Learning goals versus performance goals

08/21/2012  |  Larry Biddle

From the beginning Jostens Renaissance has had an unwavering focus on Teaching and Learning as the principal reason for the very existence of educational institutions. We have championed that we are in the business of growing people everyday — our vision and mission continues to be spot on. Since 1984 we have asked thousands of staffulty and students, “Are you better today than you were yesterday?” If so, you are growing in the right direction! If not, improvement for staffulty and students becomes the next vital step to move up ...

Based on this simple but essential premise, we created a four level academic honor card system whose criteria is attendance, grades and behavior. This system is not just performance driven but learning driven as well. Extensive, subsequent in-depth research validates our strategy every day: Our schools are the most important businesses in our communities. For teachers we encourage starting the academic year with two or more pages written by students in their respective notebooks centered on what they will learn during the first semester and why it is so very important to their future endeavors.

Strategy matters more than ever in schools and businesses according to entrepreneur and author Seth Godin in his blog Monday morning, July 23 (http://sethgodin.typepad.com):

“When everyone is playing the same game, your execution is critical. Your store is like their store, your bread is like their bread, so we care very much about the care and skill you put into your product or service.

“Of course, that still matters, but the revolution of the web means that the way you go to market, the structure of your offering, the model of your business – these are sufficient to cause you to lose, regardless of how you play the game. (And able to give you a huge post if you plan right).

“Sam Walton was a huge success, largely because he developed a new retail strategy, not because he was better at running a store than anyone else. Local bookstores are in trouble, not because they don’t work hard or care a lot, but because they are saddled with expenses that used to be smart (rent for a local storefront) in a world where they are merely ballast.

“Running a business with the wrong strategy in the wrong place at the wrong time is possible, but it’s an uphill battle. The alternative is to think very hard about your model, your costs and the benefits you offer to the people you’d like to serve.

“You could change from a product to a service offering, from free to expensive, from low service to high service, from storefront to web, from large to small, from spam to permission, from acquiring new customers to delighting old ones, from wide open to invitation only, from dirty to green, from secret to transparent, from troll to benefactor, from custom to mass, or for any of these, vice versa.

“Not changing your strategy merely because you’re used to the one you have now is a lousy strategy.”

As a graduate of Learning as Leadership (www.learnaslead.com), I found that their one year extensive program verified the power of learning driven strategies for me.

Why we so often confuse the difference between objectives and the path is a cultural trait. In our society, we are primarily taught performance goals – in school, in our careers, in our relationships. It often starts young. In school, we are driven by getting the A. We are all familiar with the symptoms, like competition, or feeling devastated when we get poor results. We are so focused on the performance that we hardly learn. We study with the goal of acing a test – but how many times have we forgotten the lesson we just learned, only a few days after the test, even when we get a good grade? Indeed, the goal was not to learn but to perform. Following the test, we ask each other what grade we got — not what we learned.

In the number of years we have gone to school, how much of the information has stuck, compared to the time we spent? The ROI is usually very low. When we go about our careers, we have been trained to think likewise. How much do we seek and praise feedback? Do we go to our performance reviews hoping they are going to be good and/or fearing they are going to be bad, or are we enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn? The examples are numerous: our mind is trained to think in terms of performance goals, and our interactions are driven by them.

Many of us may have sensed there is something “unhealthy” in this quest for performance goals, but we do not know how to step out of it without rejecting it, and our responsibilities, altogether – which is not a healthier solution. It is unlikely that our entourage will encourage us in the direction of learning goals, at least not on a deep level. As previously stated, even those of us who do make a conscious effort to be in a learning mode most likely do not see our “blind spots,” or the places in which we are not in a true learning mode. In this paradigm shift, a very strong personal commitment is required to move forward on that learning path, but we also require support from others to help us identify our blind spots.

One of the goals of Learning as Leadership’s methodology, and more particularly of the One-Year Leadership Development Program, is to learn on a deep level to identify the ways in which we are caught in this cycle. We explore where it comes from, why we are so invested in it and what the costs and consequences are, so as to be able to make a sustainable decision to get on a learning path.

We then begin to develop out-of-the-paradigm alternatives such as learning goals and ecosystem goals – goals that will ultimately allow us to choose learning over performance, and to re-center on that in each moment. We learn how to support each other in these learning goals, so that we become allies in learning vs. threats in competitive performance.

We learn to use concrete results and deliverables as a tool within the framework of our learning goals. Too often, we confuse learning goals with letting go of our responsibilities and the goal (i.e. I do not care what grades I get, as long as I learn a lot). Learning encompasses performance not as a goal but as a tool, not as a compass but as a thermometer, not as an end but as a means.

Larry Biddle is considered the founder of Jostens Renaissance. He has been a student of the impact of recognition on individual achievement for two decades. He served as vice-chairman of the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, as well as a member of the Coastal Education Foundation at CCU. Dr. Biddle currently serves on the Board of Trustees at Coastal Carolina University.He can be contacted at [email protected].
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  12/8/2012 4:19:44 AM

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