Thursday, 27 November 2008

People don't know...what they don't know!

The basic psychology of how people learn new skills is pretty fascinating - really!

Being in the business of measuring CAD & BIM skills of Autodesk & Bentley users, we find ourselves at the heart of the learning debate.

Part of the problem with traditional CAD training is that it can be a bit one-dimensional. Often, over the course of 1, 2, or 3 days, a variety of users from differing backgrounds, and with varying degrees of experience and ability, will gather in a classroom and attempt to absorb every detail of the latest release of AutoCAD, Revit, or whatever, in a torrent of technical information. Inevitably, the trainer has to gravitate to the speed of the slowest learner, and everyone else follows along at that pace. The assumption is (incorrectly!) made that all delegates possess a minimum level of basic CAD ability. Further, the material tends to be off-the-shelf or generic, with individual workflows and processes seldom covered; this can make it difficult for students to relate to the material and apply the information back at the workplace.

Now, consider the following evidence from Rebecca Rupp, author of 'Committed to Memory';
'One hour after learning, 56% of material has gone to the wind; one day later, 66% has evaporated; and after one month, 80% is gone'.

With this in mind, is it any wonder why firms struggle to get a satisfactory bang for their training buck?! Should even a modest amount of time pass between the course ending and real work commencing, it is small wonder that much of the new material isn't applied on the job; the 'use it or lose it' factor.

Over the past four years, CADsmart has compiled results data from over 10,000 live CAD skills assessments. Analysis of the data makes for enlightening reading. By dividing the results into four performance 'quartiles', an interesting trend emerges. Based on accuracy & speed, and against a 'mean' score of 63% in 74 minutes, the following breakdowns occur; 37% comprise the upper quartile (4), which means they are faster and more accurate than the average. 1 in 5 users make it into the mid-upper quartile (3); more accurate but slower than the mean. Another 20% populate the mid-lower quartile (2); less accurate but faster than their peers. Finally, 23% of users (nearly a quarter!) make up the lower quartile (1), performing slower and with less quality than the rest.

In our experience, until they complete a formal skills assessment, most users have no real idea of how skilled they are, relative to their peers in industry. Many claim to be 'experts' or 'super users', based on nothing more than their years of service with Autodesk or Bentley tools! Simply put, they don't know what they don't know.

So what journey do we take, as we progress our skills from basic, through intermediate and advanced levels? The 'Conscious Competence' model explains the process and stages of learning a new skill (behaviour, ability or technique).

Stage one is 'Unconscious Incompetence'; a person is not aware of the existence or relevance of the skill and is unaware that they have a particular deficiency in the area concerned.

Next, we progress to 'Conscious Incompetence'; a person becomes aware of the existence and relevance of the skill and is therefore also aware of their deficiency in this area, ideally by attempting or trying to use the skill, or by formal assessment. The person is helped by evaluating the extent of their deficiency in the relevant skill, and a measure of what level of skill is required for their own competence.

A person achieves 'Conscious Competence' in a skill when they can perform it reliably at will; they need to concentrate in order to perform the skill - it is not yet 'second nature' or automatic and it is unlikely they will be able to teach it well to others.

Finally, with practise and persistence, the skill becomes so familiar that it enters the unconscious parts of the brain - 'Unconscious Competence' is achieved. Typical examples are driving, sports activities, typing, manual dexterity tasks - such as CAD! - listening and communicating. The skill becomes 'second nature', but arguably gives rise to the need for long-standing competence to be checked periodically against new standards.

We have a saying at CADsmart; 'If you can't measure it, you can't manage it'. By putting in place reliable performance metrics, including a formal assessment program, AEC firms can make the transition from basic 2D drafting to more complex 3D modelling and BIM skills with a higher degree of confidence.



Jimmy Bergmark - JTB World said...

Hi, great posting. I can definitely relate to these things being at all different stages.
Does dreaming about CAD-ing count as part of 'Unconscious Competence'? :-)

jonathon said...

isn't it to be expected that a quarter of users are slower and less accurate than the average. the weighting in the quartiles seems to suggest that 25% will almost always be there as even if they were super proficient the allocation is based on averages. not everyone can be above average.