We are innately good at both healing and learning

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Written by Paul Matthews on 23 October 2017

I’m sure, like me, you have been to see a doctor. The usual reason to go is because something is not quite working the way it should be, and you are seeking help, advice, medication, or perhaps some other medical intervention.

You also know that ultimately your body needs to heal itself. For example, in the case of an open cut from a moment’s inattention with a kitchen knife, you might need some stitches, but the body will manage the process of cells knitting together. And then in a couple of weeks, you have an impressive scar which can be the springboard for stories that are far more adventurous than lack of skill with a kitchen knife.

So, whatever the doctor does for you and with you, she is only assisting your body heal. She is not doing the healing. The form of the assistance given, and the way it is delivered may well have a big impact on the quality and rate of your healing; indeed, healing may not even be possible in some cases without assistance from your doctor. But they do not DO the healing. You do.

Think about this in the context of training. The trainer can provide help, advice, content and even other interventions to help the delegates learn, but the trainer does not do the learning. The delegates do the learning. The form of assistance provided by the trainer, and the way it is delivered, like the medical analogy, may well have a big impact on the quality and rate of the learning.

Think of the intervention of the doctor or the trainer as the formal aspect of the healing or learning process. Think of our innate ability to heal, and our innate ability to learn as informal aspects of the process.

Let’s go back to our medical analogy. It’s a good one. Only so much can be done in the doctor’s consulting room, but what is done can have an immense effect on the mindset, and therefore the patient’s compliance with regimes that help the healing process.

A good doctor wants their patient to heal, and will set them up with a mindset, tools and support that will enable that healing after they have left the surgery.

As ever, it is then down to the patient to take the tablets, read the supporting material, do the exercises, eat the right foods, or whatever has been recommended. Some of what the doctor did in the surgery will flow through to ongoing healing automatically, for example, if a doctor put some stitches in a wound, it is unlikely the patient will rip them out.

But a patient with the wrong mindset, or the wrong understanding of how healing happens, can scupper their own healing by not doing the follow up activities that will enhance healing. Also, peers of that patient can undermine the doctor's advice and render it ineffective.

In medicine they might use the term ‘successful treatment’ when they measure their results and see a healed patient after an appropriate amount of time. In L&D, we might use the term ‘return on expectation’ when we measure our results and see the embedded behaviour changes we wanted after an appropriate amount of time.

The next time you are responding as an L&D professional to an ‘ailment’ presented to you, think about how a doctor would approach the problem, and what sort of actions they, and the wider health service, would take.


About the author

Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy and an expert in workplace learning, especially informal learning, learning transfer, performance consultancy, and how L&D can help achieve business targets.

He is the author of “Informal Learning at Work: How to Boost Performance in Tough Times” and “Capability at Work: How to Solve the Performance Puzzle”. For further information, please visit www.peoplealchemy.co.uk.


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