Recently I was in a rented a car with a GPS. For whatever reason, the GPS was off (putting us at least two streets south of where we were at) and so we turned it off and I pulled out a map to figure out where we needed to go.
I hadn't held a map in my hands in a long-time. It felt good yet slightly disconcerting. When I was a kid, I always got the front passenger seat which made me the de facto navigator, so on trips I usually ended up with the map. I was a good map reader, and we were rarely lost.
Being rusty with a paper map, we drove around a little bit to get to our destination.
These days, with GPS, I'm lost a lot.
I'm not blaming the GPS industry; I'm only saying it is an inexact technology that sometimes fails to appreciate certain nuances. It's existence has caused me somehow to lose touch with my inner map-reading capability and when forced to go back to old school, it took some time to acclimate.
Since that trip, I've been thinking about the value of tactile learning in the workplace. Believe me, my life revolves around a computer and it is an important part about how I interact in the working world, however I think my skills are better because there was a time when I had to figure things out without it. Two examples come to mind:
- Back in the early days of my career, I wrote a lot of copy for things like newspaper articles, advertisements, brochure text, etc. Back then, there was no such thing as Pagemaker and so my layouts were done on a lightboard, using paper strips, an Exacto knife and hot wax. Doing layouts that way was part of getting material “photo ready”. At that time, I learned a lot about how to make things line up properly without the benefit of kerning software or the justification feature. I would say that today I have an eye for space because I used to have to spend so much time getting space right in the first place.
- In my first few years in human resources, I worked in the compensation arena, mostly on developing pay equity plans. This involved determining the proportional value of jobs, and the only resources I had to do “sum of least squares” calculations was graph paper, a ruler, a calculator and a pencil. Sometimes it would take a
whole day to figure out calculations which now would take less than 10 seconds on Excel. Staring at the dots on the paper though helped me to understand compensation patterns and trends. Every once in awhile when I am thinking about design, I go “old school” and do some of the work manually, just to get a better feel for the options.
There are countless articles out there focusing on the value of experiential learning for adults and the workplace. Tactile learning is of significant value to most adults and is a great form of experiential learning. In order to master something, first the learner must experience something directly, e.g. they must have concrete experience and then be able to conceptualize what it means and to look at the options or possibilities. To use my example above, I came to understand compensation trends by physically plotting them, looking at options and then creating a design. I wonder if I would be as good at compensation design today if in reality Excel had always done most of the work for me.
What else in HR has tactile learning value? So many ideas come to mind, from operating machines on the shop floor and understanding process flow before writing job descriptions to understanding the day-in-the-life of staff before recommending policy changes. But this is just HR, and HR is a small part of most workplace operations. Think about how much better our employees could be at their jobs if they better understood the old-fashioned concepts and grounding behind their work, which often can only be done by figuring things out manually.
My point is that I feel sometimes like we have lost skills or capabilities simply because we discourage manual learning due to the time involved, and therefore miss out on great opportunities to more broadly apply what can arguably be a deeper skill set.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
About the author: Bonni Titgemeyer is the Managing Director of The Employers’ Choice Inc. She has been in human resources for 20+ years and works in the international HR arena. She is the recipient of the 2012 Toronto Star HR Professional of the Year Award. You can connect with Bonni on Twitter as @BonniToronto, often at the hashtag #TEPHR.
Comments are closed.