Learning to be: Agile

70-20-10 and Bloom's Taxonomy equation equals you.

This article was first published in November 2023 in Scottish Water’s Agile Community of Practice blog. I have removed specific mentions to Scottish Water policies or practices.

If I asked you, ‘Where do you get your Agile learning from?’, you would probably give me quite a specific answer that pointed to various people, courses, books or websites. But what if I asked you, ‘How deep is your understanding of Agile?’ – what would your response be then?

In this blog, I’ll introduce two learning models that can help you to assess the level of your Agile knowledge and a way to plan your approach to enhance or expand your understanding and expertise in Agile practices.

You will have to do the work but I can offer a framework.

If you’re willing, let’s begin!

The 70-20-10 learning model

You may have heard of the 70-20-10 framework already. It’s pretty simple to understand. At the bottom of Fig. 1 below you can see the model suggests people learn in the following ways: Structured learning (10%), Social learning (20%) and Experiential learning (70%).

70-20-10 model
Fig. 1 70-20-10 learning model

Don’t get hung up on the actual percentages, they are ballpark figures at best. What is important to know is that you learn the most by doing i.e. Experiential learning. You gain the most knowledge and skills through practical experience and real-life situations. To develop an agile mindset, you need to put yourself in situations where you can apply agile principles – although, remember to ‘Start small and evolve’.

Social learning – i.e. Learning from others – is a powerful way to develop an agile mindset. At the top of Fig. 1 I’ve given some examples of how you can engage and learn from others, such as collaboration projects, joining a group or an Agile Community of Practice, or even setting up your own peer-learning group to share knowledge and learn together.

Structured learning may play a smaller role in embedding your learning but it’s still valuable. Learning events such as participating in a workshop or attending a course can help build your knowledge of specific agile practices and methodologies. Reading a book or watching a webinar can help you to grasp the theoretical aspects and principles behind different agile topics.

It’s important you know that there is no right or wrong way to learn, the 70-20-10 model simply shows that new skills are embedded more by practicing and doing than simply knowing the theory. That may seem obvious, but this model can help you to plan your learning journey. You can start to ask yourself questions like:

  • ‘Where can I apply my knowledge on the job?’
  • ‘How can I share my knowledge with others and learn from their experience?’
  • ‘What are other ways I can learn about this topic?’

Just as there isn’t a right or wrong way to learn, neither is there for where you start your learning journey, it’s different for everyone and for every new topic you learn. Metaphorically, you can walk up the slope from Structured, stop for a coffee at Social before going to Experiential; or you could slide down from Experiential, wave at Social as you whizz by and get off at Structured. You can bounce from one category to another depending on whether you’re learning a new topic or if you want to practice it on-the-job.

My journey into Agile began at Experiential. I have a background in Ergonomics and user-centred design and was used to collaborating with cross-functional teams, prototyping, iterative design, customer feedback, design thinking – a lot of parallel skills to Agile. I was practicing Agile before I even knew the term – maybe you were too? When I learned about Agile, I started to do some research (Structured) and introduced new agile practices into my work (Experiential). I’m always learning new agile techniques and applying them, so I’m constantly moving between Structured, Social and Experiential learning.

There’s an old saying in teaching surgeons, ‘See one, do one, teach one’ – personally, I want my surgeon to have seen a lot more than one before they ‘do one’ on me! I want to be confident that they know and understand before they try and apply their skills, which neatly brings me onto the second learning model.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Robert Copeland summed-up my feeling about committees, “To get something done a committee should consist of no more than three people, two of whom are absent”.

Dilbert cartoon strip

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the 1950s, Professor Benjamin Bloom chaired a committee that got something done. It created a learning model, (three actually, but we’re only looking at one), that is still used today – it became known as ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy’.

If you plan to mount and stuff Professor Bloom, you’re thinking of taxidermy. A taxonomy is simply a hierarchical classification system where elements are organised into groups. Bloom’s Taxonomy focused on classifying our thinking skills (i.e. cognitive skills), starting with Remember as the foundational thinking skill, all the way to Create – see Fig 2.

Bloom's Taxonomy
Fig. 2 Bloom’s Taxonomy (revised)

Why is any of this important to know? Well, it helps for at least two reasons, it helps you to:

  1. Classify and assess how deep your comprehension of various agile topics really is.
  2. Plan how you can deepen your comprehension by identifying actions you can do to move to the next level.

Let’s quickly go through the six levels.

The bottom two levels are Remember and Understand. Remembering is our knowledge-base while Understand is our comprehension of that knowledge, as Miles Kington put it, ‘Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Understanding is not putting it in a fruit salad.

These two levels are sometimes known as LOTS (lower-order thinking skills), they are the fundamentals and foundations of our thinking but they only really become helpful (except in pub quizzes) when we use them. And that’s why levels 3-6 are known as HOTS (higher-order thinking skills).

At the Apply level you can use your knowledge and understanding to solve problems or complete tasks. You can use what you’ve learned in new and different situations.

Think of the Analyse level as breaking down complex information into individual components and examining relationships. You can identify patterns, trends, cause-and-effect relationships and distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information.

With more experience and deeper understanding at the Evaluate level you can critically assess the validity of different viewpoints, arguments or solutions.

At the highest level, Create, you can use your knowledge and skills to generate new ideas, designs or products. You can synthesise information from various sources to create something new and original. This level encourages creativity and innovation.

For each subject area or topic, you will be at different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy based on how new the topic is to you, how much you remember, understood, applied, and so on.

Putting it together

70-20-10 and Bloom's Taxonomy equation equals you.

Are you beginning to see how these two learning models can be useful?

If you know how you learn (Bloom’s Taxonomy) and where you get your learning from (70-20-10), you can begin to plan ways to deepen, broaden and expand your capabilities.

In Fig 1, I’ve included some – not all – methods of learning about agile. Think about how you like to learn. Do you like to do your own research by reading or watching? Do you like to learn from others? Do you get to apply your skills on-the-job? Do you apply your skills on-the-job?

If you’re new to Agile or want to grow your Agile capabilities, why not write an action plan of how and where you can learn more? Remember, the purpose of learning is to do.

In Fig 2. I’ve added a list of action verbs for each level – and no, all verbs aren’t action verbs – pick one and try to ‘do’ it. For example, in Analyse why not ‘relate’, that is, find relationships between tasks to identify patterns? Or in Apply, ‘sketch’ a Kanban with your team and ‘implement’ it to ‘solve’ capacity issues.

The verb(s) you choose is entirely up to you and will depend on your level of knowledge and experience. This is not an exhaustive list of verbs only a flavour of the type of actions you can and will do, there are plenty more to choose from.

Finally

Brian Herbert quote

I borrowed part of my title for this blog from a 1972 UNESCO report titled, Learning to Be: The World of Education Today and Tomorrow. The ‘Faure Report’ as it’s often called, became famous (to educationalists, at least) as one of the first ever mentions of Lifelong Learning. To paraphrase the report, it says: Learning isn’t a one-time endeavour, it extends beyond formal education and continues throughout an individual’s life so they can acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to adapt to an ever-changing world.

Scottish Water recognise that in order to transform in an ever-changing world, we need to embed a learning culture.

Throughout your day you are unconsciously moving up and down the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. As part of your lifelong learning journey, being consciously aware of how you like to learn, where you can learn and the different levels of thinking skills your mind uses can only help you to become better at your role, deepen your understanding and be ready to adapt.

Better at what? Well. That’s up to you.

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