Become a brave beginner
Professional development involves many kinds of learning: short workshops, seminars, online microcourses or webinars, conferences and symposiums. You may read professional journals, listen to academic podcasts, participate in a community of practice for your subject area or job, and monitor / participate various social media channels. But what kind of development learning do you participate in most often?
In our fast-paced, ever-changing world, you need continuous professional development. No matter what your area of expertise or profession, you need to keep pace with the important changes that affect your daily practices. Finding time to focus on, absorb and apply new learning is challenging but I wonder – how often do you dive into learning that makes you uncomfortable, where you might fumble and even fail initially?
Research has shown that uncertainty and discomfort can trigger better learning. Emotions are a big part of learning – they don’t always have to be positive. But how often do we seek out learning that makes us uncomfortable? For many of us, reading professional journals, watching/listening to podcasts or webinars and attending annual conferences or workplace seminars or “lunch and learns” are the main avenues to learning about new developments or skills we should have. We are busy with the demands of our professions – it’s not surprising that we stay within our comfort zones when it comes to ongoing professional development.
And yet, to learn things that are new, not just that reinforce what we already know, is essential to moving forward in life. We need to take risks to expand our knowledge, make new connections and stay at the leading edge of our fields. That doesn’t mean we need to do this all the time. Yale professor, Daeyeol Lee explains that we need to take breaks from learning to balance the uncertainty we face in new situations.
I read an interesting article in HBR magazine the other day: Learning is Supposed to Feel Uncomfortable by Peter Bregman. He shared his experiences as as an expert in his field participating in a professional development workshop in which he had to learn from the beginning – and the discomfort and even embarassment he felt. Yet he deliberately seeks challenging opportunities for learning every year. He contrasts his perspective with a colleague who doesn’t dare to risk exposing their ignorance as it might undermine the respect and trust that students look for from a leader in their field.
His perspective resonates with my own personal professional experiences. I’ve taught and designed learning related to online and technology-enhanced learning environments for many years. The field changes constantly and no one is really an “expert” in the old sense of the word. So, my approach to learning tends to reflect Bregman’s in that I tend to seek out learning that makes me uncomfortable or in which I don’t know much yet. The acknowledgement of the possibility of learning new things also infiltrates my teaching and design. And yet, I have had learners (who were teachers) who told me they felt very uncomfortable when I openly stated that I too was learning while I was sharing what I knew. They wanted me to be “the expert” and felt a loss of confidence when I wouldn’t accept that role.
I think that the level of discomfort that you can handle, and the impact of public learning that might concern you has a lot to do with your area of knowledge and type of work. You may be avoiding exposing your ignorance in certain kinds of learning (as Bregman’s colleague was) and you may be correct in assuming that you will lose clients or the confidence of students (or your employer). But don’t avoid risk and discomfort in all forms of professional learning. Make sure you take on the role of the “brave beginner” in some forms of learning so that you explore new ideas, knowledge and skills and stay interested in your work and provide value to your learners.
Additional references and resources
Boaler, Jo. (Oct. 28, 2019). Why Struggle is Essential for the Brain – and Our Lives, Edsurge: Voices: Learning Research. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-10-28-why-struggle-is-essential-for-the-brain-and-our-lives.
Bregman, Peter. (Aug 21, 2019). Learning is Supposed to Feel Uncomfortable, Harvard Business Review Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/08/learning-is-supposed-to-feel-uncomfortable
Patel, Sujan (Mar 9, 2016). Why Feeling Uncomfortable Is The Key To Success, Forbes, retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/sujanpatel/2016/03/09/why-feeling-uncomfortable-is-the-key-to-success/#41a64fe31913
Stillman, Jessica. (Aug 14, 2018). Science Has Just Confirmed That If You’re Not Outside Your Comfort Zone, You’re Not Learning, retrieved from https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/want-to-learn-faster-make-your-life-more-unpredictable.html
TED Talks playlist – How to learn from mistakes Missteps, mess-ups and misunderstandings hurt. And yet, they offer an opportunity to learn and grow. Talks on how … 7 videos.
YaleNews (July 19, 2018) Aren’t sure? Brain is primed for learning, Retrieved from https://news.yale.edu/2018/07/19/arent-sure-brain-primed-learning
Several of these articles cite research published in Neuron journal:
- Massi, Bart, Christopher H. Donahue, Daeyeol Lee (Jul 19, 2018) Volatility Facilitates Value Updating in the Prefrontal Cortex, Neuron, Volume 99, Issue 3, p598-608, retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2018.06.033
- Bunzeck, Nico, and Emra Duzel, (Aug. 3, 2006). Absolute Coding of Stimulus Novelty in the Human Substantia Nigra/VTA, Neuron, Volume 51, Issue 3, p369-379, retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2006.06.021