Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Is a dog ever too old to learn?

Sometime in the mid to late 1800’s, E.C. Brewer is credited with coming up with the phrase, “you can’t teach an old dog a new trick”. Whether or not there is truth in this depends on your definition of “old”. We have statutes and rules that determine when someone is too young to participate in or learn something. However, as a society we have never imposed age limits. Therefore, being too old is more often “self-determined”.

In our business, of providing learning resources, we see three types of customers; those that should learn the proper way to do things, those that need to learn new ways to do things, and those that simply want to learn how to do more things. Let me clarify a bit about each of these customer types.

The “Should Learns” generally incorporates those preparing to enter the workforce that should prepare themselves with competitive skills and abilities to help land the job and do the job properly. This group often consider themselves “experts” at computers as they have been using them for many years. However, studies have shown that most self-professed experts, on things like Microsoft Excel, know less than 15% of the functionality of the software programs they have been using. Would you want a surgeon working on you if he thought he was an expert, but could only perform efficiently with 15% of his tools? This is one of the reasons companies have increased their interview processes to include a skills assessment. They want to determine and verify the claims too often exaggerated on résumés regarding expertise and skills.

Next, consider the “Need to Learns”. They are those that are years into their career paths. In my experience, this group will conclude their need to learn something in one of two manners. Either they realize it themselves or they are told by someone else. When they realize it for themselves, it generally is the result of a struggle they currently face and desire to overcome it. Others will be approached by a manager or human resource person to improve a set of skills to become more productive at a task.

The “Want to Learns” is made up primarily of those that have reached specific career goals and no longer need to “sharpen their axe”. These are those that have a personal desire to continue the process of learning. They are often, but not always, the “old dogs”. They are interested in understanding and using new technology, processes and tools. For years they have turned to Adult Education classes at local colleges or to books on the topics. More recently they have flocked to audio tapes, videos and DVDs to learn from subject matter experts. With online learning subscription libraries, they are finding the best of both worlds. They get a similar experience to that with a mentor, coach or classroom without the need to travel or schedule specific time blocks. In addition, they get ahttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifccess to a large library of content without having to pay the premium costs associated with buying tuition to individual classes or purchasing many books.

In 2009, researchers at North Carolina State University released a study called “Moderators of and Mechanisms Underlying Stereotype Threat Effects on Older Adults’ Memory Performance”. The study concluded that you are only as old as you think you are. I too believe that age is relative and that “All dogs can learn new tricks”.

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