TITLE: Changing How People Think AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: February 20, 2006 6:48 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Pascal Van Cauwenberghe writes a bit about agile development, lean production, and other views of software engineering. He recently quoted the Toyota Way Fieldbook as inspiration for how to introduce lean manufacturing as change. I think that educators can learn from Pascal's excerpt, too.
... we're more likely to change what people think by changing what they do, rather than changing what people do by changing what they think.
I can teach students about object-oriented programming, functional programming, or agile software development. I can teach vocabulary, definitions, and even practices and methodologies. But this content does not change learners "deeply held values and assumptions". When they get back into the trenches, under the pressure of new problems and time, old habits of thought take over. No one should be surprised that this is true for people who are not looking to change, and that is most people. But even when programmers want to practice the new skill, their old habits kick in with regularity and unconscious force. The Toyota Way folks use this truth as motivation to "remake the structure and processes of organizations", with changes in thought becoming a result, not a cause. This can work in a software development firm, and maybe across a CS department's curriculum, but within a single classroom this truth tells us something more: how to orient our instruction. As an old pragmatist, I believe that knowledge is habit of thought, and that the best way to create new knowledge is to create new habits. This means that we need to construct learning environments in which people change what they do in practical, repeatable ways. Once students develop habits of practice, they have at their disposal experiences that enable them to think differently about problems. The ideas are no longer abstract and demanded by an outside agent; they are real, grounded in concrete experiences. People are more open to change when it is driven from within than from without, so this model increases the chance that the learner entertain seriously the new ideas that we would like them to learn. In my experience, folks who try XP practices -- writing and running tests all the time, refactoring, sharing code, all supported by pair programming and a shared culture of tools and communication -- are more likely to "get" the agile methods than are folks to whom the wonderfulness of agile methods is explained. In the end, I think that this is true for nearly all learning. -----