Social and Learned Helplessness in Learning

Sheep Being Social

It’s been a few weeks since I first wrote about Learned Helplessness in Learning but it hasn’t once left my mind. Even last week had some familiar mentions of it but without the name.

What I gathered from DevLearn Tweets during Neil deGrasse Tyson’s keynote was that he spoke in part that kids are born scientists, but we beat it out of them.

That sounds familiar to Learned Helplessness in Learning. Kids are curious, heck, all ages of people are! As formal education takes hold many of the curiosities are beat out of them by rigid instructions. Some are lucky enough to escape with some curiosity left, but most are not.

So, it’s not specific to science. Kids are curious at all sorts of things including learning, but that goes away with years of discouraging exploration.

There’s all sorts of things that can lead to the non-interest of learning and not even trying to find the answer. I think I’m most interested in trying to find an answer on how to undue or at least encourage these long embedded habits.

So this time I’m exploring social as a solution to the problem.

Social Learning

This comes with its own set of challenges I admit, but it’s something that otherwise non-existent answers may come from.

I must be clear that I’m talking about social learning in the technological sense of the term. Places like Twitter or Yammer rather than the water cooler or lunch with colleagues (although it could apply there also).

Social is a great method to combat Learned Helplessness in Learning. While not the only method, and by no means a method that can be used alone, it will definitely assist in the change to self help.

Social makes the tools available for users to explore and learn on their own, unfortunately the problem is rarely a lack of resources. The problem in learned helplessness is the motivation for people to WANT to learn. Or at least the problem of feeling overwhelmed with the vast number of resources. Giving them the tools is only one piece of the puzzle, the easiest piece.

Social Motivation

The challenging part to social learning is motivation.

How do you motivate people to want to explore?

How do you make them feel less overwhelmed in an information rich environment?

Better yet, how do you motivate them not to default to calling a help-desk that costs you money?

Pushing that person to look beyond the obvious and do a bit of exploration is a hard sell. There are many distraction out there, laziness is in excess, and there’s usually a phone number that’s easier to find than the answer itself.

As you can see I don’t have a lot of answers on how to motivate people to be more social. All I can say is that you must find the benefit to that person. Make it easy to use and easy to find answers so they can do their job better.

I know for me, my motivation to be more social has been to learn beyond my job description, making myself indispensable in shifting times.

The popular Seek, Sense, Share framework and learning socially from Harold Jarche has been a driving force in my being more social. They are ways to find those answers and broaden your knowledge in a field you didn’t know you had interest in.

Call to Action

Learned helplessness in learning is a one way ticket to obsolescence in the marketplace. Being more social is one way to improve the chances that you, and coworkers, are not stuck within a bubble expecting others to bring things to you.

I challenge you to keep an eye out for those that refuse to explore and learn new things.

When you find somebody who is stuck in this rut, try to encourage action in working more socially. Encourage them to find answers outside their comfort zone and expanding those answers beyond what’s spoon fed from others.

Speak Up

I’d like to hear from you. What do you see as problems in learned helplessness in learning? Do you see any solutions for that?

3 Comments

  1. Matthew Guyan on November 4, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    Nick, these are interesting posts and I too am noticing a lot of learned helplessness in my workplace. It’s strange isn’t it? We live in an age when information has never been more accessible, yet people are still stuck in a ‘take a course’ mindset. I’m thinking that in some ways people have become ‘conditioned’ to thinking this way – when organisations recruit people they want formal qualifications and where there are performance gaps some form of training (classroom or online) is usually the solution offered. People aren’t encouraged to learn on their own and generally they aren’t expected to. This is setting people up for failure and I don’t think they can see it until it’s too late.

    I don’t know what the answer is but it’s not a quick fix. I also don’t believe all is lost; we can still role model behaviours and encourage others to explore and look for answers themselves. We need to keep trying new ways to share knowledge and skills. Social is great and I’ve learned lots this way but helping others to see the value – that’s the challenge!

    • Nick Leffler on November 5, 2014 at 8:02 am

      Matt, thank you for the comment!

      You are right, it’s a huge challenge getting others to see the value in social. I do agree that it isn’t a quick fix though. This is one of many posts I’m sure I will eventually write on the topic, I’m always thinking about it since first being introduced to it. I’ve seen it many times in my career and schooling but never really put a name or much thought into it.

      There will be plenty more discussion on it I’m sure. We are bombarded by formal education from early in our lives and that continues into the workplace with things like courses and classes.

      I’ve known few I’ve worked with are true explorers but many are helpless and openly display it. While I don’t know if it’s a case of needing to lean on your own, it is a case of needing to take the initiative and not be spoon fed. I definitely lean on others to learn stuff including those I follow on Twitter and from things like chat2lrn, but I know that learning is not always going to come from a formal method.

      Those that rely on formal methods only and others to spoon feed them the knowledge and tell them what knowledge to reach for are destined for failure. They’ll find their knowledge dated quicker, in a place at work where they don’t add the value they used to, and in a position where they won’t be able to find a new job easily.

      I think that’s part of Learning & Developments job to encourage and bring people out of this rut, so we have our job cut out for us 🙂 I do know you’re just the one to help your org do this though. You’re the perfect example of leading by example.

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