Education is never simply a formality, but rather a way that we evolve. It’s not about checking a box and earning a CE credit. It starts with hardwiring foundational concepts and principles into a mental model and then building onto that foundation the structure that will become the architectural design of professional competence. There is a science and an art to everything, and not one individual can hold all the knowledge available. Philosophical statements from geniuses like Aristotle and Einstein have both made similar observations, that the more we know, the more we realize how much more there is yet to know. That’s why it takes all of us, as a community, to generate an ecosystem of knowledge and share it, particularly in the growing field of sterile processing.
What is a learning ecosystem?
Education is always a work in progress. As things change, opportunities arise to create or revise content. The level of personal engagement in lifelong learning can either expand one’s technical proficiency and professionalism or it can lead to stagnation. Cultivating a learning environment takes each of us from the perspective of learners who gain something useful to contributors giving something back. Nothing is accomplished in polarized silos when people are unwilling to understand another’s point of view. Even if we don’t agree with every single idea or belief someone holds, that doesn’t mean that we necessarily should discount everything they say. We can choose to learn something useful and respect one another even if we disagree. Interacting with one another and exchanging information can open conversations, spark questions, and lead us to discovery. Ryan Eudy defines this concept in his article entitled “What is a Learning Ecosystem? And How Does it Support Corporate Strategy?”
“A learning ecosystem is a system of people, content, technology, culture, and strategy, existing both within and outside of an organization, all of which has an impact on both the formal and informal learning that goes on in that organization.”1
This idea is further discussed by EJ4 in the article “10 Benefits of a True Learning Culture.”
“A learning ecosystem is the total web of learning resources surrounding an individual within a specific context. It includes not only content, but content management systems/ learning management systems, coaches and mentors, events, and even the places and times when learning occurs. In essence, it is the overall structure in which all learning takes place.”2
Competence and learning
A research article entitled “Mental Models: An Interdisciplinary Synthesis of Theory and Methods” published in the journal Ecology and Society states that “Mental models are personal, internal representations of external reality….”3 In other words, we live out the rules of engagement from what we learn. Resilience is the way that we understand changes in our reality so that we can adapt to it with a healthy mindset. Competence is the ability to demonstrate that one can apply specific skillsets and knowledge, within a particular scope of practice. Our competence increases to higher levels of learning when we encounter situations and immerse our minds with educational experiences that cause us to think differently or make connections to associate ideas together. The assimilation of information leads to both analysis and synthesis where we can see patterns and relate concepts that form the constructs of critical thinking. Therefore, adaptability is foundational in learning and crucial to strategic problem-solving. According to the book The New Social Learning: Connect. Collaborate. Work.” by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner:
“We define learning as the transformative process of taking in information that—when internalized and mixed with what we have experienced—changes what we know and builds on what we do. It’s based on input, process, and reflection. It is what changes us.”4
A commitment to excellence can be a driving force that kindles the flame of our curiosity. It can also inspire us and shed light on a deeper understanding as we explore both what is already out there and what doesn’t yet exist. Curiosity can teach us to be fascinated with how we can work toward building interdependent community-based networks to share practices. On a fundamental level, some things should be universal and standardization could elevate performance, while other things may require flexibility. On-the-job training is important, but one cannot be supplied with everything one needs to learn through the employer alone. We must move away from the idea that we only use continuing education to maintain certifications or satisfy job descriptions. Simply going through the motions to show up for an educational offering is a passive approach to participation and does not invest in our development. Particularly in the sciences of sterilization and high-level disinfection, being engaged with our industry can help us stay plugged into the latest information and challenge us to grow and improve.
As we continuously face change, our ability to adapt and learn will prepare us to be resilient problem solvers who can meet the challenges of the future. Making a conscious effort to retain meaningful information and being willing to contribute to conversations can enhance the overall experience for everyone in a community. This community can be localized to co-workers in a department, or in a broadened sense, expanded to a network of people from anywhere in the world. One person really can make a difference, and each of us has a responsibility to be both engaged and part of the solution. Taking personal ownership in lifelong learning provides us with an open mindset, helps us recognize opportunities to grow, and facilitates the purpose-driven initiatives for our professional development.
2. EJ4; (2019). 10 benefits of a true learning culture. Retrieved April 11, 2020.
3. Jones, N. A., H. Ross, T. Lynam, P. Perez, and A. Leitch; (2011). Mental models: An interdisciplinary synthesis of theory and methods. Ecology and Society 16 (1): 46. Retrieved April 11, 2020. http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol16/iss1/art46/
4. Bingham, Tony; Conner, Marcia; (2015). The New Social Learning: Connect. Collaborate. Work. (2nd Edition). Published by ADT Press.
Lisa M. McKown (Wakeman), MBA, CRCST, CIS, CHL, MBTI, is a manager of research and development for Beyond Clean. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Integrative Leadership and an MBA from Anderson University. Lisa is a doctoral student in the Richard Fairbanks School of Public Health: Global Health Leadership program through IUPUI in Indianapolis, IN. She also holds a certification as a Meyers-Briggs Practitioner, specializing in interpersonal communication. Lisa contributes as an SME volunteer for standards development and other industry-related projects that promote the sterile processing profession, including writing workshops focused on creating and revising questions for the IAHCSMM certification exams. As a healthcare professional driven to influence positive change for patient safety initiatives, Lisa is a catalyst for the advancement of infection prevention within sterile processing. Her passion is education and she is energized when she can use her experience to develop people.
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