Reality Check: The Disillusioned Learner

Barb tried gardening last year for the first time. It was awesome! Barb was ecstatic with her beautiful tomatoes and huge cucumbers. Her marigolds flowered and her sunflowers were so very sunny.

Barb was hooked. All winter, she said, “I don’t know why people think gardening is difficult. It’s not!”

Bolstered by success, Barb went bigger this year. She bought more seeds and bigger plants. Visions of roses and petunias danced in her head, alongside bountiful baskets of corn and beans and peas.

However, a few things didn’t go well. You might remember the frost and the dry spell and the deluges of rain. Blossoms froze, seeds rotted, rows washed out. The bugs, which last year had been caught flat-footed, paid much closer attention this year. It was a disaster.

Now Barb sees that there is more to gardening than she thought. That’s why all those gardening books, websites, and garden products exist! With more questions than answers, she’s beginning to know what she doesn’t know. And it’s a lot.

As we learn and try new things, it’s natural to pass through different stages. I find it helpful to know that other people go through these stages too—it’s not just me. Otherwise, it would be hard to keep motivated instead of flinging up our hands with, “What’s the use?”

I was reminded of these bumps in the road while reading a book by Ken Blanchard on Situational Leadership® II. Blanchard discusses development levels; that is, people operate at different levels in different tasks. Leaders need to use different approaches and levels of direction for different people and tasks.

Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? But so much of what sounds like common sense is not so common in practice.

Put in the terms of this model, Barb’s first stage, where she was so excited and confident, is referred to as the Enthusiastic Beginner. Barb was confident that whatever she didn’t know yet would be easy to learn and that everything was going to, literally, come up roses.

This year, however, Barb entered the stage known as the Disillusioned Learner.

You see this progression in a lot of situations—a new job, a new education, even a new relationship. We’re all excited and enthusiastic in the beginning. We make early progress and start envisioning big success.

Then reality steps up. Things get more difficult. We hit a wall of discouragement.

Is it helpful to look at this stage using Blanchard’s model? I think so. Here’s why.

The model helps with perspective. If Barb has had a lifetime of giving up when she reaches the disillusioned learner stage, she may perceive herself as a quitter and create a mindset that she can’t succeed.

However, if Barb understands that this is a common state in learning and progress, she may be less inclined to throw in the towel. She may look at it as, “It’s just a stage. Other people go through this. I can work through it. It doesn’t mean that I have some kind of character flaw. It just means that I have hit a difficult patch, and now need different information and encouragement.”

In Choice Theory, Dr. Glasser suggests that all we can give or get is information; how we deal with that information is up to us. If you want to help someone who is in the “disillusioned learner” stage, a useful piece of information is that progress is not a straight line. The disillusioned learner stage is just one stage, and it need not be a permanent one.

Blanchard has written many easy-to-read leadership books. If you want to learn more about Situational Leadership® II, ask at your library!

Have you ever gotten stuck in the disillusioned learner state? What did you do?

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