Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Multiplying Effectiveness

Behavior Multipliers: Four Factors That Can Lead to Success

Given the right situation and tools,
learning can't help but

  • Rapid Feedback
  • Simplicity
  • Environment
  • Ability

There ya' go.  There are James Clear's Four Factors that can multiply the effects of behaviors.  Lest you worry that we stray, this also applies to horses and our work with them.

If there's one thing I learned early on as a teacher of miniature humans, it's that we all need to be aware immediately of whether or not we're on the right track.  This is my biggest complaint against homework in school, and it's our horses' biggest complaint against heavy-handed trainers.  No feedback or slow feedback teach all the wrong things and are frustrating and infuriating to the learner in the scenario.

Teaching children is an art, even when the children are nearly full-sized humans.  Then it's also subterfuge, but that's a different article.  The secret to effectively getting the most from a student of any species is to  let them know as quickly as possible when they've done what's required, and to let them know equally quickly when they're veering off-course.  With humans, speech makes it a little easier to give feedback.  "Nice job!"  That works.  A smile, a pat on the shoulder, a tap on the paper accompanied by a frown...all of these are quick, simple feedbacks that let the student know where s/he stands on the spectrum of successful completion of a task.

For instance, telling my Favorite Barn Brat, Melissa, that her floor sweeping has improved greatly has had the effect of improving her floor sweeping greatly.

Horses can't speak our language, but they can learn to connect our words and gestures with positive and negative feedback.

[NOTE:  For those prepared to jump on this as a vindication of punishment or even negative reinforcement, you're veering off course, so just keep reading.]

We've learned from "Natural" horsemanship that release of pressure is a reward.  It is.  So is tone of voice.  Listen to horses communicate. When they are feeling all warm and fuzzy towards each other (or, at feeding time, towards humans), their vocalizations are low and soft. When they're worried, anxious, or excited, they're high and loud.  Tune your voice accordingly.  If the horse responded as desired, a low-pitched gooooood booooy will do wonders, especially if accompanied by a cookie.
This successful moment brought
to you by the perfect storm of

The simplicity piece is pretty much a given.  I've written about this before.  KISS isn't just a band, you know.  You have to steer the elephant.  The elephant is the horse's response, and you are the guide.  Keeping the elephant from running into barriers is your job.  Clear the field.  Make the requests and the platform as simple and clear as possible, and you'll see an immediate improvement in response time from your ele-- er, horse.  A cluttered work space could be the biggest problem you're having in moving your horse forward in his training.  I have a mare who, after some 18 years of training and competing, still gets upset if a jump rail has a fence behind it.  She may be nearsighted.  It may appear to her that the fence is closer to the rail than it is, or the lines may converge into one impossible jump.  So I try to make sure there's nothing in her line of sight that might create conflict.  It works.  She relaxes and gives me 100% of her attention, which is what I'm after.  It's what we're all after.  When the horse loses focus, s/he "forgets" we're there and disaster is not far in the offing.

Again, this is a workable piece with children.  A student who is put off by too many questions on a page will perform much better when the number is cut and lots of white space is injected.  Same number of tasks; cleaner format.

This is also where task analysis pops in.  Regular readers know how I love task analysis.  Break it down.  Consider what steps are required to get where you're going, and roll back to the very first one that has to be accomplished.  With horses and humans, the first step is always the mental pre-set that something is about to be taught.  It's that Hellooooo, are you listening? moment, and it's critical.  Find a way to tell the trainee that he's about to learn something new, and start with something old like standing still.

A learner in an environment where learning is expected will learn faster and better and with more retention.  A learner in a slapdash atmosphere will fail.  Turn off you phone.  Don't text in the middle of the learner's learning process.  Don't busy yourself with Snapchat photos of the event.  Create an atmosphere where learning and performance are evident all around, and watch your learner soar!

Finally, work with the ability level at hand--yours and your trainee's.  You can't teach what you don't know, and s/he can't learn what s/he isn't capable of.  Duh.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't push.  It means you can't get upset or angry if Fuzz Butt just doesn't have the four-foot jump in him.  You can't throw up your hands in disgust if Little Billy gets lost in the "guzintas", as one of my students labeled long division.  And if you're not on top of things yourself, if your skill set is somewhere south of advanced beginner and you're trying to teach flying changes and spins, you and your student are doomed from the get-go.  Be honest with yourself first, then set your goals.

The bottom line is that learning is a skill in itself, and a learner needs all the appropriate structure around him or her in order to succeed.  The teacher needs the same.  When both are working with the most effective set of circumstances, then both will succeed up to and even past their basic ability levels.  Trust me.  I know stuff.  I've got the Big Four covered.

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