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Where do you get your knowledge from?

Do you like new knowledge? Where do you get knowledge from? How do you keep it up to date?

There are many paths for the acquisition of knowledge these days, depending on what you want to know, learn, master or discuss. The diversity of electronic media and e-learning offers based on it support learning and increase the possibilities. Thanks to e-learning, you can also select courses based on the type of learning, whether you prefer to learn visually or acoustically.

Knowledge or familiarity

If you just want to know superficially what a story map is, then you can type it into a search engine and read through the first result. If you would like to know more details, then a carefully written book is a better starting point, because here the most important foundations have been prepared by an expert. A thick book certainly brings more than a thin one, because it repeats the overviews of the shorter book. A special story mapping book is more useful than a general book about agile software specification, in which there will be half a page somewhere where story maps will be mentioned. Because paper is going out of fashion, the subject book can be read just the same electronically, either as an e-book on a laptop or on an e-book reader.

Reading also seems to be going out of fashion. Meanwhile, educational videos on YouTube have become popular – five to ten minute videos in which snippets of knowledge, like, for example, ‘how do I write a user story?’ are explained. Even the audio learners are accommodated when something is explained to them orally. I really like audio books because they leave my hands free, so to say, then I can stick notes and numbers into a book at the same time. That’s how I manage a whole hour of additional input per office day.

Course books and e-learning courses are often assessed using multiple choice questions, to see whether the learners have understood the content. Through them, learners get direct feedback as to whether or not they read everything attentively enough and if they understood.

Expanding your knowledge online

Expanding your knowledge online

Ability

If you read, see or hear knowledge, it whooshes past and sounds really simple. But maybe it also sounds very difficult. In any case, you have just read, seen or heard the knowledge. That’s enough to know facts. But you only learn to do things by doing them! Maybe you want to be able to do something, like use a method, improve an ability. Because practice makes perfect, you have to practice. You can just produce a story map.

Unfortunately, in this quiet chamber of solitary practice, an important element of the learning cycle is missing: feedback. We can only improve when we learn what we have done correctly and what we have done wrong. We can’t always judge this ourselves. If we try something new, is it at first unusual and sometimes it misses the mark. Courses provide a protective barrier in which we can try new things and receive competent and constructive feedback. This is true not only for a story map but also for activities that you already have a command of but want to try something different with. If I start a lecture, for example, in a specific way, how does it really work? Can it really be done like this? I had an idea, what do you think? Does it suit me?

We don’t always need a real life course with a star trainer, pieces of salmon in the breaks and a wellness area for afterwards. We can comfortably practice a lot of things at home alone, like the grammar of a foreign language, dance steps or programming. Even at a beginners level one feels safer stumbling alone, for fear of disgrace. Well-compiled e-books and educational videos – on CDs or on the internet – are good didactic support, especially ones that focus of exercises. We can check and evaluate the results ourselves. This is not ideal, because one can accidentally become used to something that is wrong, and habits are really stubborn. For that reason, a trainer as a feedback provider can’t be done in, despite YouTube and free online courses. Even in the online lectures (MOOC = massive open online course) one tries to give individual feedback. With thousands of simultaneous users, that can only work with a peer review system – the participants evaluating each other at the same time. That works astonishingly well and leads to more critical and multifaceted feedback than when someone evaluates their own work. However, the quality of the feedback is not guaranteed.

I change between self-directed learning and courses. I start a course when I have come quite far alone and have completely concrete questions that I want to put to a professional.

Command

In the area where you are an expert, self-directed learning is easiest, but you might also be prone to strive for perfection, which is difficult to reach. On the one hand, there is not a lot that is lacking in terms of knowledge and ability, you know the most important concepts and methods and can use them. New knowledge is easily connected with existing knowledge, and if you already know a notation for process modelling, it is easy to learn another. The foundational principles and the difficulties are similar.

On the other hand, there is perfection. The learning curve is the steepest as long as you know absolutely nothing. Every word that you read wins you knowledge. At some point you have to read entire books in order to find a single new thought. It is even more difficult to reach perfection with practical knowledge. Without competent feedback, it is impossible. If you have a superior command of story mapping and have been doing it for years, you have to refine the details. For that you need someone who is at or above the level you are striving for to provide feedback. The closer to you come to perfection, the smaller the course groups, the more individual the feedback, until you come to individual coaching.

Discussion

Even the thick books leave out a lot of special cases. Or you have tried something that was supposed to have worked for others. But it didn’t. Or you are entertaining a new idea, using something in a new area that was not possible before. In order to answer different or hypothetical questions, it is good to use the wisdom of the group. Even an individual expert can only speculate and offer their judgment. Learning through discussion is an opportunity for experts at a high level to develop themselves even further. Such discussions can take place online in networks and forums, although they often suffer there from the internet’s customary lack of objectivity and self-representation. Work groups inside clubs, lecture and workshops at conferences, but also small group courses for advanced learners offer an overseeable framework for knowledge-developing discussions. In these cases, electronic mediums offer communication support, for example, in the form of a webinar (online seminar) or a telephone conference, because true expertise doesn’t come from conserves but from people.

Summary

These days, there are diverse possibilities to acquire new knowledge and abilities. The one that you choose depends on your previous knowledge, what you want to learn and what learning style you have. Superficial knowledge is available almost everywhere. In order to be able to do something, you have to practice, practice, practice. Perfection and expertise are only possible through competent feedback and exchange with other experts.

 

Note:

Dr. Andrea Herrmann offers e-learning courses in German: http://www.herrmann-ehrlich.de/index.php?&CONTENT=GER/kursuebersicht.php

Dr Andrea Herrmann is a freelance IT management trainer and consultant. She gained her 20 years of experience, inter alia, working as a consultant and project manager for seven years, then researching and teaching at universities for ten years – including stints as a guest professor. She has more than 100 scientific publications to her name and is a regular at conferences. Dr Herrmann supports the IREB Board and has co-authored the IREB teaching plan and handbook for the CPRE Advanced Level Certification in requirements management. She is the regional speaker of the informatics society in Stuttgart/Böblingen.

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