Learning How to Learn: Nurturing Professional Growth through Cognitive Mapping

Article excerpt

This article examines the professional development of entrepreneurs. It describes how cognitive mapping tools drawn from knowledge engineering can be employed to help entrepreneurs both to make decisions and to grow professionally. The first experience described illustrates the decision-making process of becoming an entrepreneur, whereas the second experience describes the decisionmaking process of selecting a franchise offering. The techniques grew out of the experiences involved in adapting basic artificial intelligence modeling tools to teaching more effectively business planning, especially planning entrepreneurial ventures.

Much of the work described in this article draws on knowledge engineering technologies. Knowledge engineering is the artificial intelligence discipline that guides the mapping of the thinking (cognitive)/decision processes an expert goes through when making business decisions.1 Cognitive skills are needed to do this kind of cognitive mapping. For example, the dependency diagrams (or maps) developed through the approach described in this article, which involves systematically restructuring an expert's thinking processes that were mapped, are then used to develop expert computer systems replicating the expert's thinking processes. Such a process enables an individual to increase his or her professional expertise by learning systematically from modeling experience.

The basic approach of experience-based learning described here is very familiar. For example, when we interact with other people, many of us gradually build mental models (patterns/concepts) of different types of people and how they might be expected to respond to what we say or do. When we meet new people, we use these continually developing mental models to try to anticipate reactions to our words and actions and adjust our words and actions to generate the responses from others we have learned to expect in the past from what we perceive to be similar types of people. We are not always right, and we are constantly refining, retesting, and creating new patterns or models in our mind as we pass through life and its learning experiences. For mystery fans, it is a technique that Miss Marple uses in Agatha Christie's mystery novels to determine who might be a logical murderer suspect.

Business managers and leaders use this same pattern-building approach as they gain experience in their professional fields and develop mental models of the heuristics ("if-then" rules of thumb) for handling more and more complex business situations. This mental (cognitive) modeling professional growth process, which can be learned and systematically pursued, is outlined in Exhibit 1.

This article describes an approach to nurturing professional growth through cognitive mapping or modeling techniques. The techniques described are self-learning tools. The objective is to provide readers with such self-learning tools, which they can use on their own, both to make decisions and to increase their expertise in their chosen business professional area. The focus here is on entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinking.

The article starts with a background discussion section about the origin and definition of cognitive modeling and its contributions to learning. It highlights the relevance of cognitive skills in general and the importance of growing professionally in business in particular. The article continues with two stories about experiences in decisionmaking/action-experiences either of the students themselves or others. These are the specific instances referred to in Exhibit 1.

Cognitive Modeling and Its Contributions to Learning

Human behavior, according to social learning theory, is in large measure learned through modeling-mainly behavior modeling? Behavior modeling is an effective way of teaching overt, observable behaviors/activities.3 However, behavior modeling falls short when applied to teach covert, cognitive/thinking skills. …