Archive for the ‘Information Skills.’ Category

After Action Review (AAR) Process

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Learning from Your Actions Sooner Rather than Later:

A typical project review is done “post mortem” – after the fact, and well past any opportunity to change the outcome. You finish a project, and then you study it to determine what happened. From there, you decide which processes to keep and what you’ll do differently next time.

That may help the next project – but it’s too late for the project you’ve just finished. What’s more, if your projects overlap with one-another, you may have already wasted too much time and too many resources in your current project, possibly even causing harmful effects.

Wouldn’t it be better to evaluate along the way – so you can capture lessons learned after each milestone, and improve performance immediately? This is where organizations of all types, across all industries, could benefit from an ongoing review process.

The After Action Review (AAR) process was developed by the military as a way for everyone to learn quickly from soldiers’ experiences in the field. With this system, critical lessons and knowledge are transferred immediately to get the most benefit. The “field unit” has an opportunity to talk about what happened, and other teams can then use this experience right away. This helps the whole organization improve in a timely manner.

Benefits of AAR:

AARs provide an opportunity to assess what happened and why. They are learning-focused discussions that are designed to help the team’s and the organization’s leaders discover what to do differently. For example, when conducting organization-wide training, you might complete an AAR after the first training session, with a view to analyzing what to do better in the next session. Or, if you’re changing your manufacturing process, you could do an AAR after completing the first 100 units, instead of finishing the entire run.

It’s important to note that AARs aren’t limited just to large or formal projects. You can use them after staff meetings or regular operational functions, like month-end accounting. Also, when a safety incident occurs, an AAR can reveal important lessons.

An added benefit of the After Action Review process is that they improve communication and feedback within teams themselves. Because the focus is on learning instead of blaming, the process itself leads to improved understanding of team performance, and helps people think about how best to work together to produce better results.

Conducting an AAR:

An AAR is a structured meeting that does the following:

  • Focuses on why things happened.
  • Compares intended results with what was actually accomplished.
  • Encourages participation.
  • Emphasizes trust and the value of feedback.

For the AAR process to be successful, the team needs to discover for itself the lessons provided by the experience. The more open and honest the discussion, the better. Here are some of the key elements of an effective AAR:

  • Discuss the purpose and rules – The AAR does not seek to criticize negatively, or find fault. The emphasis should be on learning, so make this clear right from the start to achieve maximum involvement, openness, and honesty.
  • Use a facilitator – A neutral person helps focus the discussion. This person asks questions and can often lead the discussion in such a way that it remains nonjudgmental.
  • Talk about TEAM performance – The AAR is not about individual performance. Look at how the team performed, and don’t assign blame.
  • Conduct the AAR as soon as possible – For feedback to be effective, it should be timely. By doing an AAR quickly, you’ll get a more accurate description of what happened. It also helps ensure that all (or most) of the team can participate.
  • Encourage active participation – When setting the rules, talk about trust. Emphasize that it’s OK to disagree and that blame isn’t part of the discussion. Personal attacks must be stopped immediately. Setting the right tone for an AAR is extremely important.
  • Focus the discussion – If you ask, “How do you think that went?” this can be too broad a topic to discuss. Instead, direct participants to think about specific issues or areas: “How well did you cooperate?” “How could communication have been improved?” “What planning activities were most effective?”
    • Discussion questions typically center around three themes:
      • What was supposed to happen? What did happen? Why was there a difference?
      • What worked? What didn’t work? Why?
      • What would you do differently next time?
  • Remember to ask open questions, so that participants don’t think that there’s a “right” or “wrong” answer:
  • What would you have preferred to happen?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • How could bad situations have been prevented?
  • In your opinion, what is the ideal procedure?
  • Write the key discussion questions on a whiteboard or flipchart. This helps participants focus on the main purpose of the meeting.
  • Let the team talk – This is an exercise in good communication, not just feedback and continuous learning. The better that team members communicate with one another and work out differences, the stronger they’ll be in the future – both as individuals and team players.
  • Record recommendations – Write down the specific recommendations made by the team. Then forward this information to other team leaders and stakeholders. This is how AARs contribute to organization-wide learning and improvement.
  • Provide follow-up and training – If no one follows up on the recommendations, then the process is wasted. Create a system to ensure that the ideas gathered in the AAR are incorporated into operations and training activities.

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How Your Learning Style Affects Your Use of Mnemonics

Monday, February 15th, 2010

The way in which people learn affects the sort of mnemonics they should consider using to store information.

The three main learning styles are:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinaesthetic

No-one uses one of the styles exclusively, and there is usually significant overlap in learning styles.

Visual Learners:

Visual learners relate most effectively to written information, notes, diagrams and pictures. Typically they will be unhappy with a presentation where they are unable to take detailed notes – to an extent information does not exist for a visual learner unless it has been seen written down. This is why some visual learners will take notes even when they have printed course notes on the desk in front of them. Visual learners will tend to be most effective in written communication, symbol manipulation etc.

Visual learners make up around 65% of the population.

Auditory Learners:

Auditory learners relate most effectively to the spoken word. They will tend to listen to a lecture, and then take notes afterwards, or rely on printed notes. Often information written down will have little meaning until it has been heard – it may help auditory learners to read written information out loud. Auditory learners may be sophisticated speakers, and may specialise effectively in subjects like law or politics.

Auditory learners make up about 30% of the population.

Kinaesthetic Learners:

Kinaesthetic Learners learn effectively through touch and movement and space, and learn skills by imitation and practice. Predominantly kinaesthetic learners can appear slow, in that information is normally not presented in a style that suits their learning methods.

Kinaesthetic learners make up around 5% of the population.

Memory Implications of Learning Styles:

Most literature on mnemonics assumes the visual approach to learning styles – mnemonics are recommended to be as visually appealing and memorable as possible. If you are an auditory or kinaesthetic learner you may find that this emphasis on imagery leads to ineffective recall. In this case, try adjusting the mnemonics to suit your learning style: if you are an auditory learner, use auditory cues to create your mnemonics. If you are a kinaesthetic learner, imagine performing actions or using tools as the basis of memory techniques.

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Learning Styles

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Learn Effectively by Understanding Your Learning Preferences:

Have you ever tried to learn something fairly simple, yet failed to grasp the key ideas? Or tried to teach people and found that some were overwhelmed or confused by something quite basic?

If so, you may have experienced a clash of learning styles: Your learning preferences and those of your instructor or audience may not have been aligned. When this occurs, not only is it frustrating for everyone, the communication process breaks down and learning fails.

Once you know your own natural learning preference, you can work on expanding the way you learn, so that you can learn in other ways, not just in your preferred style.

And, by understanding learning styles, you can learn to create an environment in which everyone can learn from you, not just those who use your preferred style.

Felder and Silverman’s Index of Learning Styles:

One of the most widely used models of learning styles is the Index of Learning Styles developed by Richard Felder and Linda Silverman in the late 1980s. According to this model (which Felder revised in 2002) there are four dimensions of learning styles. Think of these dimensions as a continuum with one learning preference on the far left and the other on the far right.

Figure 1: Learning Styles Index

Sensory Intuitive
Sensory learners prefer concrete, practical, and procedural information. They look for the facts. Intuitive learners prefer conceptual, innovative, and theoretical information. They look for the meaning.

Visual learners prefer graphs, pictures, and diagrams. They look for visual representations of information. Verbal learners prefer to hear or read information. They look for explanations with words.

Active learners prefer to manipulate objects, do physical experiments, and learn by trying. They enjoy working in groups to figure out problems. Reflective learners prefer to think things through, to evaluate options, and learn by analysis. They enjoy figuring out a problem on their own.
Sequential Global
Sequential learners prefer to have information presented linearly and in an orderly manner. They put together the details in order to understand the big picture emerges. Global learners prefer a holistic and systematic approach. They see the big picture first and then fill in the details.

Once you know where your preferences lie on each of these dimensions, you can begin to stretch beyond those preferences and develop a more balanced approach to learning. Not only will you improve your learning effectiveness, you will open yourself up to many different ways of perceiving the world.

Balance is key. You don’t want to get too far on any one side of the learning dimensions. When you do that you limit your ability to take in new information and make sense of it quickly, accurately, and effectively.

Using the Learning Style Index:

You can us the learning style index to develop your own learning skills and also to help you create a rounded learning experience for other people.

(I)  Developing Your Learning Skills

Step One
Identify your learning preferences for each learning dimension. Read through the explanations of each learning preference and choose the one that best reflects your style.

Step Two:
Analyze your results and identify those dimensions where you are “out of balance,” meaning you have a very strong preference for one style and dislike the other.

Step Three:
For each out of balance area, use the information in figure 2 to improve your skills in areas where you need development.

Figure 2: Bringing Your Learning Styles Into Balance

Sensory Learners – if you rely too much on sensing, you can tend to prefer what is familiar, and concentrate on facts you know instead of being innovative and adapting to new situations. Seek out opportunities to learn theoretical information and then bring in facts to support or negate these theories.

Intuitive Learners – if you rely too much on intuition you risk missing important details, which can lead to poor decision-making and problem solving. Force yourself to learn facts or memorize data that will help you defend or criticize a theory or procedure you are working with. You may need to slow down and look at detail you would otherwise typically skim.

Visual Learners - if you concentrate more on pictorial or graphical information than on words, you put yourself at a distinct disadvantage because verbal and written information is still the main preferred choice for delivery of information. Practice your note taking and seek out opportunities to explain information to others using words.

Verbal Learners – when information is presented in diagrams, sketches, flow charts, and so on, it is designed to be understood quickly. If you can develop your skills in this area you can significantly reduce time spent learning and absorbing information. Look for opportunities to learn through audio-visual presentations (such as CD-ROM and Webcasts.) When making notes, group information according to concepts and then create visual links with arrows going to and from them. Take every opportunity you can to create charts and tables and diagrams.

Active Learners – if you act before you think you are apt to make hasty and potentially ill-informed judgments. You need to concentrate on summarizing situations, and taking time to sit by yourself to digest information you have been given before jumping in and discussing it with others.

Reflective Learners – if you think too much you risk doing nothing. ever. There comes a time when a decision has to be made or an action taken. Involve yourself in group decision-making whenever possible and try to apply the information you have in as practical a manner as possible.

Sequential Learners – when you break things down into small components you are often able to dive right into problem solving. This seems to be advantageous but can often be unproductive. Force yourself to slow down and understand why you are doing something and how it is connected to the overall purpose or objective. Ask yourself how your actions are going to help you in the long run. If you can’t think of a practical application for what you are doing then stop and do some more “big picture” thinking.

Global Learners – if grasping the big picture is easy for you, then you can be at risk of wanting to run before you can walk. You see what is needed but may not take the time to learn how best to accomplish it. Take the time to ask for explanations, and force yourself to complete all problem-solving steps before coming to a conclusion or making a decision. If you can’t explain what you have done and why, then you may have missed critical details.

(II) Creating a Rounded Learning Experience for Others

Whenever you are training or communicating with others, you have information and ideas that you want them to understand and learn effectively and efficiently. Your audience is likely to demonstrate a wide range of learning preferences, and your challenge is to provide variety that helps them learn quickly and well.

Your preferred teaching and communication methods may in fact be influenced by your own learning preferences. For example, if you prefer visual rather than verbal learning, you may in turn tend to provide a visual learning experience for your audience.

Be aware of your preferences and the range of preference of your audiences. Provide a balanced learning experience by:

Sensory – Intuitive: Provide both hard facts and general concepts.

Visual – Verbal: Incorporate both visual and verbal cues.

Active – Reflective: Allow both experiential learning and time for evaluation and analysis.

Sequential – Global: Provide detail in a structured way, as well as the big picture.

Key Points:

Learning styles and preferences vary for each of us and in different situations.

By understanding this, and developing the skills that help you learn in a variety of ways, you make the most of your learning potential. And because you’re better able to learn and gather information, you’ll make better decisions and choose better courses of action.

And by understanding that other people can have quite different learning preferences, you can learn to communicate your message effectively in a way that many more people can understand. This is fundamentally important, particularly if you’re a professional for whom communication is an important part of your job.

Take time to identify how you prefer to learn and then force yourself to break out of your comfort zone. Once you start learning in new ways you’ll be amazed at how much more you catch and how much easier it is to assimilate information and make sense of what is going on.

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Review Techniques

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Keeping Knowledge in Your Short – Term Memory

Normally people’s memories of things they have learned are clearest immediately after they have learned them. They will then forget more and more knowledge as time goes on. After a few months they may only be able to recall only a tiny percentage of what was initially learned. This makes relearning information difficult when it needs to be done.

If you review knowledge frequently, however, then you will be able to keep it fresh and alive in your mind. This makes it easy to recall when you need it with a minimum of effort.

This section explains how to review material in a structured and effective way.

How to Use the Tool:

The first step is to spend a few minutes reviewing material immediately after the learning session. This helps you to:

  • Confirm that you understand the material
  • Reduce the time needed to relearn information when you need it, and
  • Improve the quality of future learning, by building on a well-remembered foundation. This helps your mind to make connections and linkages that it would not otherwise make.

A good way of carrying out this review is to rewrite or tidy up notes. You can do this effectively by putting the information learned into a Concept Map.

After this, reviewing information should be relatively easy and need not take long. Carry out reviews at the following times:

  • After one day

  • After one week

  • After one month

  • After four months

Review the topic by taking a few minutes to jot down everything you can remember about the subject, and compare this with your notes.

If you review information often, it should stay fresh in your mind, and will be easily accessible when you need it.

Key Points:

By reviewing information you avoid forgetting information that will be difficult and time-consuming to relearn. You also ensure that you keep information fresh in your mind so that it acts as a foundation for future learning.

The first stage in reviewing information is to rewrite and tidy up notes immediately after learning has taken place. This confirms the structure and detail of information in your mind.

After this, periodically jot down what you can remember on a subject and compare it with your notes. This will show you what you have forgotten and refresh your memory.

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Improve Your Memory

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Developing Your Ability to Remember:

Are you often unable to remember an important fact or figure? Do you forget people’s names at the worst moments? Are you ever asked a question, and you should know the answer, but you struggle to form an intelligent reply?

These are common instances where a good memory is important.

Memory is more than recalling information for exams or trivia games. It’s an important work skill that you can develop and improve. Whether it’s remembering key statistics during a negotiation, or quoting a precedent-setting action when making a decision, or impressing clients with your knowledge of their product lines – your ability to remember is a major advantage.

People with good memories are often seen as knowledgeable, smart, competent, and dependable. And there are many techniques you can use to develop your own ability to remember information – and then recall it when and where you need it.

Take Care of Your Health:

The basis for a good memory is a healthy mind and body. You can’t expect your brain to function at its best if you don’t take care of the body that feeds it. Here are some key issues that you need to address:

  • Eat well – Make sure key vitamins are in your diet, including folic acid, vitamin B12, and antioxidants. These improve the sharpness of the mind. If necessary, take vitamin supplements.
  • Drink plenty of water – Most of us are dehydrated and don’t even know it. When you don’t drink enough water, your body and mind become weak and tired. Water makes red blood cells more active and gives you more energy.
  • Get enough sleep – During sleep, your brain recharges itself. Studies have shown that your brain needs sleep to change new memories into long-term memories.
  • Manage stress effectively – Ongoing stress has many harmful health effects. Learn to limit and control the stress in your life.
  • Don’t smoke – Limit caffeine and alcohol use (excessive alcohol can seriously affect your short term memory). Get enough exercise.

These basic health tips allow you to maximize your brain’s abilities.

Use Mnemonics:

Mnemonics are simple memory-improving tools that help you connect everyday, easy-to-remember items and ideas to information you want to remember. Later, by recalling these everyday items, you can also recall what you wanted to remember.

There are many mnemonic techniques:

  • The Number/Rhyme Technique – This allows you to remember ordered lists. Start with a standard word that rhymes with the number (we recommend 1 – Bun, 2 – Shoe, 3 – Tree, 4 – Door, 5 – Hive, 6 – Bricks, 7 – Heaven, 8 – Gate, 9 – Line, 10 – Hen). Then create an image that associates each with the thing you’re trying to remember. To remember a list of South American countries using number/rhyme, you might start with:
    • One – Bun/Colombia: A BUN with the COLUMn of a Greek temple coming out of it.
    • Two – Shoe/Venezuela: VENus de Milo coming out of the sea on a SHOE.
    • Three – Tree/Guyana: Friends call GUY and ANnA sitting in a TREE.
    • Four – Door/Ecuador: A DOOR in the shape of a circle/globe with a golden EQUAtOR running around it.
  • The Number/Shape System – Here, create images that relate to the shape of each number, and connect those images to the items in your list. Let’s use the same example:
    • One – Spear/Columbia: The shaft of the SPEAR is a thin marble COLUMn.
    • Two – Swan/Venezuela: This time, VENus is standing on the back of a SWAN.
    • Three – Bifocal Glasses/Guyana: GUY has just trodden on ANnA’s bifocals. She’s quite cross!
    • Four – Sailboat/Ecuador: The boat is sailing across the golden line of the EQUAtOR on a globe.
  • The Alphabet Technique – This works well for lists of more than 9 or 10 items (beyond 10, the previous techniques can get too difficult). With this system, instead of finding a word that rhymes with the number, you associate the things you want to remember with a particular letter of the alphabet, from A to Z. This is an efficient way to remember an ordered list of up to 26 items.
  • The Journey System – In your mind, think about a familiar journey or trip: For example, you might go from your office to your home. Associate the things that you want to remember with each landmark on your journey. With a long enough, well-enough known journey, you can remember a lot of things!
  • The Roman Room System (Loci Method) – This technique uses location to stimulate your memory. Connect your list with items you see in a familiar room or location. You might find associations with things in your kitchen, in your office, or at a familiar grocery store.

Mind Mapping:

Mind maps (also called concept maps or memory maps) are an effective way to link ideas and concepts in your brain, and then “see” the connections firsthand. Mind mapping is a note-taking technique that records information in a way that shows you how various pieces of information fit together. There’s a lot of truth in the saying “A picture speaks a thousand words”, and mind maps create an easily-remembered “picture” of the information you’re trying to remember.

This technique is very useful to summarize and combine information from a variety of sources. It also allows you to think about complex problems in an organized manner, and then present your findings in a way that shows the details

details as well as the big picture.

Challenge Your Brain:

As with other parts of your body, your mind needs exercise. You can exercise your brain by using it in different ways, on a regular basis. Try the following:

  • Learn a new skill or start a hobby – Find activities that build skills you don’t normally use in your daily life. For example, if you work with numbers all day, develop your creative side with art classes or photography.
  • Use visualization on a regular basis – Since much of memory involves associating and recalling images, it’s important to build this skill. Get plenty of practice with this!
  • Keep active socially – When you communicate and interact with people, you have to be alert. This helps keep your brain strong and alive.
  • Focus on the important things – You can’t possibly remember everything, so make sure you give your brain important things to do – and don’t overload it with “waste.” The “garbage in, garbage out” philosophy works well here.
  • Keep your brain active with memory games and puzzles – Try Sudoku, chess, Scrabble, and Word Twist as well as trivia games, pair matching, and puzzles. These are popular ways to practice memorization while having fun.

Key Points:

Your memory is a valuable asset that you should protect and develop. Even if you no longer have to memorize information for exams, the ability to remember quickly and accurately is always important.

Whether it’s remembering the name of someone you met at a conference last month, or recalling the sales figure from last quarter, you must rely on your memory. Learn and practice the above techniques to keep your mind healthy.

You have only one brain – so treat it well, give it lots of exercise, and don’t take it for granted. You never know when you’ll need its skills to be at their best!

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Reading Strategies

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Reading Efficiently by Reading Intelligently:

Good reading strategies help you to read in a very efficient way. Using them, you aim to get the maximum benefit from your reading with the minimum effort. This section will show you how to use six different strategies to read intelligently.

Strategy 1 : Knowing what you want to know:

The first thing to ask yourself is:  Why you are reading the text? Are you reading with a purpose or just for pleasure? What do you want to know after reading it?

Once you know this, you can examine the text to see whether it is going to move you towards this goal.

An easy way of doing this is to look at the introduction and the chapter headings. The introduction should let you know at whom the book is targeted, and what it seeks to achieve. Chapter headings will give you an overall view of the structure of the subject.

Ask yourself whether the book meets your needs. Ask yourself if it assumes too much or too little knowledge. If the book isn’t ideal, would it be better to find a better one?

Strategy 2 : Knowing how deeply to study the material:

Where you only need the shallowest knowledge of the subject, you can skim material. Here you read only chapter headings, introductions and summaries.

If you need a moderate level of information on a subject, then you can scan the text. Here you read the chapter introductions and summaries in detail. You may then speed read the contents of the chapters, picking out and understanding key words and concepts. At this level of looking at the document it is worth paying attention to diagrams and graphs.

Only when you need detailed knowledge of a subject is it worth studying the text. Here it is best to skim the material first to get an overview of the subject. This gives you an understanding of its structure, into which you can fit the detail gained from a full, receptive reading of the material. SQ3R is a good technique for getting a deep understanding of a text.

Strategy 3 : Active Reading:

When you are reading a document in detail, it often helps if you highlight, underline and annotate it as you go on. This emphasizes information in your mind, and helps you to review important points later.

Doing this also helps to keep your mind focused on the material and stops it wandering.

This is obviously only something to do if you own the document! If you own the book and find that active reading helps, then it may be worth photocopying information in more expensive texts. You can then read and mark the photocopies.

If you are worried about destroying the material, ask yourself how much your investment of time is worth. If the benefit you get by active reading reasonably exceeds the value of the book, then the book is disposable.

Strategy 4 : How to study different sorts of material:

Different sorts of documents hold information in different places and in different ways. They have different depths and breadths of coverage. By understanding the layout of the material you are reading, you can extract useful information much more efficiently.

Reading Magazines and Newspapers:
These tend to give a very fragmented coverage of an area. They will typically only concentrate on the most interesting and glamorous parts of a topic – this helps them to sell copies! They will often ignore less interesting information that may be essential to a full understanding of a subject. Typically areas of useful information are padded out with large amounts of irrelevant waffle or with advertising.

The most effective way of getting information from magazines is to scan the contents tables or indexes and turn directly to interesting articles. If you find an article useful, then cut it out and file it in a folder specifically covering that sort of information. In this way you will build up sets of related articles that may begin to explain the subject.

Newspapers tend to be arranged in sections. If you read a paper often, you can learn quickly which sections are useful and which ones you can skip altogether.

Reading Individual Articles:
Articles within newspapers and magazines tend to be in three main types:

  • News Articles:
    Here the most important information is presented first, with information being less and less useful as the article progresses. News articles are designed to explain the key points first, and then flesh them out with detail.
  • Opinion Articles:
    Opinion articles present a point of view. Here the most important information is contained in the introduction and the summary, with the middle of the article containing supporting arguments.
  • Feature Articles:
    These are written to provide entertainment or background on a subject. Typically the most important information is in the body of the text.

If you know what you want from an article, and recognize its type, you can extract information from it quickly and efficiently.

Strategy 5 : Reading “whole subject” documents:

When you are reading an important document, it is easy to accept the writer’s structure of thought. This can mean that you may not notice that important information has been omitted or that irrelevant detail has been included. A good way of recognizing this is to compile your own table of contents before you open the document. You can then use this table of contents to read the document in the order that you want. You will be able to spot omissions quickly.

Strategy 6: Using glossaries with technical documents:

If you are reading large amounts of difficult technical material, it may be useful to photocopy or compile a glossary. Keep this beside you as you read. It will probably also be useful to note down the key concepts in your own words, and refer to them when necessary.

Usually it is best to make notes as you go. Effective ways of doing this include creating Concept Maps .

Key points:

This section shows six different strategies and techniques that you can use to read more effectively.

These are:

  • Knowing what you need to know, and reading appropriately
  • Knowing how deeply to read the document: skimming, scanning or studying
  • Using active reading techniques to pick out key points and keep your mind focused on the material
  • Using the table of contents for reading magazines and newspapers, and clipping useful articles
  • Understanding how to extract information from different article types
  • Creating your own table of contents for reviewing material
  • Using indexes, tables of contents, and glossaries to help you assimilate technical information.

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The Conscious Competence Ladder

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Making learning a happier experience. Also called the “Conscious Competence Matrix” and the “Learning Matrix”

When we find that we don’t know something important, we’re often motivated to learn more. However if we’re blissfully unaware of our ignorance, there’s little we can do about it.

One of the first steps on the journey to acquiring new skills is therefore to be aware of what you don’t know. This discovery can be uncomfortable, as can be the experience of not being very good at what you’re trying to do (as you won’t be, when you first start to learn.)

The Conscious Competence Ladder is a popular and intuitive approach (attributed to many different possible originators) that helps us manage our own emotions during a sometimes dispiriting learning process. More than this, it helps us to be more in touch with the emotions of the people we are teaching, so we can better coach them through the learning process.

Explaining the Model:

According to this approach, consciousness is the first step towards gaining knowledge. To learn new skills and to gain knowledge you need to be conscious of what you do and do not know.

Next, competence is your ability to do things. You may be highly competent in one area, but have no skill in another. Your competence level will depend on the task or job at hand.

The idea is that as you build expertise in a new area, you move from “unconscious incompetence” to “conscious incompetence” and then to “conscious competence”, finally reaching “unconscious competence.” These are explained below, and this “ladder” of learning is shown in figure 1.

Level 1 – Unconscious Incompetence
(You Don’t Know that You Don’t Know)

At this level you are blissfully ignorant: You have a complete lack of knowledge and skills in the subject in question. On top of this, you are unaware of this lack of skill, and your confidence may therefore far exceed your abilities.

Level 2 – Conscious Incompetence
(You Know that You Don’t Know)

At this level you find that there are skills you need to learn, and you may be shocked to discover that there are others who are much more competent than you. As you realize that your ability is limited, your confidence drops. You go through an uncomfortable period as you learn these new skills when others are much more competent and successful than you are.

Level 3 – Conscious Competence
(You Know that You Know)

At this level you acquire the new skills and knowledge. You put your learning into practice and you gain confidence in carrying out the tasks or jobs involved. You are aware of your new skills and work on refining them.

You are still concentrating on the performance of these activities, but as you get ever-more practice and experience, these become increasingly automatic.

Level 4 – Unconscious Competence
(You Don’t Know that You Know – It Just Seems Easy!)

At this level your new skills become habits, and you perform the task without conscious effort and with automatic ease. This is the peak of your confidence and ability.

Using the tool:

The Conscious Competence Ladder helps us in two ways: It gives us reassurance when we need it, and it helps us coach others through a sometimes difficult learning process.

During the Conscious Incompetence phase, we have the reassurance that while things are difficult and frustrating right now, things will get much better in the future. And when we’re at the stage of Unconscious Competence, the model reminds us to value the skills we have so painstakingly acquired.

As an approach to coaching others, it reminds us that people may be moving through these steps as they learn the new skills we’re trying to teach them:

  • Unconscious Incompetence: At the beginning of the process, they may be unaware of their own lack of competence, and may need to be made gently aware of how much they need to learn.

  • Conscious Incompetence: During this stage, you’ll need to provide plenty of encouragement, tolerate mistakes appropriately, and do what you can to help people improve.
  • Conscious Competence: At this stage you need to keep people focused on effective performance of the task, and give plenty of opportunities for them to get practice.
  • Unconscious Competence: Although this is the ideal state, you’ll need to make sure that people avoid complacency, and stay abreast of their fields. You may also need to remind people how difficult it was to reach this state, so that they are tolerant with people at the Conscious Incompetence stage!

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Managing Information Skills.

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

The techniques in this section help you to manage information better. By using them you will be able to improve:

  • Your reading skills, so that you can find the information you need quickly and easily
  • The way you make notes, so that they become clear and easy to understand, and quick to review
  • Your review techniques, so that you can keep information fresh in your mind.

These techniques will help you to assimilate information quickly. This may involve keeping yourself up-to-date on events within your field, absorbing information within reports or learning specialist information needed to complete a project.

These are also very useful tools for mastering course material where you are studying for exams.

They work particularly well in conjunction with the mnemonics  – used together these two sets of tools will give you a formidable advantage in organising and remembering information. This is often what exams are about.

Techniques discussed are:

  • How to take notes effectively – Mind Maps
  • Fully absorbing written information – SQ3R
  • Speed Reading
  • Reading faster by thinking what to read – Reading Strategies
  • Keeping information fresh in your mind – Review Techniques
  • Learn in a way that suits you – Learning Styles
  • The Conscious Competence Ladder – Making learning a happier experience

Mind Maps are powerful tools for recording and organizing information. They do this in a format that is easy to review. Once you understand and start using Mind Maps, you will never again want to take notes using conventional techniques.

The next three techniques (SQ3R, Speed Reading and use of Reading Strategies) help you to assimilate and understand written information quickly and efficiently.

The section on Review Techniques will help you to keep information that you have already learned alive in your mind.

Finally, the article on Learning Styles will not only help you develop the ways in which you can learn, but you’ll be able to tailor what you do so that others can learn from you more effectively.

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Speed Reading

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Radically Increasing Your Reading Speed:

Speed Reading can help you to read and understand written information much more quickly. This makes it an essential skill in any environment where you have to master large volumes of information quickly, as is the norm in fast-moving professional environments. What’s more, it’s a key technique to learn if you suffer from “information overload”, because it helps you to become much more discriminating about the information that you consume.

The Key Insight:

The most important trick about speed reading is to know what information you want from a document before you start reading it. If you only want an outline of the issue that the document discusses, then you can skim the document quickly and extract only the essential facts. If you need to understand the real detail of the document, then you need to read it slowly enough to gain the full understanding you need.

You will get the greatest time savings from speed reading by learning to skim excessively detailed documents, although the techniques you’ll learn will help you improve the speed of all the reading you do.

Technical Issues:

Even when you know how to ignore irrelevant detail, there are other technical improvements you can make to your reading style which will increase your reading speed.

Most people learn to read the way young children read – either letter-by-letter, or word-by-word. As an adult, this is probably not the way you read now: Just think about how your eye muscles are moving as you read this. You will probably find that you are fixing your eyes on one block of words, then moving your eyes to the next block of words, and so on. You are reading blocks of words at a time, not individual words one-by-one. You may also notice that you do not always go from one block to the next: sometimes you may move back to a previous block if you are unsure about something.

A skilled reader will read many words in each block. He or she will only dwell on each block for an instant, and will then move on. Only rarely will the reader’s eyes skip back to a previous block of words. This reduces the amount of work that the reader’s eyes have to do. It also increases the volume of information that can be assimilated in a given period of time.

A poor reader will become bogged down, spending a lot of time reading small blocks of words. He or she will skip back often, losing the flow and structure of the text, and confusing his or her overall understanding of the subject. This irregular eye movement makes reading tiring. Poor readers tend to dislike reading, and they may find it harder to concentrate, and understand written information.

How to Use Tool:

Speed reading aims to improve reading skills by:

  • Increasing the number of words read in each block.
  • Reducing the length of time spent reading each block.
  • And reducing the number of times your eyes skip back to a previous sentence.

These are explained below:

  • Increasing the number of words in each block:
    This needs a conscious effort. Try to expand the number of words that you read at a time: With practice, you’ll find you read faster. You may also find that you can increase the number of words in each block by holding the text a little further from your eyes. The more words you can read in each block, the faster you will read!
  • Reducing fixation time:
    The minimum length of time needed to read each block is probably only a quarter of a second. By pushing yourself to reduce the time you take, you will get better at picking up information quickly. Again, this is a matter of practice and confidence.
  • Reducing skip-back:
    To reduce the number of times that your eyes skip back to a previous sentence, run a pointer along the line as you read. This could be a finger, or a pen or pencil. Your eyes will follow the tip of your pointer, smoothing the flow of your reading. The speed at which you read using this method will largely depend on the speed at which you move the pointer.

You will be able to increase your reading speed a certain amount on your own by applying these speed reading techniques.

What you don’t get out of self-study is the use of specialist reading machines and the confidence gained from successful speed-reading – this is where a good one-day course can revolutionize your reading skills.

Important points:

By speed reading you can read information more quickly. You may also get a better understanding of it, as you will hold more of it in short term memory.

To improve the speed of your reading, read more words in each block and reduce the length of time spent reading each block. Use a pointer to smooth the way your eyes move and reduce skip-back.

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Friday, February 5th, 2010

Increasing Your Retention of Written Information:

SQ3R is a useful technique for fully absorbing written information. It helps you to create a good mental framework of a subject, into which you can fit facts correctly. It helps you to set study goals. It also prompts you to use the review techniques that will help to fix information in your mind.

By using SQ3R to actively read a document, you can get the maximum benefit from your reading time.

How to Use the Tool:

The acronym SQ3R stands for the five sequential techniques you should use to read a book:

  • Survey:
    Survey the document: scan the contents, introduction, chapter introductions and chapter summaries to pick up a shallow overview of the text. Form an opinion of whether it will be of any help. If it does not give you the information you want, discard it.
  • Question:
    Make a note of any questions on the subject that come to mind, or particularly interest you following your survey. Perhaps scan the document again to see if any stand out. These questions can be considered almost as study goals – understanding the answers can help you to structure the information in your own mind.
  • Read:
    Now read the document. Read through useful sections in detail, taking care to understand all the points that are relevant. In the case of some texts this reading may be very slow. This will particularly be the case if there is a lot of dense and complicated information. While you are reading, it can help to take notes in Concept Map format.
  • Recall:
    Once you have read appropriate sections of the document, run through it in your mind several times. Isolate the core facts or the essential processes behind the subject, and then see how other information fits around them.
  • Review:
    Once you have run through the exercise of recalling the information, you can move on to the stage of reviewing it. This review can be by rereading the document, by expanding your notes, or by discussing the material with colleagues. A particularly effective method of reviewing information is to have to teach it to someone else!

Important Points:

SQ3R is a useful technique for extracting the maximum amount of benefit from your reading time. It helps you to organize the structure of a subject in your mind. It also helps you to set study goals and to separate important information from irrelevant data.

SQ3R is a five-stage active reading technique. The stages are:

  1. Survey
  2. Question
  3. Read
  4. Recall
  5. Review

If you use SQ3R, you will significantly improve the quality of your study time.

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