their clients do not care how much they know until they know how much they care. Leaving out the personal connection will result in failure. Once the connection is made, and the motivating currency is determined, teaching and discipline become easy – IF the teacher remembers readiness is of prime importance and gauges what she presents to fit the learning level of the student. As you said initially, the student is always right. And as my father who went to the School of Hard Knocks told me – if the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught. The more years I had in education, the more I agreed with him.

    • karen mahon says:

      I couldn’t agree more that teachers don’t have time to take pencil-and-paper data in the classroom. I think that is one of the big advantages of the current 1-to-1 computer movement and the technology-based student response systems (which I will be commenting on more extensively in an upcoming blog post).

      When you say that “good teachers do collect data automatically,” Fran, do you mean intuitively? I think in some cases that might be true. Unfortunately, I think that is very difficult to track by memory in a class of 25 or 30 students…we have seen research studies that show that teacher reports of student capability and the performance data of those students often do not correspond, in spite of teachers’ best efforts.

      For me, the emphasis on data collection does not diminish the personal connection. Quite the opposite. The availability of data allows teachers to adjust instruction to individual students such that each student has the opportunity to achieve more success…thus providing more opportunities for the teacher to cheer and celebrate with the student!

      Thanks for your input…I imagine that today’s classrooms, with ipads, interactive whiteboards, and even cellphones used in instruction, look very different when compared with your earliest classes. What were some of the methods you used to increase student interactions with the material? And how DID you keep track of student performance data “in your head?”

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