Criss-crossing landscape: A metaphor for learning

Once, the success of organizations was determined by their ability to define rigid procedures and to apply them adequately to daily routines. Today, this no longer suffices: in every sector we have to grapple with complex and hard-to-predict situations where it no longer holds that what worked in the past will continue to work today and into the future. Principles and procedures are necessary, but they are not enough: occurrences are not always traceable to pre-arranged schemas and problems aren’t always solved through the application of protocols. If this is the case, what competencies are called for in individuals and in organizations today, so that they can continue to exist and to grow? One interesting response has comes from Cognitive Flexibility Theory (CFT, also on Twitter under the tag @CognitiveFlex), which has been developed by Rand J. Spiro. According to Spiro, what one needs to possess in order to face new challenges is ‘cognitive flexibility‘, which breaks down as:

  • an ability to face complexity without succumbing to the risk of bewilderment and confusion
  • an ability to transfer, or to combine and deploy acquired knowledge and the multiplicity of information gathered from various sources to resolve in an adaptive way the ever new and unexpected problems arising from the situation in which you operate.

Cognitive flexibility is, then, an indispensable meta-skill whose promotion, according to CFT, revolves around the metaphor of the crisscrossing landscape, where the same contents of consciousness are crossed and re-crossed not in a straightforward way, tracing one’s steps back to the same locations in the ‘conceptual landscape’, but by following different pathways. Leaving the metaphors aside, it means setting up learning environments capable of integrating multiple resources, differing in category and in idiom (methodical, humorous, technical-scientific, narrative, engaging) educational loading (connection with concrete experience, reflection on own past experiences, self-awareness and personal improvement), mode of access (self-study, guided study, in class or on e-learning platform or in corporate intranet), and stimulated area of intelligence (cognitive or emotional). It will thus be possible to offer the learner the possibility to re-visit the same subject area several times and to allow new views and new intuitions to ripen each time they ‘pass that way’. From the teaching point of view, re-visiting the same contents in contexts with varying arrangements and from different standpoints, far from being mere repetition, is essential for learning to look at things from multiple viewpoints and to develop the said cognitive flexibility. Paolo Giordani

written by: Paolo Giordani , 13 November 2013

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