It is rare for a blog in the Learning and Development industry to reference a story from a sports magazine, but that is what I'm about to do. There was a fascinating update piece, in the "Where Are They Now?" section of the August 2 edition of Sports Illustrated. The subject was Jason McElwain. Don't recognize the name? You might actually recognize the story once I remind you of the details.
Element K is headquartered in Rochester, New York. Not a huge city by any means, but several times a year a local news story from Rochester will make the national news, and that happened back on February 13, 2006. The YouTube video embedded below nicely tells the story:
The recent Sports Illustrated article updates "J-Mac" fans on what he is doing now as a 21-year old: he assists with coaching various sports programs at Greece Athena High School, works four days a week at one of the many Wegmans Food Markets in the area, and works at an Italian restaurant on Saturdays. The article notes the celebrity McElwain has achieved over the past several years: winning an ESPY award, appearing on Oprah, and greeting Air Force One. In 2008 he published a memoir with writer Daniel Paisner, The Game of My Life: A True Story of Challenge, Triumph, and Growing up Autistic. And the list goes on.
All of this I already knew. What struck me about the article was the end of the story, which spoke to McElwain's clear and enduring passion for learning:
At Athena, McElwain is never afraid to approach [basketball coach] Johnson for instruction and advice. "He's really gotten a better understanding of the X's and O's," says Johnson. "He's always throwing ideas at me."
McElwain gets his ideas from watching college and NBA games on television, breaking down game film and working at basketball camps. "There's a lot more about basketball that I have to learn," he says. Spoken like a true student of the game.
McElwain is both a passionate learner and someone who cares about teaching others: whether formally coaching or just sharing his ideas and opinions based on what he has learned. When I started to think about this in the context of organizational learning and development, I wondered: how can organizations best make use of their most passionate learners? Such people are not necessarily the smartest or most talented individuals in the organization. But your most passionate learners might be useful in the following roles:
- Classroom or virtual classroom facilitators
- Discussion forum moderators
- Blog authors
- Wiki gardeners
- Micro-sharing contributors
I think most L&D leaders think of their key people resources as being their instructors/trainers, subject matter experts, instructional designers, and so on. While all of these folks can also be ideal candidates for the roles listed above (in addition to their primary responsibilities), the question here is whether your most passionate learners might also be good candidates to tap? Greece Athena High School, Wegmans, and others are finding a way to tap into Jason McElwain's strengths -- what are you doing to let your passionate learners shine and provide the organization with the most value that they can?
— Thomas Stone (Tom_Stone@elementk.com and on Twitter @ThomasStone)