Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Total Immersion

My library system is currently going through an ILS (Integrated Library System) migration.  If you aren't familiar with library operations or what an ILS is, Wikipedia sums it up quite nicely. Although the ILS will not change what staff do, it will change how they do it.  Going through a system change like this can be stressful; it takes a lot of effort on behalf of the learner and trainer to make a smooth transition.  But what if I told you that too much effort is a bad thing?

IN THE CLASSROOM
Most likely you took a foreign language in high school, maybe even college.  Chances are, if you did not major in that language, you've probably forgotten most of the vocabulary and grammar beyond basic greetings.  But why? Because the classroom is fake and not filled with real world learning opportunities that stick.  You've forgotten the language you learned because there was nothing impressionable about it to make that knowledge stick.  If you tried to pick the language up again, trust me, it would not be like riding a bike. Similarly, on the job, we may understand the importance of learning the information but until it is applied with frequency and purpose, the knowledge may be difficult for our brains to retain.

Personality, age, and other factors determine how we like to learn.  Terms such as kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learning are thrown around a lot but they mean very little when it comes to real world application.  I liken learning a new language to learning a new system because they have more similarities than differences.  In the language learning classroom students often get bogged down in translation - they think in English (or whatever their native language may be) and then do a word-for-word translation into the new language.  But languages are inherently different from one another as they follow their own set of rules.  The only similarity in language is the purpose - to communicate ideas.  Similarly, a new system is designed for the same purpose as the old - holding and retrieving item and customer records - but the rules and logic are completely different.  Therefore, one should never learn something new (like a language) by translating word-for-word from the original. That is just a recipe for disaster.

TOTAL IMMERSION
If we are not translating, then what do we do?  We learn, instead, by immersion.  I won't lie, immersion is scary for some individuals.  It means forgetting what you already know and forming new connections and ideas.  In a language class, this is demonstrated by only speaking the language and using demonstrations to communicate words and phrases.  Instead of telling students that, in Spanish, the word for "spoon" is "cuchara," one would hold up a spoon and say "cuchara."  Therefore, when the student sees a spoon they immediately think cuchara - no translation needed.  Learning a new system through immersion requires you to forget about all the things you used to know and do and make room for learning new concepts.  New systems are meant to be upgrades and if you translate items based on what you used to do in the old system, you limit yourself and what you may be able to do in the new.  Instead, learn the new system as if you have never experienced any other and learn the ins and outs without comparison.

THE REAL WORLD

As I mentioned before, the classroom is a false learning environment.  The real learning happens when you are placed in the real world and forced to make language happen.  It's impossible to be a fluent speaker the moment you step out of the classroom, because no classroom can prepare you for every single exchange you may have with a person.  Similarly, it is impossible to remember everything about a new system.  Sometimes we just have to cross the bridge when we get to it. The value of doing that, as opposed to having learned it in the classroom, is the high probability the information will stick.

When you get out into the real world and you find that you have forgotten how to do/say something, DON'T PANIC, just ask for help.  Learning in this real environment has a higher likelihood that you'll remember how to do it the next time around. And remember, most people are extremely understanding when you are learning and very grateful for the help you give.