How to Be a Graduate Student of the Game of Voiceover

(Reader’s note: This was a potential breakout session at Faffcon 7 in Tucson, AZ, but was cut due to time, space, and being stupidly titled)

Have you ever said or heard a fellow talent say this?

“I’m just stupid in tech stuff”.

Or this?

“But *you’re* smart.”

How about this?

“It takes a really smart person to understand that.”

Or maybe even…?

“E-learning is boring.”

How many of you has ever said anything like that? How many have heard someone say a permutation of any of those?

Probably all of you, right?

The reason I ask is that I think there’s a singular constant when it comes to people’s ability to learn. And that is that we tend to put up barriers or pass judgment when it comes to stuff that we don’t understand, even to the point of deluding ourselves about the value of learning or even attempting to learn said concept.

So, it’s time for an injection of truth, with a side of wrecking ball. Stick with me for a little while, and by the end, we’ll have taken a journey together.

Fixed vs Growth Learning Mindset

When a person says, “I’m not smart,” that’s an example of an absolute, unshakable state of mind. In educational development, it’s called a fixed learning mindset.

When we make statements like that, it drives home the rigidity of the box in which we place ourselves. It “helps” us keep believing in the neutrality of our minds.

It also “helps” us be lazy, complacent, or just plain indignant about things that are outside our comfortable pillow fort.

I blame the Western Philosophy of education. Not what it was back in the time of Plato and Aristotle, when it was awesome, but what it’s become: the dogma of the “special.” Everybody’s special and everybody deserves recognition.

Now this isn’t a rant about entitlement. Entitlement is simply a byproduct of a fixed mindset, and we’re here to fix the cause, not treat the symptom.

The goal is to make small steps to shift your perspective from the fixed to the growth learning mindset.

The growth learning mindset is the backbone of educational philosophies in countries like Finland and Japan. There, the idea is that anyone can learn anything. All students are taught from a very young age that their intelligence level can always change, if they work hard.

The systems in both of those countries are very different, but the philosophy behind them isn’t. It’s a very Eastern Philosophy of equality that drives the educational process. The basis is that learners have to be stretched past their limits, otherwise growth can’t happen.

Think of it like lifting weights. When you lift weights, you tear muscle fibers, and then during periods of rest, they repair themselves and grow.

Mental growth is similar, in that when you stretch beyond your mental capacity just a little, then new connections are made in the brain, and we learn. And this process never stops. Ever. Just ask Henry Ford.

The Zone of Proximal Development

The idea of stretching ourselves just beyond what we know is based on Soviet psychologist Lev Vgotsky’s concept of the Zone of Proximal Development, or ZPD.

The idea is illustrated in the graphic: what someone can do without help is the dark blue circle, the outer sphere is beyond the person’s limits (for now), and the inner circle is where people learn, especially with someone teaching them, or a peer guiding them.

For those folks at Faffcon 6 in San Antonio, this circle diagram might look a little familiar. That’s because the inner circle is what we called your comfort zone, and the ZPD is the stretch zone.

The stretch zone is the only place that real learning can take place; there’s enough knowledge for a foundation, and that little nudge from (in our case) a coach or a knowledgeable peer, and BAM! You’re picking up new information, and how to associate and catalog it.

The exercise was also an test in trust, because no matter how much you know, there’s always something you don’t, and that’s the first step to trusting others, because what’s scarier than telling a room full of professional peers that you don’t know something?

It was a nice, two-purpose demonstration that not only do we not know everything, but that it’s OK that we don’t, because there will always be someone in the safety net that is our Faffily/Stand Up Group/Peers to help guide us into new knowledge.

As long as we admit that anyone can learn. And anyone can. And often does. Especially at something like, say, a Faffcon.

Expanding the ZPD

In 2009, a paper was published by educational researchers Ron Tinsley and Kimberly Lebak that took Vgotsky’s ZPD to a whole new level.

What they did is apply the ZPD to adults that were in a graduate level education program, in which cohorts of Master’s degree candidates would forego a traditional thesis to do a project that was designed to improve their existing jobs through active research on their own environment.

Think of it as experimenting on yourself with different learning styles and teaching methods.

Tinsley and Lebak realized that the students would best be served in these projects to work in groups and advise each other instead of a traditional approach, so they took Vgotsky’s concept, and put them into collaborative groups of varied backgrounds, yet similar levels of education.

What they saw was astonishing: as the members of the group became more well-acquainted with each other and their individual projects, the group’s individual development accelerated even more rapidly.

The rapid growth within the group’s ZPD was called the Zone of Reflective Capacity. It became a definable as he or she collaborates over an extended period with other adults who have similar goals.

Now hold on a sec. Collaboration over an extended period of time with other adults that have similar goals? Sound familiar?

Sounds like a Stand Up Group to me.

You Aren’t So Special, but We Can Learn Anything

Tinsley and Lebak talk further about how, as a group collaborated longer and trust was built, they all started living vicariously in each other’s classrooms, becoming educationally engaged in all domains of the brain, cognitive, affective, and psychomotor.

In other words, the more they worked together, the more they learned about themselves with all parts of the brain simultaneously, which means no matter what kind of learner you are, collaboration makes you smarter if you’re locked into the ZRC with peers.

It’s a holistic approach to educating yourself when you collaborate, and it is well referenced by Carolyn Adger who says, “Professional talk is not the icing on the cake of professional development. It is the cake.”

So Why Put Up Walls?

So the question I asked myself when I was reading more and more about this is, “why didn’t we embrace this concept sooner?”

And the reasons I came up with were limited to these:

  • We’re lazy (says the resident fat guy)

Like I said earlier, we’re comfortable in our pillow forts. We have to be willing to change.

  • It’s scary, because some ideas about learning have barriers to acceptance

The ZPD is only starting to become en vogue in educational circles recently, because Vgotsky (a Stalinist) birthed the idea, and those folks were scary and evil! *tongue in cheek*

But it’s true. We tend to vilify the things we don’t understand, label them, and put them on a shelf just like we do when we give ourselves permission to squander our brains.

The Eastern Philosophy is still really foreign to us, and it’s more so today in the world of terrorism, fear, and different-phobia. We’re all convinced that ourselves, our kids, our friends, and our pets are all special, and that we deserve to reap the rewards of life simply because of our State of Specialty (I’m claiming that one).

But thankfully, some famous people had the money to dabble in eastern influences, and some things are more acceptable in society, like yoga, meditation, and shawarma. OK, don’t laugh. You know you wanted to go try shawarma after watching The Avengers. Don’t even deny it.

So what do Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Lev Vygotsky and Steve Jobs have in common?

The answer? They all have Eastern influences. The evidence is right in front of us: The Zep had Kashmir, The Beatles had most of the white album, and of course Vgotsky had the ZPD.

But what about Steve Jobs? Well, besides his well-documented years as someone who tripped the light fantastic, there’s this one other thing:

Think Different®.

I rest my case. The slogan alone embraces the dogma of always striving to change your perspective, kind of like Mr. Keating from Dead Poet’s Society, but on steroids. Maybe not the best grammar in the world, but hey.

There’s tons of evidence in academia that shows that people just hearing that there are differing perspectives on learning was enough to start enacting change. Will that work with you?

A different way of thinking can unlock the kind of fixed learning mindset that exists not only in our industry, but in our society. And if we can just think differently (see what I did there?), then we take a wrecking ball to the walls we put up around ourselves, the barriers to expanding our own personal Zone of Proximal Development.

When we do this, and we go through life with a support system of peers like a Faffcon or a Stand Up Group, then the truth is that we truly have no limits.

Originally published at

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Brad Venable’s story.