Sunday, July 17

Learning and Rewards

I was in one of my more introspective moods recently and I asked myself what I had learned in the past few years. The answer surprised me.

Several years ago I decided to become a really great cook, a gourmet chef. Part of the reason was I hated going out to restaurants spending money on what I thought was mediocre food. The other part was to equal my wife's amazing culinary talents in the kitchen - my shared nights for cooking were usually Take Out or Summer Grilled Meat.

So I began watching the Food Channel, reading magazines and cookbooks, Googling recipes that caught my fancy, took some basic cooking classes, spent more time than I ever imagined in supermarkets, gourmet food stores,other people's kitchens, even tried to talk with the Chef when the restaurant food was especially good.

And gradually I learned not to be afraid of a recipe no matter how complex, stored hundreds of little tidbits about food selection, preparation, cooking and serving away in my long term memory, even memorized whole recipes I really liked. In sum, I learned how to cook.

So why did I learn all this stuff about food? First, there was the immediate reward of being able to eat food exactly the way I liked it. Second, there was another almost immediate reward when the food was served and my wife or guests "ooohed" and "aaahed" over my newfound culinary talents. Finally, I enjoyd the learning - even some of the more disasterous mistakes - in large measure because it was something I wanted to learn.

Is this a simple recipe for learning?

We have immediate intrinsic rewards, almost immediate extrinisic rewards, a personal desire to want to learn, and an enjoyable hands on learning experience. A hybrid learning model, done over time, in which I adopted and adapted what I was taught-shown-heard or read, in a supportive environment, in which a mistake was okay to use as a lesson.

When you look back on your learning, what have you really learned and why? It's an amazing process that we invoke all too infrequently as we get older. And I wonder if it works if we're asked to learn something we really could care less about. If so, what are the implications for learning in the workplace? How often are the employees asked what they want to learn, instead of being told to learn something they have little or no interest in learning? Is it possible to align the goals of a company with what a person really wants to learn?

And if you really do not want to learn something, can learning even take place?


Anonymous said...

I just wanted to make my first comment to a blog. Most of the other posts are very academic and I have a hard time understanding and relating to them. I especially like your writing since I can understand it.

I learned how to tune an engine when I was 16. I had an older friend who was 18 and a Dad who was also a car nut. Learning to tune the engine on our Chevy made my summer.

It fits in with your recipe idea. I enjoyed doing it, wanted to learn how, had immediate rewards when the tuning was right and the engine was humming, had immediate rewards from my friend and Dad, and it was fun playing around in the engine. Plus I could learn from my mistakes without anyone getting upset.

Today you need a degree in computer science to tune an engine. But I still remember how to do it years later.

And I do not believe you can learn anything if you do not want to. Maybe that's why so many small retail companies stopped trying to teach math to the people who rang up your purchase and went with a register that tells you what the exact change should be. Training was too expensive so technology did the job for you.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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