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If you want to teach an old dog new tricks, apply the 10 : 20 : 70 ratio

Old_dog_new_tricksBy Eleasa Mullavey

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education”
Albert Einstein

Have you ever attended a course, workshop or conference and left completely inspired, however within a week fallen back into old habits – the new learning but a blip in the memory? Or maybe you have unsuccessfully tried to learn a new language? Or perhaps attempted to educate yourself with view to change your lifestyle, diet or exercise regime only to fall back to status quo? I can put my hand up for all of these – as I think many of us can.

The key to effective learning and growth

Why do we often find learning something new so difficult? How can we do it effectively? What is the key to effective growth?

These are all important questions. From my experience, I swear by the 10 – 20 – 70 ratio. I have found that if coaching and counseling clients understand and adopt this principle, then their outcomes are usually much better and long lasting. So what is this magic ratio?

10% of our learning

Research suggests that 10 % of our learning is gained from coursework, training and self-study. This aspect involves reading texts, articles, attending courses and workshops. In our society, there is a huge emphasis on this part of the ratio & it’s usually the most expensive bit! If you have ever studied or been at university, you will know what I am talking about! How often do our workplaces send us on training courses with no follow-up, and then are shocked when the information hasn’t sunk in? Don’t get me wrong, the intellectual component of learning is essential, however it is only the tip of the iceberg.

20% of our learning

The next 20% of our learning is nurtured through our developmental relationships … through the expert guidance of a valued mentor, teacher or coach. This may be your boss, CEO, valued colleague, Psychologist, parent, Personal Trainer, Nutritionist – you get the drift. Having the intellectual understanding is the first step, however these relationships provide the support, guidance, and practical knowledge necessary to help you implement the learning. They help model the behaviour, they challenge us and give us feedback along the way. These relationships can be formal or informal, explicit or implicit. You may be surrounded by them, yet not realize their value – each of them helping you learn and grow. Think about a time you learned something new and successfully integrated the skills into your life? Just take a moment to acknowledge the developmental relationships around you at the time.

70% of our learning

Last but not least, 70% of the learning comes from engagement in challenging assignments. This is where you implement and apply the knowledge, strategies, techniques and approaches in your work or life. That’s right folks- learning only truly occurs when it is applied. As a Psychologist and Coach, this often becomes a sticking point with clients who are shocked that they actually have to do stuff for change to occur.

What? Homework? This isn’t what I signed up for!

Unfortunately one is unlikely to achieve their goals through dialogue alone. Dialogue without action is really just a lot of hot air.

So what do I mean by challenging assignments?

When working with clients, we usually specify desired developmental goals early in the process and then, through discussion, come up with some relevant “behavioural experiments’. An example might be a person who is trying to gain confidence in order to deliver a presentation to the company. This would usually involve a graded set of tasks that gradually build confidence over time. For this example the client might start with practicing the speech in front of a mirror; then the family; group of friends; team; and speaking at a toast masters, all as practice for the main event.

The point is that it involves getting out there in a practical sense and stretching the comfort zones a little. Most of us are held back by fear! We stop ourselves from breaking our own negative cycles through avoiding the experience. Behavioral experiments allow us to face those fears and deal with all the stuff that comes up as a result (negative thinking, anxiety, negative emotions etc). Fear and avoidance on the other hand only keep the cycle going.

So remember… when you really want to learn something new – get out there and gather the information, ensure you have developmental relationships to support and guide you with the implementation, and then actually apply yourself!!

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