The learning and development field has a lot of good research on how to support workplace performance. Tom Gram has some excellent posts and resources that discuss performance by design. His most recent post, Everyday Experience is Not Enough, summarizes what it takes to support workplace learning. It’s definitely worth reading and following the links to other resources.
Some of the best learning approaches that work well in helping people challenge their current skill levels fall into that fuzzy middle ground between formal and informal learning (see this post for a continuum of learning experiences) and can include the following:
- Cognitive Apprenticeship
- Simulations and other surrogates for authentic experience
- Feedback systems (built into work-flow)
- Action learning
Designing, fostering and supporting work experiences that develop expertise is an emerging role for the learning professional. That role is to assure that people are working in a setting where they can challenge and develop their knowledge and skills. You can’t make them learn but you can help surround them with the resources they need to learn. This approach to learning is truly a partnership between the individual, their managers and you as a learning professional. In doing that work you are practicing and developing your own expertise.
I agree with Tom. But I have a sense that things are changing and our interconnectedness is shifting the ground rules, without being so kind to inform our institutions or professional associations. Tom starts his post with his own admonishment of those “social” folks:
A core tenet of informal and social learning is that we learn through experience. It’s the elephant in the 70-20-10 room. It’s often used as an admonishment to formal learning. Advocates of the most laissez-faire approaches informal learning suggest that given the right tools (social anyone?) employees will do just fine without all the interference by the learning department, thank you very much.
Like I said, I agree with Tom, and highly respect his work. But there’s stuff happening that isn’t following all our best practices based on years of research. Cases like children learning at the Hole-in-the-Wall (HiW), without any guidance. Peter Isackson has described the subversive nature of social learning in the HiW experiments:
It seems to me that the fundamental key to the success of HiW is the notion of “self-organized groups” who learn on their own. If education is to become truly non-invasive, as Jay suggests, it must refrain from defining both the goals and the means to reach them, entrusting the groups with this task. If educational gurus (authorities) notice that a group is neglecting what is considered “essential” in the curriculum (for whatever reason, whether it’s basic security, survival or inculcating an existing set of values), the group could be challenged to account for why they may be neglecting a certain topic or reminded of the interest in pursuing it. Respecting the self-organizing group and its decision-making capacity is the sine qua non of success. It also happens to be the absolute opposite of the organizational principles of traditional education and training.
John Seely Brown (JSB) often tells the story of a group of young surfers, The Grommets, who learn by watching videos of those who are better and constantly improve their skills through practice and collaboration. This Singapore Educational Consultants’ review sums it up [more links at bottom of the article]:
According to JSB, The Grommets underwent these stages in their pursuit of excellence:
a) Deep collaborative learning with/from each other;
b) A passion to achieve extreme performance and a willingness to fail, fail, fail on the way;
c) Accessing and learning frame by frame the best surfers around the world via videos of the pros;
d) Use of video tools to capture and analyze each of their own improvisations;
e) Pulling the best of ideas from adjacencies: wind surfing, skate boarding, mountain biking, motor-cross and others;
f) Accessing spikes of capabilities around the world – leveraging networks of practice around the world; and
g) Attracting others to help them around the world
The Grommets are a case of self-directed learning done collaboratively. Cognitive apprenticeship is now available for the taking because many experts are narrating their work, or are being captured by video while doing their work. This phenomenon will continue to pervade our society. We’ve all gone mobile now. We’re getting continuous feedback from our networks, as The Grommets and even the kids at HiW did. It’s not uncommon today for a 12 year old to have an international network. These can often act as learning networks. More and more people will be coming to your workplace with their own feedback systems already in place.
I think the game has changed. I’m not a social learning, laissez-faire, utopian but I am seeing fundamental changes with networked learning. The learners now own their networks. Workplace learning will change as well, and it will change how work gets done. People are creating their own narratives. Today, content capture and creation tools let people tell their own stories. Weaving their stories together enables serendipitous learning at the adjacencies. Gamers, hackers, The Grommets and HiW learn by:
- Sharing their stories.
- Knowing there is no user manual.
- Embracing the flow.