2013-11-4 – I am riding Amtrak’s Empire Builder across Wisconsin as the sun is setting. Today is the first full day after the switch from daylight savings time and I’m not yet used to twilight falling before five. I make this trip across Wisconsin in all seasons because my employer’s division headquarters is in La Crosse.
This is a busy trip for me. I work in the development of online professional development courses. I have three to discuss that are at critical points in their development. I have back-to-back meetings for three and a half days.
Some of our courses are just-the-facts-ma’am courses, but some are designed to affect social behavior. I’ve done the fact-based courses for many years. Behavior-based courses are new, in a way. It’s not that we haven’t covered topics like this before. It’s just that we are aiming at raising the level of student outcomes.
I’ve been interested in this type of learning for a long time, going back to when my boys were in grade school and beyond. It was a focus of a number of papers I wrote in my recent masters in education program.
The aim of behavior-based training is to get you to do something, to change your behavior. It’s not enough to get you to pass a test on the subject.
Most of our social behavior is learned without formal training. We learn to communicate and to interact with people in our families. When my boys were in school, I urged the school administration to adopt a program of problem solving and conflict resolution in an effort to combat bullying and support teamwork. I was is an influential position to put something like this in place, considering that I was president of the local school council.
But the reaction to the proposal was that we all learn things like these in our families and not from schools. The proposal died. Behavior education is definitely not popular at the elementary school level.
Not all organizations feel that way. Our armed forces do tons of behavior training. Many businesses do, too. Evidently, the skills we learn from our families only get us part of the way there.
The interesting question for me, then, is how best to accomplish this.
When I say that what we learn from our families is not enough, I’m not saying that this type of learning is worthless. Far from it! Being able to navigate a world of social relationships is not trivial. So it is worth thinking about (and reading about or conducting your own studies about) how this happens. One element of this type of unconscious training is repetition and feedback.
This becomes a challenge for a person designing explicit behavioral training. Small children are immersed in the social fabric and exposed to repetition and feedback their entire waking days. Few trainers of adults have this type of access to their students. Only some military basic training and some language immersion programs come close.
I have some ideas about this, but I’ll write about that some other time.