Overcoming Defences Against Learning
Learning on and off the job maintains and increases your value as an employee. In other words, when you keep learning, you keep earning. However, it isn’t always easy to stay open to learning opportunities, especially if you’ve completed the training your job requires, or if you’ve been working in the same position for some time.
Most people get in the way of their own learning at one time or another. Self-created ways of avoiding learning are called “learning defences.” You put up a barrier to learning if you respond negatively to a learning opportunity, as in the following examples:
- I know this already.
- I don’t need to know this.
- Not another fill-in-the-blank worksheet!
- I won’t answer any questions and then I won’t look stupid.
- That instructor looks young enough to be my daughter/old enough to be my mother.
If you’ve experienced responses like these, you’ve probably reacted negatively to the content, delivery or source of a learning situation. Being aware of your reactions will help you avoid raising your defences against valuable learning opportunities.
Content can be an issue if it
- challenges your beliefs, e.g. seeing a situation from someone else’s point of view
- requires extra effort, e.g. learning to use a different tool or software program
- challenges your sense of confidence or competence, e.g. learning a new way to do a familiar task.
The way content is delivered can raise barriers if it
- reminds you of a negative learning experience from your past, e.g. a classroom setting if you had problems with school as a child
- requires you to learn in a medium you’re not familiar with, e.g. online modules if you’re not comfortable using the Internet
- conflicts with your preferred learning style, e.g. role play if you’re a visual learner.
The person presenting the content can be an issue if you
- stereotype the presenter, e.g. the presenter is the “wrong” gender, age or culture
- make assumptions about the presenter’s status, e.g. the presenter is too high up or too far down in the organization for you to learn from
- respond negatively to the presenter’s personality, e.g. the presenter seems too self-important, too shy or too unusual.
Tips for avoiding learning defences
- Recognize that learning defences are dangerous when your health and safety or the health and safety of others is involved. Learn to stay safe.
- Identify the defences against learning that you tend to use. If you’re not sure what they are, talk to a trusted supervisor, co-worker, fellow student or instructor.
- Identify three or four reasons why what you’re learning is important to you. Review these reasons if you become frustrated or upset in the learning situation.
- Know your preferred learning styles. Whenever possible, choose courses and programs that reflect your preferences. See Other Relevant Tips for more information.
Relevant Tips (alis.alberta.ca/tips)
Additional Reading (alis.alberta.ca/publications)