Nuts and Bolts: Learning from Your Own Work

I’ve written about reflective practice before, and recently had the opportunity to revisit strategies for that. Last month I spoke at London’s Learning Technologies conference; at the request of organizer Donald Taylor I offered up a presentation that integrated ideas around showing your work and learning from your own work, with ways that can support self-directed learning.

1. Talk about it

Explaining your work—talking through a challenge or rationale with another person—can help you understand it better, perhaps informing your future work. Author Pam Houston recently tweeted regarding an interview about her new book, Deep Creek, “I learned more about my own book as we talked.”

A quick exercise: Doctoral students are often exhorted to “practice explaining your dissertation topic until your grandma can understand it.” Can you do that with your job, a task, or a decision? It can help you get focus and clarity. What would you tell your five-year-old about the biggest, or oddest, problem of your day? Try it and see whether there’s something you can learn from framing it that way.

2. Get a witness

What would someone take away from watching you work? I offer a train-the-trainer course that includes work on examining one’s own facilitation style—an activity that begins with a graphic recorder creating a facilitation map (Figure 1) as I offer a 45-minute, active lecture-style session on using PowerPoint and other visuals effectively. (Briefly: The computer is at top left and the chart stand at top right. I am the X moving around the room. Arrows indicate conversation between me and participants. Dotted lines indicate participants talking to one another. Hash marks show the number of times I stated something and the number of times I asked something.) Teaching the class to decipher the map was not only an opportunity to examine what made for active lecture, but let me see areas of my own facilitation skills that were good (I am not married to the computer; I balanced telling and asking, leaning more heavily toward asking), and areas of concern (what happened with Georgia?) I find doing this from time to time helps me sharpen the saw.

Facilitation map from classroom training session

Figure 1: Facilitation map from classroom training session

3. Save it for future reference

When you solve a problem, stopping to reflect by taking a photo, making a sketch, or saving a note can help it stick for next time you need it. I was struggling with the mountain of literature pieces for the eLearning Guild research report on learning styles when I remembered using this trick in grad school to organize the literature review chapter of my dissertation. It’s a grid that offers a quick overview of author/year, main thesis, methodology, findings, and notes about something particularly interesting (Figure 2).

Grid format for organizing literature

Figure 2: Grid format for organizing literature

4. Embrace Murphy’s Law of publishing anything, anywhere

Some hesitate to share work until it is in a final, perfect state, but sharing it might help you get it to that state. In a recent Facebook post (Figure 3) cartoonist Mary Engelbreit wrote, “It’s interesting to me that whenever I post a drawing I’m working on on Facebook or Instagram, I immediately see things that need to be fixed! I can’t see it before I post, for some reason, but it’s turned out to be a helpful tool.”

Cartoonist Mary Engelbreit reflects on the value of making work public

Figure 3. Cartoonist Mary Engelbreit reflects on the value of making work public

5. Take a breath

Before moving on to the next thing, just take a moment and ask yourself whether there’s something to be learned from what you just did. Consider:

• What did I do well?

• How closely did expectations match reality?

• If I did this again, what would I do differently?

• What surprised me? Shortcuts, problems, people, help?

• If this exposed any lack of knowledge or skill, how can I correct that?

• What did I learn from this?

Building quick reflection into your workflow will help you strengthen your future practice. And, please, share it when you can. Perhaps your experience can help make someone else’s challenges a bit easier.

Want to talk more? Catch Jane in person at the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions Conference in Orlando, March 26-28.

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