Discerning the context in use

Wendy Wickham has furthered our thinking about "learner generated contexts" yesterday in: Processing and Context:

So the next questions in my mind are:
- How do you encourage GROUPS of people to develop individual context and process information in a way that is useful and personal? Especially within the limited time / high-pressure context of most "courses"
- How do you encourage context development asynchronously - without the give and take of real-time conversation?
- How can you intrinsically motivate another to process and develop context for the material at hand?

It occurred to me that learners bring a context with them to any opportunity to learn. It's obvious in a classroom setting where the "eager beavers" sit expectantly in the front row and the "hostile cynics" sit in the back room with arms folded across their chests. There are learners who appear to be there to "show off how smart they already are" and others who are "just looking before they buy". There are learners who seem overly-dependent on authority figures to tell them what to think. They are those who defy authority figures and look for ways to "stick it to the man".

If we can discern the learners' default context at the start, we can get where the learners are coming from and speak their minds. We can give them an experience of feeling understood from us before expecting them to be understanding with us. The learners will find intrinsic motivation to process the content in the atmosphere this empathy creates. They will process the experience in a way that remains congruent with the context they bring to the experience.

When we're dealing with the delivery of content, design of instruction and outcomes of the offering, we're inclined to consider the contexts I explored in Synching up with the learners. If we're less concerned with issues about how we come across, we can be more concerned with where the learners are at. Here are four other contexts I discern as I'm mentoring one on one:

  • Context of a painful past history: The entrepreneurs I mentor often sabotage their learning with unconscious urges to avoid another traumatic episode. They're assuming the new approach is familiar danger or a set up to get hurt again. They're experiencing the new possibility as pushing an old hot button.
  • Context of personal responsibility: When my proteges are on top of their game, they bring a context to the table that takes charge of learning. They own their experience, create their choices and make things happen to get results. They value the structure I provide to make better decisions without depending on me to "get it right for them".
  • Context of collegiality: When these entrepreneurs are secure enough to open to new realizations, they realize they cannot get to a new place alone. We join together in exploring an issue, compare our viewpoints and resolve our differences. The diversity of outlooks is essential to get out of opinionated insistence on "one right answer".
  • Context of freedom: When my proteges have processed our reciprocal learning deeply, they lose their sense of desperation. They bring "perpetual processing" to the table. Their calm minds stop assuming what has to be done or what's next. Their minds open to serendipity and flow. They get a sense of balance, direction and timing by reflecting on happenstance in their outer and inner worlds.

It seems to me that these contexts are not limited to one on one conversations. They can used asynchronously to get groups to process what they are learning. These contexts can be presented as different characters who have difficulty and success with the new content. They can be offered as "use cases" that require more than procedural compliance to realize full benefit from the approach. They can be incorporated into a change model where the next step in the journey will depend on where each learner is at.

Usually we want the learners to change contexts to be more open and reflective. I suspect we have to start with the learners' default contexts before changing to a more reflective context. If we structure a process for each learner to self-identify their context in use, they may demonstrate more intrinsic motivation to process the input. They may even come to realizations like:

  • how this applies to their job, relationships or effects on others
  • how this makes it easy to their change approach that was causing problems
  • how this makes sense of a pattern that has been troubling them
  • how this supports something they've already been aspiring to do

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