Welcome to Learn IT Friday

To understand a problem, ask "why" five times. 

Learning is a skill in itself. In "The Lean Startup," author Eric Ries offers the "Five Whys" technique for getting to the root of an issue. The idea is to get to the underlying cause of a superficial problem — one that, more often than not is more human than technical error. 

To see the quintuple-why strategy in action, lets look at his hypothetical startup example: 

1. A new release disabled a feature for customers. Why? Because a particular server failed.

2. Why did the server fail? Because an obscure subsystem was used in the wrong way.

3. Why was it used in the wrong way? The engineer who used it didn't know how to use it properly.

4. Why didn't he know? Because he was never trained.

5. Why wasn't he trained? Because his manager doesn't believe in training new engineers because he and his team are "too busy."

By pushing the inquiry five times, Ries says we can see how a "purely technical fault is revealed quickly to be a very human managerial issue."

Keep a positive attitude. 

Worrying that you're not going to be able to learn something is a poor investment of your mental energy, says Harvard Business School professor Alison Wood Brooks. 

"Anxiety precludes you from exploring real solutions and real thought patterns that will come up with solutions," she says. But when you're feeling good about what might happen, you get into an opportunity-oriented mindset. "So you think of all of the good things that can happen. You're more likely to make decisions and take actions that will make that world likely to occur."

Don't just learn about it; practice it. 

"You can't learn golf from a book. You need to swing a club at a ball," says Quora user Mark Harrison, the head of technology at British financial company FundingKnight. "You can't learn Ruby on Rails from a book — you need to put together a site." 

Find an expert, and then ask them about their expertise.

If you're trying to learn a subject, talk to an expert who can explain it. Buy them lunch, and ask them all about their craft. Tim Ferriss, author of "The 4-Hour Workweek," is a master of this. Whenever he's trying to learn a sport, he'll seek out the nearest silver medalist, arrange for an interview, and then grill them on technique. 

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

It's not so much that practice makes perfect; it just makes actions go faster. This is because when you do something again and again — recall how you recited the alphabet as a kid — you strengthen bonds between brain cells.  

"Repetition leads to synaptic conditioning," shares user Hwang Min Hae, a medical student in Australia. "The brain is plastic, and it allows the neural pathway to fire at a faster pace than before. That's why repetition over a long period of time creates an instantaneous recall — that's why you can recite your ABCs and 123s. Try reciting your ABCs in the opposite way, and you'll have a bigger difficulty than doing it forward."  

Don't just write it out; draw it out.

Dan Roam has written two books about visual thinking, "The Back of the Napkin" and "Blah Blah Blah." He also consults for companies like GoogleeBay, General Electric, and Wal-Mart. They bring him in to help explore the "aspects of knowledge that can't be expressed through words."

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Words and pictures complement each other. 

"Often the best approach to solving problems and generating ideas involves a combination of words and pictures," he says. "When you add pictures, you add layers and dimensions of thought that are almost impossible to achieve with words alone ... It's a way to get your idea down while still keeping it in a fluid state."

You can do that with a "mind map," or diagram, that visually outlines interrelated ideas. 

Learn the difficult stuff at the start of the day.

Willpower is finite, research shows. We have lots at the start of the day, but it gets depleted as we make decisions and resist temptations. (That's why shopping is so exhausting.) So if you're learning a language, an instrument, or anything else that's super complex, schedule it for the start of the day, since you'll have the most mental energy then. 

Use the 80/20 rule. 

The 80/20 rule states that you get 80% of your value out of 20% of work. In business, 20% of activities produce 80% of results that you want. Fast learners apply the same logic to their research areas. 

Quora user Stefan Jerome, a student at the University of Leicester in England, provides an example: 

When I look at a book, for example, I look though the contents page and make a list from 1-5 with 1 being the chapter with the most relevant material. When looking through a instructional video, I often skip to the middle where the action or technique is being demonstrated, then I work backwards to gain the context and principles.

This works, he says, since the beginning of most videos will be fluffed with exposition, and most books are layered in with filler to make length requirements. So with a little cunning, you can extract most of the knowledge from those materials while investing a fraction of the time.


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The term “pervasive learning” was officially coined by Dan Pontefract in his book Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization (Wiley, 2013). In this book, Pontefract defined pervasive learning as “learning at the speed of need through formal, informal and social learning modalities”.Jan 22, 2015

Creating the right environment for learning is actually not just a nice to have, it's essential if you want your learning to be pervasive. Just how do you go about achieving this? Well, the answer is in the total environment of course, that means learning spaces that are conducive to good learning, but from an 'e' perspective you can achieve this through the use of social media tools and opening up your system somewhat. If you're organisation has a block on LinkedIn, YouTube, Google +, Twitter and Facebook then you may have to look at other ways of achieving this. Your LMS may have social learning tools built in, start thinking more about those tools as setting your environment - forums don't necessarily have to be strictly controlled or assessable - they can work very nicely as a social sharing environment. You could also look beyond your LMS and consider a social learning platform like the excellent Mahara (Open Source) that plugs nicely into Totara LMS I might add! Whereas an LMS tends to be organisation centric, a social learning platform is more learner centred and that's pretty much the key to pervasive learning. If your system tends to allow the sites I mentioned above through then rather than trying to discourage their use you could provide a gateway to them with suggested areas of interest. In fact you could use your forums to discuss good areas and that in itself will open up for others to make suggestions too. Education is said to be the most proponent of civilization and industrialization.

Dan Pontefract (2013) provides what I see is a closer approximation of the learning ratios: 3-33, which stands for 33% of the learning is formal, 33% is informal, and 33% is social. What is most interesting is that the research behind his model revealed that when the learners were asked to give the percentages on how they thought they learned, the numbers were very different than when the researchers actually discovered how the learners did indeed learn. This coincides with other research that indicates what learners are able to judge about their learning experiences (see Learner Self-Assessment Ratings). Pontefract 3-33 approximation is a Pervasive Learning model - learning is a collaborative, continuous, connected, and community-based growth mindset: 3-33 Pervasive Learning Model One of the other major errors of the 70-20-10 model is that it places reading in formal learning. Since when did reading a book become formal learning? Dan of course places it under the correct type of learning in his 3-33 model... informal. The 70-20-10 error seems to coincide with the command and control culture that was most prevalent in the 1980s—the top leaders viewed popular writers as part of the elite who they could trust and learn from, while the learning/training functions were viewed as someone to do their bidding, rather than trusted partners.

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