Category Archives: research

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits

I read an interesting article from the New York Times.  Below are some points that I thought were worth bringing to the surface.  Feel free to read the entire article:

In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve how much we learn from studying.  But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on.

For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where you study improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.

We walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works in learning – most of which are flat wrong.

Take the notion that people have specific learning styles.  Some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas.

Cognitive scientists do not deny that honest-to-goodness cramming can lead to a better grade on a given exam. But hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase, as most students quickly learn – it holds its new load for a while, then most everything falls out.

Forgetting is the friend of learning.  When you forget something, it allows you to relearn, and do so effectively, the next time you see it.

That’s one reason cognitive scientists see testing itself — or practice tests and quizzes — as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment.

So, alternating study environments, mixing content, spacing study sessions, self-testing or all the above — will turn a grade-A slacker into a grade-A student.

Do We Need Sweeter Carrots and Sharper Sticks?

Learning or professional communities are “healthy” and beneficial to the organization when its members are intrinsically motivated to participate and contribute. Members of a learning community must have a desire to network, collaborate, and share information or the community will not thrive and will not drive business value. What will intrinsically motivate community members? Which types of rewards are cost-effective?

When I talk with organizational leaders about creating healthy learning communities I am often asked “how do we motivate and make them participate and contribute?”

One fundamental problem with this type of discussion is the notion that there is an “us” and there is a “them.” This position assumes that “we’ are better than “them” and “we” must force “them” or make “them” participate and contribute in the learning community. “They” do not understand what to do or “they” are too selfish to contribute, share, and help other community members.

The organizational leaders I speak to often suggest different ways to incentivize community members like the provision of gift points and other little presents to motivate them. What about the old adage “you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink?” Do you believe we are able to “make” learning community members participate and contribute through a “carrot and stick” strategy? Are rewards and punishment schemes affordable and sustainable?

Some research findings and “experts” suggest that rewarding community members for meeting networking, collaboration, and information sharing targets (or punishing them for failing to meet such targets) is detrimental to quality, motivation, and attitudes. The main argument is that a rewards and punishment scheme is manipulative and will often destroy collaboration, blindly promote a single solution, deter risk taking, and reduce creativity.

Watch this 19 minute “Ted” presentation of Dan Pink who believes that we are punished by rewards.

Dan Pink

Dan presents a case to prove that contingent motivators (i.e., “if you do this then you get that”) will work for tasks that are mechanical, routine, rule-based, and that are organized around a clear destination or outcome. Contingent motivators will not work, according to Dan, and often cause harm when applied to cognitive tasks that require creativity, the resolution of complex and novel issues, and where the final destination or result is unclear. Rewards and punishment will narrow our focus, concentrate the mind, and lead to poorer performance. Rewards and punishment are detrimental for work tasks that lack a pre-defined and clear destination or solution, or a pre-defined and clear path to the destination or solution.

Dan claims that this is one of the most robust findings in social science and one that is often ignored by business leaders. In other words, there is a mismatch between what the science knows and what the business does.

What should we do if we want to intrinsically motivate and encourage members of a learning or professional community to participate or contribute? What else can we do besides roll out a rewards and punishment scheme?

Dan says that a new operating model is required and that we should not look for sweeter carrots or sharper sticks. He says that we should look at different building blocks: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy is an urge to direct our own work. Mastery is a desire to get better and better at something that matters to us.  And purpose is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Autonomy: Managing and governing a learning community is good if you want compliance. Autonomy is better if you want engagement. One way to intrinsically motivate your learning community members and to achieve higher levels of community engagement is to permit the members to have more responsibility over their governance. Another way is to allow the community members to decide what information to share. Do not create and assign targets for members to fill up defined subject areas with content. Allow community members to network, collaborate, and share information on anything that they want.

Mastery: What about mastery? Do community members believe that the community matters to them? Do organizational leaders want community members to have a stronger affiliation to their community than to their formal hierarchy? Do community members believe that community networking, collaboration, and information sharing will lead to higher performance and success on the job? One way to intrinsically motivate community members towards mastery is to help them become better community connectors and carriers. Not every community member needs to be only a content expert or contributor. Effective learning communities need only 10% of the members to regularly make content contributions. Learning communities will also matter to more members if there are enough helpful connectors and carriers. It’s not all about content. Especially in environments where there is a lot of change, the work is complex and the solutions must be novel and surprising, and where collaboration is critical to success.

Purpose: Learning communities will fail if too few content experts have a sense of purpose or a yearning to share their expertise in the service of their community. Many content experts try to hold on to their power and job security by making sure people have no other option but to come to them for answers and advice. Why would content experts want to store their expertise on the “system” in the form of a podcast, knowledge document, blog, or discussion thread? Most people are not that altruistic and would not willingly sacrifice their career in order to help their learning community. Content experts might have a stronger sense of purpose after contributing to their community if it helps them become a more valuable employee. Content experts who share their expertise more widely and more efficiently will likely receive more feedback and ideas from more people. This might help content experts to more quickly and more effectively shape, grow, and refine their expertise. The content experts would also grow and improve their networks making it easier for them to more quickly and more effectively test new ideas, find new ideas, and share new ideas. A “smarter” and more “connected” individual is a valuable asset to most organizations. Sharing ones expertise might be a purpose worth pursuing.

Rather than simply providing monetary gifts so that community members focus and concentrate on narrow targets such as sharing a certain number of podcasts or knowledge documents during each quarter, we need to explore new ways of intrinsically motivating learning community members using building blocks such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Please let me know how you believe we should encourage and motivate members of a learning community.

Finding In-House Experts Isn’t Easy

Why is it so difficult to quickly find someone in my organization to answer a pressing question, provide advice about a procedure, explain how to use some software, or tell me where to find an expert, course, or document?

I rely on my network to connect me to other people and information because I cannot know and will not try to know everything.  I use the internal “knowledge management” and “learning management” systems.  I am not completely helpless.  But sometimes I just don’t know what I don’t know and I need input from an expert.

I know there are in-house experts in my organization.  What can my organization do to help me connect to and leverage these experts more easily?  Experts with specialized knowledge and skills are an invaluable resource for me.

No t leveraging the in-house experts seems like such a waste.

How many problems go un-solved, how many new ideas never get imagined, how many experts feel underappreciated because people like me cannot easily tap into the in-house pool of experts?

My organization deployed a “expert locator” and “social networking” system in order to help employees quickly find and leverage in-house expertise but these systems provide a half baked solution.  I need to know more about the experts and not just their organizational affiliation, work experience, competencies, and certifications.  I also need to know some “softer” qualities such as their trustworthiness, communication style, personality traits, and willingness to help others in need.  I would also like to know how others feel about the experts when they tapped into them.

What do you look for in an expert and what “tools” are best suited for conveying the information you want to know about experts?

Dorit Nevo, Izak Benbasat and Yair Wand conducted a study to answer this question.

Dr. Nevo is a professor of management information­ systems at Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto. Dr. Benbasat is a Canada research chair in information­ technology management at Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Dr. Wand is a Canfor professor of management information­ systems at Sauder School of Business.

This following illustration (click on “key findings”) summarizes the key findings of the survey distributed to users of “expert locator” systems:

Key Findings

Some key conclusions from the research:

  • Activities and interactions that occur in blogs, wikis and social networks naturally provide the cues that are missing from current expert locator systems.
  • A search engine that mines internal blogs, for example, where workers post updates and field queries about their work, will help searchers judge for themselves who is an expert in a given field.
  • Wiki sites, because they involve collaborative work, will suggest not only how much each contributor knows, but also how eager they are to share that knowledge and how well they work with others.
  • Tags and keywords, which are posted by employees and serve as flags for search engines, can reveal qualities in an expert that are far from transparent in any database or directory.

I like this study because it demonstrates the hidden value of blogs and wikis.

This study also helps us further understand that the formal organizational chart and company designated experts are not necessarily the best “maps” for finding expertise or the most qualified experts in the company.

Social media such as blogs and wikis will help us to identify the established and emerging experts and to go beyond the “usual suspects.”

Here is a link to an online article with more details: Source for this post