'Tis the Season for Colourful out of Focus Subjects (Billy Wilson/flickr.com)


Reda SadkiLearning strategy

“Our challenge lies in focusing our insights. Distraction from what is important is a continual obstacle.” George Siemens (2006:136)

How do we stay focused? How do we extract important knowledge? Anchoring is the act of staying focused on important tasks while undergoing a deluge of distractions. We anchor to pay attention even when we are overwhelmed by the volume and velocity of work. Filtering is how we extract important information.

We face an abundance of information that is part of what makes us “busy”, our workload “stressful”, and means we have “no time”. We still spend much time to find what we need. We rely on a number of strategies to find and focus in order to complete the tasks, sometimes at the expense of the bigger picture. We expect technology to help. For example, we want not just a newsletter, but a newsletter on the specific keywords or topics that are relevant to us. Otherwise we lose time. We search for better tools to save time, but often come up short or, instead, find myriad options with no effective way to differentiate which one is right for us.

We prioritize in ways that are consistent with our learning culture. When we are overwhelmed, we work harder, triage, and iterate to step up to the challenge. Last but not least, we leverage networks of trust, both with our colleagues and with external partners, to update our knowledge while avoiding excessive detail and limiting exploration. We learn (in order) to deliver.

Our ethic of task completion may lead us to attend to tasks that distract us from more strategic priorities. We may also use mundane or routine tasks to reduce stress or fatigue associated with “the really tough stuff” that may be “top priority”. At times, we deliberately shut out distractions to focus. Time scarcity means that the schedule becomes the strait jacket of 15-minute increments.

Sometimes our emotions can lead us to find what we need.

We prioritize incoming knowledge in ways consistent with our learning culture. Prioritization is based on urgency (in emergencies we “drop everything” else), origin (our bosses come first), the imperative of task completion, resources, and clarity (what’s in the subject header). This may happen at the expense of continual learning when knowledge that matters (later, or from a source other than a hierarchical superior) is ignored.

Authentic, emotional connections to people we care about often trump all other factors in prioritization.

We try to keep current, but what happens when we fail? “I try to be on time to answer,” we explain, “because I don’t like to have hundreds of emails unread on my computer.” Triage, iterative prioritization, scope reduction, and increased effort are three behaviors described by team members

How do we determine the value of knowledge and ensure authenticity? How do we make sense of implications, comprehending meaning and impact? We deploy a diverse set of individual strategies that include using data to check for internal consistency, triangulation, and questioning assumptions (including their own). These individual approaches, may be shared and become team practices.

Again, the point is that we know how to do this. What we don’t know – and what learning strategy seeks to answer – is how we learned, and how we can improve.