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An Insight Into Insights

In my last blog, where I wrote about the levels of learning, I talked about how different training tools and methods would be targeted at or useful for a given level of learning. In this post, I offered a way to better understand the nature of insight as:

Insight involves the grouping of perceptions into meaningful wholes.

This is a generally accepted view, but there is more to say about insight and learning. It’s perhaps an insight into insights…

Let’s have a look, OK? Good!

What Is Learning?

Working Definitions

In the Aviation Instructors Handbook (FAA-H-8083-9), we talk about learning and note that there are many ways that we can define learning, a few of which are:

  • A change in the behavior of the learner as a result of experience. The behavior can be physical and overt, or it can be intellectual or attitudinal.
  • The  process  by  which  experience  brings  about  a  relatively permanent change in behavior.
  • The change in behavior that results from experience and practice.
  • Gaining knowledge or skills, or developing a behavior, through study, instruction, or experience
  • The process of acquiring knowledge or skill through  study,  experience,  or  teaching.  It  depends on experience and leads to long-term changes in behavior potential. Behavior potential describes the possible behavior of an individual (not actual behavior) in a given situation in order to achieve a goal.
  • A relatively permanent change in cognition, resulting from experience and directly influencing behavior.

When examining the definitions of learning offered, we can see that there are a number of similarities. What are they? We’ll, let’s have a look at the distribution of the words on in a Wordle and see what strikes us:

Insight Wordle

I think that it’s interesting that they top three words here are:

  • Behavior
  • Experience
  • Change

Characteristics of Learning

As I talked about in my levels of learning blog post, there is value in the rote and understanding levels of learning, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are able to appreciate any larger meaning or can apply what has been learned. The descriptions are definitely weighted towards learning that can occur at the Application and Correlation levels. This is where these three terms can be seen at play. Indeed, the handbook goes on to establish that the characteristics of effective learning are that it’s:

  • Purposeful
  • Result of Experience
  • Multifaceted
  • (an) Active Process

As such, it’s unreasonable to expect that there should be corresponding changes in individual behavior, solely from any training that occurs at the lower levels. It’s not that it cannot happen, but it’s certainly unlikely, because the experiential element is conspicuously missing. We directly address this in the higher levels of learning, but it’s not just about levels of learning — it’s also about the domains of learning! Let’s have a quick look at those…

Domains Of Learning

The Domains of Learning are designed to address the elements that are required to satisfy and support a multitude of educational/learning objectives. They are:

Domains of Learning

Congnitive Domain

In this domain, we are focused on building the knowledge and understanding that helps a student move towards accomplishing their learning objectives. When most of us in the ITSM world think of “learning,” almost by instinct, we think of formal classes and certificate programs — “learning by listening,” an overwhelmingly passive activity. More often than not, we have this association in place because of the number of events and classes which address a need to prepare someone for taking an exam on a specific topic. While this is correct, it is also a subset of what could be done in this domain.

Our educational objectives in this domain can be accomplished in multiple ways which might include:

  • Self-study, reading, research (books, periodicals)
  • Writing, recall and association exercises
  • 1:1 mentoring and guided discussion
  • Online, computer-based training
  • Events, conferences and presentations
  • Networking and focused discussions
  • etc.

This is a very broad area and there are many means by which we can engage the learner. The key thing about learning in this domain is remembering that it’s about knowledge and understanding, not the means by which that is generated.

Psychomotor Domain

In this domain, we are focused on developing the skills which help a student move towards accomplishing their learning objectives. Quite often in flying (as in many other specialties), we will think of skills in the physical sense — an ability to use our limbs and bodies in executing tasks which require a specific degree of precision. We can use many of the techniques/methods described above to work with learners to gain/exercise/improve/perfect skills. By its very nature, as this deepens, it will require new learning from the other domains, as they do not exist in isolation.

At the same time, there are many skills which are not primarily “physical” in nature. Examples might be:

  • Communicating and relating with others
  • Troubleshooting and diagnosis
  • Creating quotes and estimates for contracts and proposals
  • Identifying and mitigating risks
  • etc.

The key thing to note here is that (physical or not) there is some sort of method/practice/activity which can be practiced to be able to do these things better, faster, cheaper or with a higher degree of precision/accuracy. In this, there are both quantitative and qualitative elements associated with the desired outcomes.

Affective Domain

In this domain, we are focused on understanding and developing the beliefs, attitudes, values associated with accomplishing their learning objectives. For many, this can be a tough domain to work with. More often than not, we are forced to make assumptions about this, because we haven’t done the work to determine what the measures, outcomes and indicators are for the different objectives. If our learning objectives are centered around “quality”, how can we ensure that the student has the right attitude towards quality.

Instructors need to concern themselves with whether their students have a superficial understanding (relating to the area in a simple way) or is it a true appreciation (connecting with a deeper meaning) for what is being discussed.

Integrative Domain

I added this domain, because of its importance. In this domain, we are focused on building the the context and holistic perspectives that help a student move towards accomplishing their objectives. The main reason that I added this is that I believe that there is a good case for it. As we increase the complexity of the skills and abilities required to execute in a given area, there is a corresponding increase in the demand for the type of learning experience that intentionally opens opportunities to have insights occur.

In a recent tweet, I also commented that instructors are constantly looking for ways to satisfy their instructional objectives for the program, as well as attend to the needs (and specific differences) of the individual learners that they are working with. They will change  their approach, methods or even alter content/format, if they find that it will help a student progress towards their objectives. This alone will not guarantee that it will achieve the desired outcome.

In addition, in a recent discussion on Google+, I noted that, if you study any given area, there’s no way of knowing what bit of study is going to be the one that results in the “aha!” moment that all instructors/educators (worth their salt) are playing for. While this already happens as part of the instructional design process, it’s another thing entirely to intentionally design curricula, learning experiences and desired outcomes which create the conditions under which new insights can emerge.

If we are not doing this intentionally, we are either counting on this to happen as a “learning grenade” (pull the pin, toss it in and wait for the explosion) OR we leave the primary responsibility for insight development on the doorstep of the learner. Ultimately, we cannot generate the insight for the student, but we can take the actions to help guide them towards having them.

This is of significant interest to us in Universal Service Management, because we are drawing information across multiple domains and synthesizing this into policies, plans, processes and practices. We must bridge the gap between understanding/recall of theory and how this is applied in a “real world” context. In my mind, this is one of the key reasons why “learning by doing” is an absolutely essential component of service management training and why certificate programs tend to come up short — outcomes and results, the tangible connection to value, get lost in the mix.


In order to realize the results that we want and to make the value to learners and the organizations they serve tangible, we need to address more than knowledge. Only addressing rote learning and understanding are insufficient to the task at hand. Why? Because if insights are, as we said in the beginning of this post, the grouping of perceptions into meaningful wholes, we need to get serious about what it takes to shape perceptions and incorporate sound principles of learning which help us achieve our learning objectives. Repetition may help, but is only one of a number of elements and it must be used properly to avoid adverse effects.

Given this, we are also concerned that what people learn does not guarantee a corresponding alteration in their thinking, behavior or actions. In fact, in many cases, these three are often (seemingly) in conflict with one another — they just don’t match up. Part of what our instructional design strategies and learning objectives should address is how this plays out on an interpersonal, organizational and cross-cultural basis. Indeed, when considering any type of transformation program, how this is addressed becomes critical. Identifying the required strategies to facilitate the transformations/alterations needed at the individual and organizational level take on an entirely new level of importance.

We’ll continue to build upon the work we’ve started here and open up new ground in the areas/directions I’ve mentioned (in the two paragraphs above) in future blog posts. In the meantime, I hope that this prompts you to think, engage with others and consider the impact of these upon the work you do. If you have any questions or care to discuss this with me, please feel free to start a conversation.

Posted In:Org/Personnel Development, Service Management
Tags Used:Abilities, Alteration, Aptitude, Attitude, Behavior, Change, Characteristics of Learning, Development, Domains of Learning, Educational Objectives, Experience, Holistic, Insight, ITSM, Knowledge, Learning Experience, Learning Objectives, Learning Theory, Meaning, Mentoring, RUAC, Skills, Student, Training, Transformation
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