We're going to have great difficulty creating actionable content when we suffer from "role fixity". When we're thinking "I'm just doing my job", we're missing out on the playing all the parts where actionable content comes naturally to our minds and conversations. Marshal McLuhan suggested that we get hung up on jobs because printing presses do printing jobs and don't change roles like human labor before mechanization. We're embracing a factory mentality that delivers content and leaves it up to the customer to use it somehow. The labor involved in writing, editing, illustrating and publishing seems like all the activity we can handle. We are not limiting ourselves to providing content. We're doing our best with the full plate we've got in front of us. We cannot follow up with each receiver of the content to see that they put it to good use. That's not in our job description.
When we're looking after others' learning, there are many roles we can play. The more fluid we become in changing roles, the better we'll be at providing actionable content. If we think of ourselves as avatars in a game, we're in great shape to face this challenge. Here are four roles that capture our range of contributions I have in mind when others are learning from us.
- When we're playing the part of a content provider, our role is to see that others are well informed. We make our message clear and easy to understand. We organize the material to make it easy to follow. We follow logical progressions to develop complex arguments in stages. What people do with the content we've provided is none of our business. We crank it out and hope they do something with it. If we're lucky, we'll encounter some reflective practitioners who chewed on what we provided and came up with ways to challenge themselves. More likely, we'll endure run-ins with couch potatoes who want to be told what to think, say and do by authority figures who wield power over them.
- When we're playing the part of an activity director, we're setting others up to learn by what they do. We work on making it fun to learn, challenging to explore and practical in its applications. The learners practice what they've been taught, work with the ideas to get some result or play around with different possibilities to realize the consequences of each. Activities run the gamut from discussion groups, projects, lab work, field trips, remedial exercises and simulations. We're active keeping everyone on track and productive rather than presenting lots more content. We facilitate, coach, nurture and guide from the side. We take a very literal approach to providing actionable content and simply give others things to act upon.
- When we play the part of a personal tutor, mentor or coach, we're engaging learners one-on-one. We rely on the dialogue between us to uncover misunderstandings, to talk through her/his confusion and to sort out the individual's line of reasoning. We ask a lot of questions, do a lot of listening and learn a lot about each person's ways of thinking. The ways we contribute makes it clear in others' minds what to do next, do differently or do for the first time that had not occurred to them on their own. The content provided seems actionable because it's individualized and focused on personal change.
- When we play the part of the perpetual beginner, everything we offer is actionable. We provide an example of someone who is still learning and on equal footing with other learner's. We're acting as if questions continually drive our learning rather than wanting to appear like an expert or authority. We provide our current understanding as a hypothesis that is subject to further explorations and revisions. We act as if the act of learning is ongoing, fulfilling and self-perpetuating. It becomes obvious to others how to act on what we say, how we conduct our learning and what questions we're using to further our own understanding.