The Learning Layer – Review

The Learning Layer: Building the next level of intellect in your organization, begins with some solid insights on how learning is the key to performing in the networked workplace. Learning has been the traditional realm of HR while most systems are supported by IT. This means that HR supports the people who produce the tacit knowledge while IT supports the systems that store the explicit knowledge. Steve Flinn, the author, uses the analogy of knowledge as stock and learning as flow. An organization’s intellectual capital is a factor of both, which “makes it really clear just how inseparable the management of a business’s knowledge is from the learning processes”.

The proliferation of current web technologies now presents us with two major opportunities:

The knowledge and insights within the heads of people can be leveraged without overtly taking actions to make it so. And that systems can actually learn, and more specifically, learn from latent intellectual capital.

Previous legacy IT systems used hierarchical structures, making them unsuitable for real learning applications, so “if we want an integrated organization of people and systems that effectively learns, we should start with a focus on a network-based architecture that has the capacity to reshape itself over time and that is layered over what came before, because that’s how the brain works.”

Flinn goes on to explain that Web 2.0 technologies have created “socially aware” systems that can identify some behaviour patterns between systems and users, giving us various levels of adaptation. is the best known commercial application of this, with its product recommendations. Very soon, adaptive recommendations in work systems will become ubiquitous, providing some extent of contextual and personalized learning on demand. The learning layer is an amalgamation of socially aware, adaptive systems with social networks [uniting KM and SoMe] .The social network is the larger network of connected people with smaller workflow processes inside:

Because the workflow is woven right into the learning layer itself, it also offers the opportunity for ‘recombinant’ processes, where process sections can be cleaved off and recombined to form new, synthetic processes. This is the ultimate in flexibility and efficiency, and can serve to make the benefits of processes realizable in even the most complex and fluid of work settings. Think of it as basically the mass customization of business processes.

Flinn also shows how learning value is created, can be measured and then assessed against project value, providing a clearer picture of the value of intellectual capital. He further recommends changes in how we develop ideas for innovation and suggests reversing the traditional idea funnel. Then Flinn takes these ideas and compares them against the three business archetypes: Product Innovator, Relationship Owner & Supply Network Architect.

The first three parts of the book are full of good ideas, insight and analysis, but Part 4 is a bit of a letdown. Implementing the Learning Layer, a mere six pages, doesn’t tell you much. However, there is a lot in the previous sections for guidance if you already understand processes and technologies from IT, HR, OD and  social media. If not, you could engage ManyWorlds for consulting and then implement on their Epiture platform.

In looking at the specifications for Epiture (aka “the learning layer”) the company describes it as a Web 3.0 system that includes enterprise level web site management; document management;  social networking and tagging & ontologies. Even without a full product comparison, I would say that several other platforms, including open source Elgg or Drupal can do much of this.

The key difficulty I see in the implementation of a learning layer is getting people to use it. As a layer, it is not integrated into the work tools. Even if socially aware systems collect and analyze data and feed these into the learning layer, the layer has to be used by people. Perhaps it can be effective if only a portion of the work force is involved in the active sharing of tacit knowledge through social networking. While I agree in principle with the learning layer, I’d have to see it in action and understand how the organization got there. I have little doubt in the potential of the learning layer but I’m not sure if it will revolutionize organizational learning.

In spite of my comments in the paragraph above, I would strongly recommend this book. Just the analysis on learning in networks is worth it. Much of what is recommended here reinforces 1) the wirearchy framework and 2) PKM and PLE development. Some form of learning layer could become the means by which wirearchies work and also use the cumulative results of individuals and their personal – knowledge/learning – management/sharing – systems/environments.

Other Related Posts:

Knowledge Stock & Flows


3 Responses to “The Learning Layer – Review”

  1. Steve Ardire

    Hi Harold – good objective review. I’ve spoken with Steve Flinn who is onto something with The Learning Layer and their Epiture platform.

    I also agree it reinforces Jon Husbands wirearchy framework and PKM and PLE development.

    RE: The key difficulty I see in the implementation of a learning layer is getting people to use it. As a layer, it is not integrated into the work tools.

    Good point however if you had an adaptive knowledge network management AI learning layer that’s integrated into workflows that is self-training and self-adjusting and gets smarter with each use it would address that difficulty 😉

    – Steve A

    • Harold Jarche

      Steve, if the learning layer is “an adaptive knowledge network management AI learning layer that’s integrated into workflows that is self-training and self-adjusting and gets smarter with each use” – then that is fantastic. Let’s hope that’s the case, or at least the direction it’s going [or at least the intent …].

  2. Steve Ardire

    Hi Harold – yes that’s the intent and what I’ll be speaking further with Steve Flinn to see if he’s interested in doing to assess and gauge the efficacy.

    Good to connect with you on LinkedIn.


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