Sunday, 20 February 2011

Change of behavior - Response to @janet_frg

Earlier today I participated in Marcia Conners (@marciamarcia) webinar on "The New Social Learning". It was a great seminar with a lot of interesting points. During the webinar there was also a backchannel discussion going on at #newsociallearn. During the session Marcia got a question on how Social Learning can create behavioral change. To me that seemed like somewhat a strange question. So I threw out a tweet saying:
Isn't the goal with all learning, social or not, behavioral change? 
It didn't take long before I got a question what I meant with this tweet from Janet Laane Effron (@janet_frg). Here is our conversation:

@janet_frg: "goal of all learning=behavioral change?" Not sure how you are defining terms. Is goal of learning Thermodynamics behavioral?
@mattiaskareld: I think so yes. If you want ppl to use their knowledge of thermodynamics to do something differently. Otherwise what's the point?
@janet_frg: I wonder if we're looking at a different definition of terms. I don't see behaviour as identical to understanding/application
@mattiaskareld: to me behavior is how you act in a certain context. Learning something just for having the knowledge is not enough for me.
@janet_frg: Thanks, Mattias, for the clarification. I think you are using "behavior" as I would "application of knowledge".
@mattiaskareld: not necessarily, that is too narrow. To me behavior is how we act in a context. I see a blog post coming to explain further.

What do I mean with change of behavior? To me, behavior means how we act in certain situations. Often behavior is seen as how we act towards other people, but to me that is not the full picture. Then you might ask: "In that case, doesn't all learning have an effect on our behavior?" No, is my answer. Let me give you one example:

Traditionally in Swedish schools the kids have been told to learn all Swedish kings by name, when they were crowned and when they died. Basically they should know this by heart. Does this knowledge change my behavior? In some cases probably (a few students probably found this interesting and decided to learn more about these kings),but for most students this was simply something they had to learn. They learned this because the teacher told them to. If they didn't you would get punished. The goal for teaching this was not that the students should get interested in history, or that they should draw some conclusion from it. It was simply a knowledge that, in the teacher's view all people should have, no matter if they would ever use this knowledge. Learning that the Swedish king Gustav Vasa was crowned in 1523 and died in 1560 does not change my behavior and that was never the intention.

Luckily, this type of teaching was challenged. Why does anyone need to know this? Isn't it more important to know what this king did, during his time at the throne? And does it affect us who lives over 500 years later? Can we learn something from his life that we can use in our life now?
By changing this all of a sudden you are actually looking at changing the behavior of the students. Instead of just remembering dates they are asked to draw their own conclusions and to think about how history can affect us living in this day and age. Knowing that Gustav Vasa was responsible for the reformation in Sweden,  breaking with the Catholic Church and moving Sweden towards Protestantism is of more interest since that is very much the base of the Swedish society as we see it today. By knowing this you can understand why Sweden is one of the most secularized countries in the world and you can also understand why religion plays a much greater role in many other countries. By having this setup it is more likely that you will change behavior towards other people as you have the understandings mentioned above.

So what about Janet's example with thermodynamics? First of all I must say that my own knowledge about this subject is very limited so bare with me if I don't use all the right words and terms below:
Well as I see it you can definitely teach someone about thermodynamics with the goal to change their behavior. If you just teach about formulas and how to calculate things with these formulas you are probably not changing much behavior. But if you give the learners a dilemma and asks them to solve it, and then discuss how they solved the issue you have probably created an atmosphere where the students will start to reflect on what they have learned and maybe even challenge it. By learning about the most significant scientists in this field and what impact they have had on it, the learners will also be more interested, and so on. This will create engineers (because I think this is a subject mainly for engineers) who are more willing to challenge the facts and be innovative and thereby you have changed their behavior from being calculating machines to being thinking innovators.

I really believe that if you design the learning experience in a smart way you can always aim for a change in behavior of the learners. If you only teach facts, figures and formulas you will create learners who know things but have no idea what they should do with this knowledge (except for maybe participating in Jeopardy). Instead of just focusing on what the learners should know after the training/course/class or whatever you want to call it, you should focus on what you want the learners to do differently after the training/course/class.

I hope I have made sense in this post. I am not really used to discuss these types of things, which made it even more interesting to write. I would like to thank Janet for the challenge. Looking forward to more challenges in the future.

Thanks for taking the time,

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