Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Learning and problem solving

Welcome my first post!

I wanted to start with a personal example to illustrate the theme of this blog - learning is more than just attending a training class - learning happens when we need it most and by applying what we know to solve problems. I am often reminded of Richard Bach's quote: "You teach best what you most need to learn."

Here's the story: I was working from my mother-in-law's house in Arizona. Since she doesn't have a wireless hub in her condo, I was using one of the several unrestricted wireless hubs in her tightly knit condo association. Unfortunately, it only worked for a little while before the Windows PC I was working on gave me the infamous blue screen of death.

I restarted the system and started again. A few minutes later, the same thing. Now it is the definition of insanity to try the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. But I needed to get my work done, and all my files and setup is on my laptop. Now what?

I started again and this time wrote down the error code that appeared in the blue screen. When I was back up again, I searched for the error code using Google. One of the links was the support page for Microsoft. I entered the code, and learned that to get more details, I would need to download their stack trace tool. At this point I should mention that I am not a Systems Administrator, nor do I play one on TV, but.... I know enough from my background as a computer programmer, a brief stint as a systems administrator and technical instruction development to know what a stack trace is and what it can tell you.

Ok - so minutes later I looked at the crash file that Windows produces when it dies and found out that the it was my Intel wireless device that caused the crash. Eureka! After using Google to search for he error code with the part number of the Intel wireless card, I found a few people had the same issue on their laptops and had solved the problem by upgrading the device driver - the program that each physical device in a computer uses to talk to the operating system.
Over to the Intel website, I located the support page for the Intel wireless card that I had (again through a search) and upgraded the device driver to the latest version. Success. And the process took maybe 20 minutes (minus the time for the computer to crash and reboot a few times due to the existing issue).

So here's the point: I didn't need a technician. I didn't need interesting but irrelevant information on the architecture of an Intel wireless card. I didn't need a 5 day instructor-led class on Windows PC repair. I did need to get my PC working so I could finish what I needed to get done. I did use my background on the process of troubleshooting from an error code to the stack dump to the specific device. The information I needed was available on the internet. And with that information I constructed my own solution to solve the problem with my PC. I was able to synthesize the information to create a solution, one of the higher order skills in the taxonomy Bloom's cognitive domain.

Much of the training I've seen for kids is designed around problem solving - encouraging the use of what is available in the game to solve the problems. Most training for adults seems a bit more constrained and focused on getting product features to work. There are several obstacles to overcome when build learning "courses" that would emulate the process I followed and that is the focus of this blog. Along the way I will be posting examples of really good learning programs that encourage the building learning process - working with what you know to create unique solutions to problems.

1 comment:

Brandon said...

Good example of the three J's (just in time, just for me, just enough).

I think in the performance support model this is perfect. You were able to get your job done based on the collective intelligence of the community in which you chose to seek information.

I agree with you about most adult learning programs. I've seen the elaborate 50-screen page turners when a simple job aid might really pinpoint the problem.

In my opinion, I think it's important to architect a training solution that enables performance improvement at the time of need, but it should also stimulate critical thinking, reflection, and application, so that the learning moves from short-term recall to long-term knowledge.

We're doing that with the Sun Open Learning Center framework I think. We'll see.

Good post! I look forward to more.