It’s Our Move: All learning is akin to chess learning

16 Apr

Chess is a game of constant striving, where even the greatest mastery is put to the test in search of constant improvement. Shouldn’t workplace learning be the same?

If you are even a rudimentary chess player, I expect that this analogy will ring true. But even if you have never played chess, the idea of laying out vision, goal, purpose and context in which learners can apply their nascent skills is a critical component to any complex/compound learning design.

Vision

The learning game, be it chess, sales or facilitation skills, begins with a vision. If the learner can understand where their newly acquired skills will take them, they (hopefully) will develop the tenacity and trust to stick with the rudimentary practice that forms the framework for skill development.

In chess, that begins with the end. That seems an obvious statement, but I have often observed that people want to begin by explaining the pieces: The King, the Rook, the Bishop and Pawn. But those are abstractions to the novice, only meaningful as tactics and strategy is formed as part of understanding the game. Instead, start with the end vision: Check mate!

Starting Point: This picture has no relation to actual chess play, but it drives across the vision -- trap the other king.

Starting Point: This picture has no relation to actual chess play, but it drives across the vision — trap the other king.

Goal
Once learners have a vision of the game, next move on to the goal of chess (no, not how the horsey moves – not yet!), which is to move your pieces around in order to achieve the vision. An explanation of capture-and-removal can be introduced here, but only as an idea, not as a tactic (yet). Have the learners move the players—with no regard to actual game play or rules—so that they achieve check mate. That’s the goal: Trap your opponent’s king into an immobile position.

Purpose

Enter your opponent! Now the purpose of game play, of each move begins to take shape. Purpose translates into action in a way that goals and vision do not. Not only are you out to contain your opponent’s king, she means to contain yours, too: Offense and defense. Now the ways in which the pieces move, and how to strategically deploy them, how to occupy space on the board, and how to string strategy into tactics, begins to make sense. The purpose is to win the game by out-planning and out-executing the forces that align against your success (your opponent).

Context

With a grasp of purpose, each move is seen in the context of the whole, a stage in the game, the situation of each player now as a result of actions taken (or not). This is where skills are built, and learning becomes knowledge. Theoretical principles (goals and vision) are put to the test, and failure leads to success, leading to deepening understanding.

This (idealized) real version of checkmate only makes sense once you can identify the pieces and understand their properties.

This (idealized) real version of checkmate only makes sense once you can identify the pieces and understand their properties.

Practice

Play becomes practice, practice play. The only “real” way to learn something on a deep level is to make your own mistakes, learn from them, all the while building up your ability to apply purpose and context to the ever-changing conditions. Practice allows learners to demonstrate progressive skill acquisition and to show evidence of deepening understanding. Visibility, transparency, narration and inquiry are key to good practice. And all play is practice – the learning never stops!

Vision

Goal

Purpose

Context

Practice

Imprison opponent’s king Place your pieces into position on the board to capture the king Capture the opponent’s king while defending your king from capture. Make good incremental decisions to achieve goal. Your pieces have different properties, and you use those properties to defend and create an offensive strategy to advance your purpose. Think strategically at every decision point, align actions to goals, purpose and current context, iterate, experiment, fail, and succeed: In other words, learn!

So, starting with the end in mind: Do you allow your learners to demonstrate, narrate and explicate their actions in a supportive, non-judgmental learning environment? If not, how can you measure what they’ve learned? That’s the foundation on which everything else is built. Practice never makes perfect, but ongoing improvement is only achieved through ongoing visible practice.

One Response to “It’s Our Move: All learning is akin to chess learning”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Expertise and Novelty: Taking action when facing the unknown | In the Learning Age - June 12, 2015

    […] topic of expertise and authority relates to a post I wrote a few weeks ago in which I used chess as a paradigm for understanding and applying principles in novel situations. And I got to thinking: That is the essence of […]

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