So, how do we support our learning organization once we have set the stage? Create and engage a catalyst for Learning.

What is a catalyst? A person or thing that precipitates an event or triggers an action in others. Simply put, leaders in combination with the organizational culture serve as the catalyst, or spark to action, for the long-term learning strategy. The challenge is creating a cohesion between the two that sets the stage appropriately.

Motivational Reflection

A few years ago, I was visiting with the leadership team at a remote call center in Phoenix, and we had started to discuss the meaning of a learning catalyst. One of the more senior leaders in the room proudly verbalized his description as someone who has a passion for learning and works to teach others around them. Almost immediately, one of his peers looked over at him and said “good answer, however, you’re missing a valuable component”. Action only takes place when properly cultivated. Leaders must create an environment that is first of all conducive to learning and development, and sparks action in others. When people are properly motivated, great things can happen. When leaders act as a catalyst for learning, the organization can benefit from continuous and sustainable improvement.

The catalyst for learning is the one who brings synergy to the group and acts as the glue that bonds group members together. They also work to enhance and expand abilities to learn and take swift and trigger effective action. The primary role and focus of any leader is to facilitate their people’s ability to grow and learn so that it, in turn, can improve and grow most efficiently.

As a facilitator of learning, I often consider motivation to be up to the learner. Such abstract concepts as attitude and needs are personal and not easy for any facilitator to address. Learning leaders are dealing with a group of individuals whose needs and motivations are very diverse. Life experience widens the gap between each learner and creates a level of diversity that is important in learning motivation. Instructional designers must meet the challenge of designing instruction that motivates and meets the needs of a wide population. There are a number of motivational techniques that have a great bearing on instructional design.

The potential benefits of attention to motivation are many, however, we as leaders must inspire motivation in ways that require more consistent reflection and adjustment than other learning components.

Nurturing Competent Curiosity

Curiosity is a highly impactful driver for motivating learning. Think about the last time you were extremely curious about something. What was it about your curiosity that motivated you to learn something new? Behaviorists through the years constantly talk about the application of punishment and reward as the main driver for learning and development. To this effect, people are naturally curious beings. We seek out new experiences and gain enjoyment out of learning new things. There exists satisfaction in the completion of puzzles, and the perfection of skills and competencies.

A major task in being a catalyst of the learning culture is to nurture curiosity and to use curiosity as a motive for learning. Curiosity, if leveraged effectively, works to intrinsically motivate, and remove the need to use punishment and reward as a primary method of motivation.

Competence is an intrinsic motivation for learning that is highly related to self-efficacy. People tend to receive pleasure from doing things well. Sometimes simple successes are not enough. As a learning leader, you must not only provide situations where success occurs but also give people opportunities to undertake challenging tasks on their own to prove to themselves that they can succeed.

Prerequisite skill development promotes competence in a field of study. There is an old saying, give someone a fish and they will eat for a day, teach someone to fish and they will eat for a lifetime. Learning a skill without an understanding of the process is doomed to be lost. External support, respect, and encouragement are important for anyone to achieve competence, and the achievement of competence itself becomes the intrinsic motivating factor and one more highly effective tool in the toolkit.

Attitude and Performance

Attitudes, on behalf of learners everywhere, tend to differ. As any leader and educator can attest to, attitude is an elusive commodity. A manager dealing with an employee with an “attitude” is instructed to deal specifically with the behavior that is occurring. Performance evaluations are not to include the term, “bad attitude”, rather specific examples of actual situations must be cited of employee job performance. In an educational setting, the performance that we are striving for is learning, which in some cases can be judged through behavior but not always the case.

As with employees, it is important to point out to students specific behaviors that demonstrate an attitude. However, the attitude of a student toward learning is very much an intrinsic characteristic and is not always demonstrated through behaviors. The positive behaviors exhibited by the student may only occur in the presence of the instructor, and may not be apparent at other times. For example, a person may have a poor attitude toward the police but when confronted by a policeman they behave courteously and respectfully.

The behavior is contrary to the attitude. If a person is induced to perform an act that is contrary to that person’s own attitude, attitude change will result therefore enhancing the learning experience and overall support of the resulting culture.