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The Learning Theory of Accountability

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Five Ways in which Core Strengths Accountability Aligns with Adult Learning Theory

Thanks to Malcolm Knowles (1913-1997), talent development professionals have had the opportunity to use the very erudite-sounding word, andragogy, to describe something most of us know intuitively: adults learn differently than children. While it’s sometimes fun to throw around “six-dollar words,” it really comes down to the fact that adults need to be involved in the learning process, find what they’re learning to be relevant to their real-world situations, and recognize opportunities for immediate application. Without these elements, training can fall flat with little hope for a sustainable performance boost.

Although adult learning theory has informed the design of corporate training for the last 30 years, some courses more closely align with the critical principles of andragogy than others. In this paper, I will explain how the design and delivery of Core Strengths Accountability honors the principles of adult learning. In fact, Core Strengths Accountability can truly be transformative as learners begin to see themselves, their colleagues, and their world differently.

What We Know about Adult Learners

Nearly everyone agrees on a few key ideas when it comes to designing and delivering effective workplace learning:

1. Teachers are out; facilitators are in. Few adult learners are willing to cede complete control to a teacher—no matter how knowledgeable—and become passive recipients of information. Instead, adults want to play a part in directing the learning process. This direction often emerges through dialogue and classroom interactions as people wrestle with new ideas and work to make them meaningful in the context of their work and lives. Facilitators who encourages these meaning-making conversations, along with curriculum design that provides the structure and space for these interactions, is nearly always more effective than the sage on the stage.

2. Experience is the best teacher. Adult learners want to draw from their own reservoir of work and life experience, while tapping into the insights of others—especially trusted peers. Opportunities for peer discussions, as well as relevant stories and practical examples, are necessary components of an effective learning environment.

3. “I’ll learn when I’m good and ready…” Adults in the workplace will only invest in learning if they see it as helping them get something they want. Whether it’s acquiring a new skill necessary for promotion or developing a new technique that saves time, every adult learner is asking, “What’s in it for me?” In short, adults are motivated by internal, rather than external, factors.

4. Address today’s problems. The orientation toward learning is no longer subject-centered and long-term; adult learners want to address today’s challenges and those pressing problems that keep them up at night. If new knowledge or skills can’t be put into practice right away, most people won’t be interested.

It’s amazing how adult learners seem to have an innate sense for the value of training. In some cases, managers or other organizational leaders can sway opinions, but ultimately, each person is going decide what they will take away and how they will use it. Like it or not, that decision is influenced by the design and delivery of the training.

Putting Andragogy into Action

There are elements of art and science in creating and leading effective workplace learning. Core Strengths Accountability incorporates the best of both, while adding a good measure of emotional connection. Packaged together, this makes for a powerful experience that translates into lasting change and for some, true transformation. I see at least five ways in which Core Strengths Accountability training demonstrates the best practices of andragogy:

1. The skill of accountability impacts individual and team performance, so there is readiness to learn. In Core Strengths, accountability is a skill. The skill is developed by learning to take ownership of one’s responsibilities—especially in high-stakes situations—and taking initiative to choose the right strength at the right time. With this new view, people want to be accountable, so they are ready to invest in developing their personal accountability skills and in learning to create a team culture where accountability can thrive.

2. The learning is personalized, so it’s meaningful. Each learner completes two powerful assessments, the Strengths Portrait and Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), and then uses the results as the foundation for deep personal insight and action planning. Specifically, the SDI reveals the unique blend of motives that influence everything a person says, feels, and does when things are going well and when there is conflict. The Strength Portrait has an action orientation because it illustrates the behaviors a person uses to get things done with others. As learners validate their results through reflection and interaction, they recognize that what they have in their hands is both meaningful and actionable.

3. Activities and interaction fill the day, so it’s learner-centered. In each section of the training, there is an opportunity for peer discussion and reflection—some are large high-energy activities, while others are one-on-one discussions and peer-based feedback. The facilitator is the guide to this self-discovery and interactive process, creating the environment where learning can happen and offering prompts to evoke meaningful discussion. The facilitator leads, but learners direct their own journey.

4. Each learner focuses on a current real-world situation where the stakes are high, so there are immediate opportunities for application. At the outset and throughout the day, learners immediately apply what they are learning through the creation of an accountability action plan. Since they choose a situation that’s critical to their success, it’s important to invest their best efforts in creating a plan that they can execute immediately following the training. Unlike other classes, in Core Strengths Accountability, there is never the question, “Now what?” because next steps are clearly defined before anyone leaves the classroom.

5. Learners identify ways to work better with the most important people in their lives, so it’s relevant. We all have certain people in our lives that are key to our success and happiness, yet they sometimes frustrate us and we wish we knew how to create stronger relationships. In Core Strengths Accountability, learners are challenged to leverage what they are learning about themselves and use it to create more productive working relationships with others. As part of their Accountability Action Plan, learners identify two key stakeholders and determine how they can make their interactions with these people more productive. There is even an invitation to learn more about a key relationship outside of the workplace making the relevance extend beyond the workplace.

The Potential for Transformation

The most powerful learning experiences affect the way individuals think about themselves and their world. In Core Strengths Accountability, learners’ assumptions about themselves and others are challenged as they tap into intrinsic motivation to guide their choices about the way they interact with others. This leads to a new sense of empowerment as people recognize that they have access to a wide range of strengths—some they didn’t even know existed—to get things done with people. In the end, people leave with a greater appreciation for diverse perspectives and approaches. This leads to greater collaboration and satisfaction as people embrace the skill of accountability.

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