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Scaling Mount Learning Curve
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 06/20/2011

Helpinghand The corrections profession is unlike any other one can think of. There is large liability, danger around every corner, and mental challenges at every step. And all of that does not include the need to adapt a practical and useful work persona. To stay safe, there is a lot to learn.

No matter the job in this profession, each of us is faced with a large and difficult volume of knowledge. The learning curve in corrections is like a mountain. It is initially steep and it tapers off to a plateau near the summit. Like the mountain climber who ascends ever upward, every foot of altitude becomes our foundation. With our eyes forward and upward, we see what we have to master to get to our ultimate goal.

One of my friends started a non-corrections job a few years ago. Like many jobs for most people, the first day of work for her was stressful. Compounding the standard concerns of a new vocation were the copious forms she had to learn about. The sheer volume and variety of paperwork was almost like a tedious study in bureaucracy. It seemed that there was a form for every instance imaginable. The plethora of paper types told her that she would face a steep learning curve.

What about the challenges of learning the job? How does one move forward on the learning curve? Is it a sprint up a steep mountain driven by inspiration and/or momentum?

Despite initial enthusiasm that most of us have when we start a job, I don’t think that we have to march directly up the summit of learning. In fact, just as some mountaineers may spiral or meander up a slope, we can earn vocational knowledge through routes that seem less direct but are more effective. Here are some tactics:

Grouping – Some learn better by seeing a whole map at once and then learning about each region of that map. It is a matter of the new employee asking about how each functional group interrelates. For example, one can learn about the school officer’s functions and then about the duties of housing staff. Once a basic understanding of group duties is learned, their relationship can be explored.

Chronological - Another way to grasp the big picture can be achieved by asking a mentor or instructor how a typical day will unfold. The student can benefit by making a daily chart with a standard progression of expected tasks. Many of us operate chronologically. Knowing what is next is useful for most new staff.

Recollection – The neophyte can pose some questions to understand challenges common to new staff. (Which tasks are hardest to master? How long before one usually feels in the swing of things? And so on.) If the mentor is receptive, then plenty of knowledge and empathy will follow. This makes for a more meaningful learning experience.

Written instruction – Like a chart of daily duties arranged in chronological order, understanding tasks can be facilitated with notes. And many of these notes already exist in the form of operating procedures and post orders.

Repetition – Some ascend the learning curve by doing tasks over and over. Time and repetition give one a feel for a typical day. Exceptions are learned as they occur.

Training programs - Not all training programs are the same. But our profession is less inclined to simply hand keys to a newbie and saying “go!” as had happened frequently in days past. Staff and tools are in place in most facilities that will help staff climb the initially imposing Mount Learning Curve.

As mentioned at the start of this essay, my friend started a job a few years ago in which she had wade through a veritable ocean of forms. At first, the stacks of forms that she had to mentally digest were daunting. The she realized that just a few of those forms were for daily use. It was those that she learned about first. Most of the others were used just once or less per year and a significant chunk would be used so rarely as to represent exceptionally rare circumstances. She used a grouping technique to cope with her new paradigm. It was the first stage of her ascension of Mount Learning Curve.

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