eLearning Skills 2030: Connecting The Dots

eLearning Skills 2030: Connecting The Dots
Summary: As machines become increasingly more accurate and intelligent, we humans will need to sharpen our structured thinking and problem-solving skills. This article, the second in the "eLearning Skills 2030" series, explores why connecting the dots is a critical skill and how to sharpen it.

Connecting The Dots Is About Creating New Patterns

As machines become increasingly more accurate and intelligent, we humans will need to sharpen our cognitive skills. One of your primary responsibilities as a Learning and Development (L&D) leader is to ensure that you empower the workforce to develop the four sets of skills that are critical to thriving in 2030. To make your job easier, a series of ten articles, "eLearning Skills 2030," explores all the skills. This article, the second in the "eLearning Skills 2030" articles series, explores why connecting the dots is a critical skill, and how to sharpen it.

What Does "Connecting The Dots" Mean?

According to the Cambridge dictionary, "connecting the dots" means "bringing together information from different places" [1]. Let's break that down for a minute: connecting the dots implies several things, including being comfortable operating in different contexts, gleaning relevant information from each context, being able to step out of these contexts, and collating this information to make meaning in a new context where you are trying to solve a problem.

Why Is It Important?

In his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, Steve Jobs talked vividly about the importance of connecting the dots [2]. After dropping out of Reed College, Jobs started taking classes that seemed interesting to him, including a class on calligraphy. He was mesmerized by the detail and artistry of typography. At the time, attending the class had no anterior motive. Ten years later, when designing new fonts for the Macintosh, all the learnings came back to him, and he put them to work making a variety of fonts that are available to all of us today. Jobs said in his talk

Of course, it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backward ten years later. Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

In a business context and with the fast-paced reality of our jobs, waiting ten years is a long time. So how can you get better at connecting the dots deliberately and benefit from this practice in shorter time frames?

How Can You Get Better At Connecting The Dots?

To practice connecting dots and make new meaning to solve problems in your context, you have to place yourself in contexts and experiences new to you. In his book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink offers practical ways to do so, including paying attention to design, digging into storytelling, and exploring symphony.

A practical way to pay attention to design is by visiting a museum. One of the main reasons I love museums is because I learn so much from the exhibits curated by experts. Next time you visit a museum exhibit, look for the curator's comments explaining how and why they put the exhibit together. A curator connects the dots by arranging the various exhibit artifacts in a way that creates meaning. What other meanings can you deduce from the exhibit? Pick a theme, a color, or a technique and observe how it is rendered in each artifact in the exhibit. Can you pull a thread across the exhibit? Another practical way to explore new ideas in new contexts is by reading a magazine you typically do not. For example, I like reading about sailing or architecture, and when I do, I pay attention to how the authors connect the dots and solve problems that may arise in that specific context. How do architects solve construction problems to build sturdy, functional, and beautiful dwellings? How do they manage to combine all three elements without sacrificing one of them? Similarly, in sailing, how does the skipper manage to navigate choppy waters and unexpected inclement weather in a small sailing boat? How do sailors continuously prepare and adjust while staying the course of the journey?

Storytelling is another excellent way to practice connecting the dots [3]. Next time you watch a movie, pay attention to the arc of the story. What happens from beginning to end? How did the movie director connect the dots across the movie shots, dialogue, and music, and how did the actors deliver the story to the viewers? If you only have a few minutes, check out a TED talk and pay attention to how it is structured. How did the speaker grab your attention, state their main idea, and then support it? Did the speaker persuade you? What dots did the speaker connect for you?

The etymology of the word "symphony," which is derived from Greek, means "together in one voice." When you think of a symphony, you probably think of many musicians playing various musical instruments together, reading from the same sheet music, and creating a musical piece, which is a form of creating meaning through sound. Pink says that symphony is all about relationships. Understanding the connections between diverse and seemingly disparate contexts allows you to see how they each come together to create the big picture. Here you need to be able to zoom into the different individual parts and then zoom out to see them coming together as a whole. Continuing with the music example, next time you hear a piece of music, try to detect one or two instruments, listen for their individual "contribution" to the piece and how, through repetition or a beat, they create the overall musical piece and engage you, the listener.

How do design, storytelling, and symphony come into play in a Learning and Development context? Quite strongly, actually. When you design a new learning experience, you can inject new approaches and ways to impart the learning by borrowing from your own learnings in other disciplines. For example, by borrowing from design, where form follows function, you can ensure the learning experience has both crisp, current, and concise content, and excellent imaging. To infuse storytelling elements, you can set out the learning objectives and then follow the "main idea—three supporting elements—call-to-action" structure. To incorporate symphony elements in the learning experience, pay attention to how you can use text, video, and images to create a clear learning message and experience for the learner. Of course, you cannot stop here. As a Learning and Development leader, you must also ensure that the workforce builds the skill of connecting the dots, so that they can learn and thrive in 2030 and beyond.


[1] connect-the-dots

[2] Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

[3] Three Storytelling Tips To Jumpstart Your eLearning Modules