Storytime, ft. Ada, 6
Earlier this year, my 6-year-old daughter, Ada, had Career Day at school, and they were instructed to dress up as their dream job. I was really interested in what she would choose, for two reasons: First, selfishly, I needed to know how much crafting I would have to do on this costume. Second, I was genuinely eager to know what she thought about doing one day when she was grown up.
It was easier than I had expected for her to settle on something she was interested in – a career as an artist. Then, the night before Career Day, she decided she wanted to be a ballerina. I was less than impressed, not least because I was really proud of the costume I had put together.
Now, Ada had taken ballet classes at the beginning of the year and then begged to stop going. The main problem was that she hated that all her friends were in the other class without her. But attending a total of four ballet classes (and then stopping because you don’t like being told what steps to do) doesn’t count as having “done ballet”. Ultimately, the lesson at the end of the conversation (read: argument) was that you have to work hard and consistently at something to make it your career.
It’s ok, we resolved it and went with the original idea. And she looked amazing.
But it got me thinking: The world Ada lives in is so different from when I was her age. My job description didn’t exist yet; what we do at Curious Lion wasn’t a thing. What will the future look like when she’s 30? I am preparing my child for a world of unknowns. So how can I go about making sure she’s ready for the world – and that the world is ready for her?
What do you want to do?
Instead of asking Ada what she wants to be one day, I asked her what she wants to do. She will always be herself, it’s what she does with it that matters. She has a universe of potential within her, the work will be in seeking environments and opportunities to tap into it. But learning can be hard, the prospect of failure is scary, and the world is moving at an increasingly rapid pace. Our job right now is to make sure we’re cultivating spaces and nurturing mindsets that make it possible, safe, and exciting to tap into that potential.
As a learning architect, a large part of what I do every day is meaning-making, taking concepts and information and turning them into consumable, usable learning material, and creating those environments I just mentioned. For years, I’ve worked at developing learning materials, mainly for corporates, creating all manner of learning programs. It’s given me a unique insight into what many people view as valuable knowledge and skills – and it usually has to do with training you to do your 9-5 better. To make you more successful.
What I do and how I do it aims to transform this notion but more on that in a bit.
Now, my problem is not so much with training itself, but let’s agree to do away with the term “training”. “Upskilling” can go, too. Let’s reframe it to “learning experiences” or “development”. Here’s why: we’re talking about people. Not employee numbers on a payroll system, or machines that need to be serviced and operated according to a manual.
This episode with Ada parallels a few things we deal with in the transformational work we do:
- Community matters
- Autonomy is crucial
- You need to have some kind of emotional buy-in to make a success of what you’re doing
Let’s break it down
It takes a village
We’re social creatures, and we learn best from and with one another. As learning experience professionals, we know that creating a community of learning is an essential ingredient in setting learners up for transformational learning. You know the saying, “It takes a village”? Well, it doesn’t only take a village to raise a child. Our villages look different depending on where we are in life, what we’re doing, and the common goals that connect us. How is a learning environment not a village?
Ada refused to walk as a toddler because she was a speedy crawler – why fix what ain’t broke? After her first day at playschool, baby girl was running. She was inspired by her peers and didn’t want to be left behind. She could also see that these little humans were doing something that she had the ability to do, and were thriving while doing it. The people around us inspire us, and a little healthy competition goes a long way.
In the learning experience world, what does that look like? We believe in building diverse cohorts of learning. The more diverse the life experiences, perspectives and outlooks of participants, the richer the learning is for everyone. Learning and teaching happen at the same time: teaching from a step ahead, and learning from a step behind.
And then, there’s the safety of community. Nobody likes to fail, least of all in a public forum. We all want to look like we know what we’re doing, like we know the steps to the dance. When we’re in an environment where we feel safe, we’re more likely to try things we’re uncomfortable with and stretch ourselves further, because we know we won’t be judged. Ada didn’t want to walk because she didn’t like falling. She didn’t want to do the dances they were taught, because she was scared of getting the steps wrong. And she wasn’t comfortable in the class of strangers – she missed her community and the psychological safety that came with it. I get it.
So, we make sure that the learning spaces we create are founded on respect, with clear codes of conduct, and space for open and honest communication. Forums, discussion boards, breakout rooms, team channels, async chats – there are many ways to establish and maintain those spaces and foster the sacred learning relationships of a cohort.
Hands up, who loves being told what to do? Right. Thought so. Ada isn’t crazy about it either (what six-year-old is?).
The ability to choose what we do with our time, especially when it comes to learning or anything that feels like an “extra” on top of our daily list of tasks, is vital in getting people to care about what they’re doing. As soon as you offer people the luxury of choice, they are more willing to invest their time and energy into the task at hand.
The mindset shift we strive for in Curious Lion experiences takes place in those small moments of choice – choosing to participate fully, choosing to do the work, choosing to share and reflect.
Maybe learners can choose a learning pathway that is specific to their role, or build a journey that is unique to their interests. No one is standing over them, watching to ensure things get done. But with engaging content, rich conversations, and the autonomy of asynchronous learning, we enable learners to choose to participate fully. They want to be there.
When we feel safe, and when we feel that we want to be there, when we can see the value of spending our time on learning, we have emotional buy-in. We care about our village, our community; we feel safe to show up fully and possibly make mistakes, and we feel that we have been empowered to choose to be there.
That’s when the transformation starts to happen. When our learners start showing up with these things in place, it’s magic.
If learning experiences can take us, as whole people, into account, and leverage that diversity… Imagine how powerful those transformations could be!
Any learning experience we embark on is also an emotional task. Embracing fear (being scared of getting the steps wrong) as a growth opportunity rather than a personal shortcoming, and creating a safe space where you’re encouraged to push beyond your comfort zone is incredibly empowering.
This is the world I wish for Ada. A world of acceptance, safety, and a place where we are welcomed as our whole selves – where we are celebrated for our differences and appreciated for the contributions that are uniquely ours.
The good news is, we’re shaping that world right now.