Monkey See, Monkey (Can’t) Do
What was the last thing you learned how to do?
I ask because we are constantly learning new things! Our learning isn’t contained to our formal education. In our personal lives, we might pick up new hobbies or interests. In our professional lives, we may take on new roles or responsibilities. Regardless of what it is that we are learning, how we actually learn those things can tell us a lot about ourselves.
About eight months ago, I started serving at a local restaurant. After a few months, I started looking for ways to grow in the company. I saw two opportunities that I took advantage of – the first was to train to be a bartender and the second was to train to be a marketing assistant. Then, my manager presented me with the opportunity to be a supervisor and I was thrilled. He told me my training would consist of 20 shifts, each focusing on learning the essentials of all of the different positions in the restaurant. Although this process was really fun for me, there were some things about the training that really had the cogs in my brain turning as I tried to think about how to improve the process.
I showed up to every shift SUPER excited to learn something new (I am a huge nerd and just love learning). My first shift in each department started the same: “Read this, read that, any questions? Okay go home.” I left feeling like I hadn’t really learned anything.
When I showed up to my second shift for each position, I realized how true this was. I really hadn’t retained or mastered anything that I could apply. My trainer would look at me and say, “Well you read about that position, now go do it” and then I was expected to figure out exactly how to fulfill the responsibilities of that specific job.
Everything changed when I finally started learning how to run the kitchen! On the first day, my trainer modeled how to do specific tasks, then give me the opportunity to practice (cutting veggies, making sauces, etc.). On my second day my trainer said, “Now you’ve had the chance to practice this, it’s time to do it.” I looked at him and said, “I got this.” AND I DID!
For me, being able to practice with coaching and guidance helped me to learn the job much faster than simply reading about what to do. The all-too-common “monkey see, monkey do” approach to training didn’t help me to learn. This was such an eye opening realization for me. I even thought back to my college experience (and even high school), and the classes that I excelled in happened to be the laboratory classes where I was actually able to practice what I was learning, instead of just listening to a lecture.
Now, not everyone is like me in the way they like to learn, and that’s the beauty of it. When teaching or training people, we should be utilizing different techniques to engage different learning styles and preferences. If we can appeal to these different styles, then we are able to drastically improve the learning experiences of our team members so that they are better prepared to perform and achieve success.
David Kolb is an educational theorist who is most well-known for his theories on experiential learning. In 1984, he developed a learning styles model that shows how different people have natural preferences for different ways of learning:
Diverging: This learning style prefers to watch and observe rather than do. They are adept at gathering information and brainstorming what to do.
Assimilating: These learners enjoy thinking about abstract ideas and concepts. They prefer readings, lectures, and models.
Converging: People with this learning style like to experiment and practically apply their learning. They like to solve problems and make decisions using logic.
Accommodating: This hands-on learning style relies on intuition and gut-feelings to make decisions about their learning.
Which one sounds the most like you?
Kolb’s model is just one theory of learning styles and acquisition. You may also have heard of models like VAK Learning Styles. Use a process of reflection to think about your own unique style of learning:
- What do you like to learn? What about those things is interesting to you?
- What topics or skills have you mastered? How did you come to master those things? What was your learning process like?
- If you could create your ideal learning or work environment what would it look like?
- Do you feel like it is easy or difficult for you to learn in your current environment? Why?
- What do you think would help to improve your learning process?
- What can you, yourself, do to improve your ability to learn?
*Meet the Author*
Gino Calavitta is an avid Netflix watcher who enjoys practicing American Sign Language and going to concerts!