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The Art of Continuous Learning

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Anyone following the headlines over the past few years probably has wondered if the Federal government knows what it is doing. Is the government competent?

Here's a story: A colleague of mine recently taught a class to a large agency. I was not present, but I am familiar with the course materials. At one point the instructor pointed out that there are two modes of measuring the extent to which an evaluation factor is present in what a company is offering.

Suppose the evaluation factor is "soundness of approach." The thing to be evaluated is each offeror's approachūĎĀčthat is the object of evaluation. The basis for the evaluation is the presence or absence of the¬†attribute called "soundness," whatever that is. Soundness is what makes an approach valuable.

Soundness of approach may be evaluated in one of two basic "modes" (ways). The first way is to score an approach as sound or unsound. All approaches that are sound are equally valuable; they are all "acceptable". All approaches that are unsound have no value at all; they are all "unacceptable. This is the "pass/fail" mode of evaluation. The formal term for that mode is dichotomousūĎĀčdicho (two) tomous parts.

The other mode is to take the stance that two approaches might be "sound," but one might be more or less sound that the other. This second mode is polytomousūĎĀčpoly (many) tomous (parts).¬†The words dichotomous and polytomous are derived from ancient Greek. Google "dichotomous scoring" and "polytomous scoring. They are technical terms.

My colleague, a knowledgeable and experienced DAU instructor, wanted the students to fully understand the distinction between the two approaches and to know the technical terms for them.

At the end of the course, one of the "students," an 1102, wrote an evaluation that included the following comment:


I got some value from the course, but I would ask the instructors to define the $5 words (I actually had to look them up) the first time they use them; or use common words instead.  (polytomous and di something) Also, calling them objects and attributes caused me to struggle with the more familiar "factors" "evaluation criteria".

A couple of days ago, the Comptroller General testified before Congress about government "high risk" areas. A news report of his testimony included the following comments:


Among the 37 problem areas on the Government Accountability Office’s latest high-risk list, one through line remains clear: skills gaps in the federal workforce are contributing to persistent challenges for agencies and their programs.

Specifically, 22 items ‚ÄĒ more than half of GAO‚Äôs list of vulnerable federal programs and broad government challenges ‚ÄĒ stem from issues of mission-critical skills gaps.

‚ÄúI‚Äôm very concerned about the federal workforce‚ÄĚ U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, head of GAO, said during a House Oversight and Accountability Committee¬†hearing¬†Wednesday.

You cannot bridge the skills gap with people who do not know how to learn.

I have found students to be passive. They want to be handed everything. They won't speak up to ask questions about what was presented to them. Many simply do not want to wrestle with new concepts and principles. They don't know how to take and organize notes. They want group "activities" and "exercises," but during such activities and exercises few participate fully.

Much of this is due to the half-baked nature of today's degraded high school and undergraduate eduction. Possession of a bachelor's degree is not a measure of education. It just says you attended and got a passing grade in classes.

Learning is workūĎĀčhard work. You can't learn by just logging in to a virtual classroom, listening passively, waiting for a coffee break, and periodically checking your emails. The real work of learning begins when class is over, you organize and study your copious¬†notes, you start looking things up, you do the recommended reading, and you write questions to ask the instructor or yourself.

All learning begins with the questions you ask. As a learner, you are judged by your questions. Your education is only as good as your questions.


P.S. Forgive any typos in this post. Due to a recent injury, seeing and typing is very difficult for me now, and I'm struggling with computer dictation.

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All learning begins with the questions you ask.

Vern, if you ever offer your own branded merch (merchandise) to the public, that quote needs to be put on coffee cups and T-Shirts.

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Vern, I'm going to send an email to Linda. I bet the merch will be cheaper than giving away expensive government contracting tomes.

Also -- sorry to hear your injury hasn't yet cleared. Best wishes.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Sorry to hear about your injury as well, hope it heals soon. 

On the topic of the article I would tend to agree. I 'teach' or 'train' for my agency, specifically in what I perceive as doing my best to train and educate new buyers and younger CO's on various topics and principles. Generally I end each session with the recommendation that the newer buyers should look up and study at least one topic or clause per week, and slowly educate themselves to become well-rounded, I recommend this site as a place to come as well, even if it's as a lurker. Idea being, one topic pe week adds to 52 per year, and stacks over time. Unfortunately very few do this, most want a template that can be filled out, very few can fill out documents with original content and instead scalp from other templates without any thought given or changes made. 

Not aimed at your friend, but I believe the deficiency is widespread, including several DAU and Management Concepts instructors. Several buyer from my training groups recently had a class with a fellow who will not be named, that started the class by announcing "I have been protested 63 times and have lost more than half of those...." Meaning, I don't believe it's strictly one field, suffering, the appearance is it is multiple fields suffering the same root cause. I would lump project management, COR's, finance, and the like into the same basket with the same problem sets. However, that is only my opinion based on the constraints I'm encountering at my agency. Unfortunately the response has widely been 'better templates with more instruction included.' 

Main point, I suppose, I would agree with the assessment and it has been my experience as well. However, over the past fie years it has increased substantially I would say. 

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  • 4 weeks later...

Vern - agreed, to the extent that effective learning is certainly an engaged, active pursuit.   Copious notes may never be reviewed, but the act of taking them forces attention.   Asking questions may not seem to be the most efficient use of a class' time, but the interactions and dialog enhances learning.

As I consider my own education, I credit two specific pieces as most important:

  1. Sentence diagraming:  Learned in 6th grade, it forces one to understand the structure of language, which is half the battle in seeking meaning.  
  2. (Predicate) Logic: Learned freshman year of college, it provides a way to understand almost anything - a sort of shovel for digging toward understanding. 

Both were really learning tools, applying virtually anywhere I choose to deploy them.  

I hesitate to criticize a younger generation, but if I were to seek any changes in education generally, it would be to ensure these kinds of tools are well-taught.  Will they make someone WANT to learn more?  Probably not, but with such tools, maybe a person will better understand why a teacher might talk about attributes and objects as evaluations are explored, because the person already understands the relationships between adjectives and nouns, and can understand conditional statements and such.  


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