Mind the gaps: the growth journey

The concept of different types of gaps in the learning experience got whispered to my ears by the book Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen (link to the book). It applies primarily to educative interfaces. However, it is very inspiring to look at gaps in the perspective of a growth journey.

What I especially like is the idea that gaps are not necessarily knowledge related. There are multiple types of gaps and ways to support those experiencing them. In my mind, people who engage in a growth journey are Adventurers: they aim to an outcome but they don’t necessarily know what are the different steps between the outcome and them.

Illustration of the growth journey: the hero has to pass obstacles in order to reach their destination. Obstacles are gaps one has to find a way to bridge over.
Fuzzy gaps. Scary gaps.

Knowledge gap

Cause

The adventurer lacks theoretical education on a given topic or situation.

Fix

One obvious fix is to directly give knowledge. On an organisational level, it means “let’s have a plan and force people into this plan”, as the adventurer is expected to pass the stages A, B, C at the times t-1, t-2, t-3, etc. There are alternatives to this type of strict and controlling approach, such as pointing to the source of knowledge (and let the adventurer finding their path and pace), providing tools to gather this knowledge (which sounds pretty much like “I don’t give you a fish but I teach you how to fish”), or even connecting the adventurer with knowledge carriers (which contributes to creating a network and trust), etc.


Motivation gap:

Cause

The adventurer lacks intrinsic motivation (note: let’s save ourselves from judging here, the human brain is very complex and there can be so many reasons for someone to lack motivation).

Fix

Motivation varies over time and it can be necessary to compensate by creating some extrinsic motivation. Typical but not necessarily appropriate extrinsic motivation is external rewards such as titles, trophies, grades, praises, or even fame. However, some studies say that these types of nudging only work on the short term and are very dependent on the topic requiring motivation.

An interesting sign of low intrinsic motivation is the sentence “I know but…” where someone will do something not driven by reason but by affect, ending either in taking a non-logical decision, either in snoozing (which is sometimes called procrastinating). Finding out why the adventurer is putting barriers and problems in the front instead of on the side can help to solve durably a lack of intrinsic motivation.


Environment gap

Cause

Too many physical things between the adventurer and the destination.

Fix

In most of the cases, hopefully, physical elements can be moved around to solve this problem. However, if the office is on top of a mountain only reachable by climbing for 3 weeks, then the commute can become a drag. In the meantime, simplifying material steps such as forms, steps, access to the workspace, identification of the work tools, etc. can make a real difference.


Social gap

Cause

Humans often question their belonging to a given social situation, it is something inherited through evolution. Therefore, it is a natural reflex when encountering a situation where they don’t feel like they belong to freeze, fight, or flight.

Fix

It makes a real difference to not put someone into an unnecessarily stressful situation. Therefore it is worth to constantly assess the social codes shared across the workplace. Recently somebody told me that they refrained from encouraging people in their team from using the camera during online calls from home because the interior design could spread a lot of social belonging hints and thus make people earning less (usually the people with less work experience and therefore a lower salary range) feeling like they don’t belong.


Skill gap

Cause

Lack of practice of in a given skill that keeps the adventurer from reaching an expected level.

Fix

Well there are good news: everybody can learn almost every skill… given that there is room for practice. Skill practice is provided via pairing, lectures, cases studies, or workshops. Often, it matters to define beforehand the different levels of the skill and the criteria for reaching it and how fast this skill is expected to be acquired.


We usually focus on filling knowledge gaps. At best we sometimes optimise to remove gaps linked to process (in case you wondered why it is so important to create an onboarding process). However, too often gaps linked to motivation, environment, skills, or social aspects are overlooked or forgotten.

When one accepts the challenge of growing into a role, a team, a company, they step into an adventure. Even though it is an adventure, it doesn’t mean everything has to be random and similar to a rollercoaster ride. While the adventurer can, of course, envision some preliminary steps to prepare themselves, the ones who have an overview of the upcoming adventure also have some duties there.

Recruiting or onboarding makes us accountable for what we plan in order to support our adventurer so they can arrive at their destination successfully and injury-free. It sounds unrealistic to expect to know all the gaps ahead but it is fundamental to keep in mind empathy and inclusivity are our best tools to assess, understand, fix, and learn.

Published by Virginie Caplet

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