What is the difference between doing and learning?

Reflecting, Sharing, Learning

As you engage in shared action learning, you need to make sense of what is going on. This is arguably the most important part of shared action learning. Here is where you explore the meaning of what you are doing and what happened when you did it. You apply theoretical concepts and order your experience in a way that allows you to move forward. This includes reflecting upon how your own assumptions, thoughts, and feelings have affected your plan, actions, and observations. It may result in specific “findings” or more likely it will result in a more nuanced understanding of the tensions within and between different issues and the existing ambiguities. Often reflection leads to a new set of questions or ideas, which in turn leads into another shared action learning scene.

At the heart of reflecting upon what happened is the difference between doing and learning. Certainly if we pay attention at all, we tend to learn something whenever we act. But far too often we fall into the trap of seeking confirming data. That is to say, that when we act, we look for things that will confirm our own thinking. If our assumptions going in were that someone is not very smart, when we engage with them we look for evidence that confirms our opinion that they weren’t very smart. If we start out thinking that the best sanitation solution is self-composting toilets then as we talk to people and gather data we tend to pay more attention to things that would support the case for self-composting toilets and we tend to make sense of ambiguous information in a way that confirms our preference for self-composting toilets.

In contrast to this is real learning which happens when we look for disconfirming evidence, when we consciously question our experience and look for evidence that may disprove our assumptions about the world. When we have the assumption that someone isn’t very smart, we consciously look for ways in which that person is smart. When we prefer self-composting toilets we look for evidence that might suggest self-composting toilets are a bad idea, we pay particular attention to stories about government imposed bucket systems and see how self-composting toilets might remind people of those days. Learning involves structured and rigorous questioning of our own thinking as well as of our own and others’ actions and the results of those actions. Such learning then becomes expressed in how we connect, plan, act, observe, and report.