Landscape of Support for Skill Building

As we engage learners in our certification training, two dimensions have emerged as indicators of the depth of new skill development – confidence and flexibility. We use these dimensions in pre- and post- self-assessments, asking the learners to indicate their perspectives about their own standing, relative to these dimensions. As we consider those dimensions, we can talk about the kinds of support new learners need to move further into application and exploration. Do they need more basic knowledge or is it practice and application they need? How can we help learners build self-awareness of their own growth and development?

The dimensions are relatively simple and can be applied in any new learning.

    • Confidence - We ask learners to indicate how confident they feel in using new concepts, models, and methods. Each individual indicates his or her own level of confidence in using the models and methods in their own thinking, sharing them with clients and colleagues, and in teaching them to others. We believe this is a powerful indicator of skill building because learners won’t use what they don’t feel confident about. As they feel more confident in their learning, they are more likely to move into application of the ideas and then into “expert” standing. When individuals have the confidence of “expert” standing, they may move beyond teaching the ideas and their applications into using the concepts to build new models and methods that are useful in even broader, more generalizable ways.

  • Flexibility - We ask learners to talk about how flexible they feel using concepts, models, and methods. It is our experience that as learners gain skill and facility with the models and methods, they also become more flexible in their use. They can generalize the applications across a variety of situations; they see the underlying dynamics of the models and methods, teasing out the pieces that inform decisions in particular places and times; and they can use their own understandings of the models and methods to create new ways of seeing, understanding, and influencing patterns around them.

While the examples we use are specific to our own training in human systems dynamics and Adaptive Action, these dimensions generalize across learning situations. As people learn more about driving a car, they gain confidence in their skill, and they are able to respond with greater flexibility as they encounter difficult or different situations. Parents are often much more flexible with their second child as they gain confidence about what little ones need to learn and grow.

When these dimensions are mapped on a grid, they describe a landscape of development. See the picture below.

Confidence Flexibility
Click Here to Download the Skill Development Landscape Tool

Briefly, we define each “zone” on the grid in the following ways:

  • Dependence - At this level, the learner has only begun to grasp the meaning and usefulness of the concepts, models, and methods that are being taught. The theory base that supports the learning remains murky, so the learner is able to use only narrowly defined, tightly described applications for a small number of models and methods. Learners who are functioning in this zone need small, short-term engagements; few differences to consider; concrete instruction, feedback, and support.
  • Responsiveness- As the theory base becomes stronger for the learner, he or she gains confidence and becomes more flexible in understanding and using the concepts, models, and methods that emerge from that theory. Confidence shifts their inquiry to see diverse situations and applications, choosing freely from among the models and methods to find the one(s) that are best fit to the current purpose. This flexibility and confidence enable the learner to respond in the moment: seeing, understanding, and influencing the patterns they face. To help learners move further out, they need larger, longer-term engagements; greater degrees of freedom to make choices that are fit to purpose; and they benefit from more generalized feedback and questioning.
  • Independence - When an individual finds the theory is inseparable from the application, he or she is likely to be able to develop new applications of the concepts, creating new models and methods. At this level of development, the individual can face new challenges of fitness, trusting that his or her knowledge base supports creative and productive action. In this area, practitioners need thought partners who can help them test and refine their ideas, continuing to seek both true and useful applications.

While this progression may appear to be a linear path from the lower-left to the upper right, that’s not the case. An individual learner may, at various times, be at different places on the landscape, depending on the latest challenge, the newest research, and his or her own evolving understanding of established and emergent theory and practice. For example, in the past week, as I taught a certification course, I stood in each zone at different times. Throughout the week, my predominant stance was as a Responsive Learner: teaching the concepts, responding to questions, coaching and consulting with the learners in the course. At one point, one of the learners offered a question and an insight I had not considered, and I found myself in the lower left, thinking about this new insight, trying to get clearer about how it fit in the theory and how it might shift an application. Through that evening and into the next day, I played with the ideas and found myself confirming the connection to theory, considering possible applications, and formulating a new model to test in the future. I moved across the landscape as a veteran HSD Professional, just as new HSD learners do. The major difference was the speed with which it happened. Additionally, when I remain conscious of my movement across the landscape, I am conscious of my competence at any point. This leads me to the next level of questions for my own practice, and I am better able to teach others as they build their competence.

Understanding this landscape can serve a number of purposes. The learner can track personal movement across the landscape. A coach or learning partner can help the learner identify the types of support needed to move to the next stage. This landscape reflects the tight integration of theory and practice across time and use as the learner builds his or her own personal praxis. We hope you find it both true and useful, and would love to hear your thoughts about this Landscape of Confidence and Flexibility. Please be in touch.

Put these ideas into practice with the Skill Development Landscape Tool. Click the link below to receive your free download.

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