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How Time Impacts Growth Mindsets

Growth is definitely a buzzword for business. Grow your sales. Grow your network. Grow your skills. According to Carol Dweck, having a "growth mindset" is essential for personal growth. Basically, if you believe that you can develop/improve a skill over time with practice, you have a growth mindset, and you are more likely to persevere through challenges to achieve your goals. If you believe you only have a finite ability, then you have a fixed mindset.

Note that this mindset is not a whole-package deal. You can have a fixed mindset about some things and a growth mindset about others. Dweck's mindset theory is a popular one, and most learning professionals agree with Dweck. I'm one of them.

What we rarely discuss, however, is the influence of time on the growth mindset.

What we rarely discuss, however, is the influence of time on the growth mindset. In my own dissertation research, students spoke often about time. When students felt they had enough time, they flourished; they thought more deeply, reflected, wrote, worked through problems, and produced end-products they were proud of. When they felt they didn't have enough time, they typically grew frustrated or disengaged.

It got me thinking about how time affects training and other occupation-based forms of learning. Administrators often plan for "seat time" or "hours" of training to fit schedules, budgets, and basic compliance demands. But what happens when someone with a growth mindset believes they do not have enough time to learn?

What happens when someone with a growth mindset believes they do not have enough time to learn?

For example, I'm someone who believes I can learn just about anything if I practice it. However, if you told me I had one day to learn how to rewire an aircraft, I would revert to a fixed mindset: there's no way.

This happens a lot in corporate training. It can brood anxiety, apathy, and even resentment, none of which you want employees to feel about important job tasks.

So let's talk about time-- how much of it you need and how to best use it.

How long does it take to learn something? Malcolm Gladwell famously stated you can become an expert at anything in 10,000 hours. However, most of us don't need to be "experts," and that claim has been debunked. What we do need is to figure out what people need to know, to what level of depth, and the complexity of the subject matter. To do that, you need a well-conceptualized learner persona. You won't know how long it takes someone to achieve a goal if you don't know when, how, and where they learn best. For example, it might take a kindergartner several days to build the motor skills to learn to tie shoes, where it might take an adult just five minutes to learn a new knot.

How can we speed up the learning process? Consider easy to absorb mediums and give learners agency over their progress. I'd suggest moving away from traditional lectures, if that's your current game plan. Adaptive learning can help students who are already familiar with content move forward more quickly while slowing down students who need more time. Media-based learning can help explain concepts in ways that lectures may not be able to capture (My younger brother actually taught me to speed up videos to 1.5x or 2x to watch more quickly, although I wouldn't make every student do that). Digital learning tools can make training more accessible and easier to fit into a day's work. Scenario-based learning can help learners make sense of concepts and the ways in which different contexts affect them without having to go through a list of ideas and exceptions. Microlearning can give the user more flexibility to integrate the learning into small time slots and to absorb concepts fully before moving on. The caveat is, of course, that you can only speed it up so much. You will still have to respect that learning takes time.

We're still stuck with only [insert small unit of time here] for training complex material. What can we do? Don't get stuck in a box. While the formal training might only occur in a conference room, there are plenty of ways to extend the learning experience. You can offer "on-demand" learning resources for after the course. You can ask managers to blend on-the-job training into their programs. You can help boost memory with e-mail based or SMS-based single-question pop quizzes in the days after training. There are so many things you can do to help boost memory or offer additional assistance beyond the scope of that one day.

There are lots of ways to get creative and use time most efficiently. The key to success is to demonstrate respect and support for the learner by taking careful stock of the their needs and the requirements of the learning task.

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