This week I am reviewing my posts from 2015 and putting some of the core ideas together. Here are some thoughts on personal and social learning in the network era.
Training, and education, are often solutions looking for a problem. But good training and education can have a huge impact on behaviour and performance. Remember that great teacher who inspired you? Did you ever have a coach who got you to a higher level of performance? But throwing content at someone and hoping for learning to happen is not a good strategy. This is how far too many courses are designed and delivered.
Training helped us prepare for a relatively stable workplace. Integrating learning and work ensures that we can adapt to a changing workplace. By extending the borders of work, through communities of practice and social networks, we can support social learning. Structured and goal-oriented work still needs to get done. However, knowledge workers also need to develop emergent practices through their social relationship outside the workplace. This keeps work connected to the changing external environment, through human relationships and social networks.
Too many people in the training department make the leap from a performance issue (lack of skills, abilities, knowledge; lack of access to appropriate data and resources; etc) directly to ‘training as the only solution’. This is a wrong approach and is the most costly. Management plays into this, with statements like “We have a training problem” while no one challenges that statement. There is no such thing as a training problem.
Learning out loud in our social networks helps to seek new opinions and share our own with a diverse group of people. Outside the organization we can make new connections without permission. In addition, trusted spaces, like communities of practice, give us a place to take our half-baked ideas and test them out, with minimal risk. Meanwhile, we can sharpen these ideas and share them in our digital workplaces when we discern the time is appropriate. All of this is an art, requiring ongoing practice, and countless negotiated conversations and relationships.
Removing barriers should be the focus of the learning and development professional, not delivering content. It is time to stop being takers of orders and become better diagnosticians. Solving problems will help L&D be seen as a valued part of the enterprise. L&D professionals therefore have to master their own field as well the business they support.
In addition, they have to understand that few outside L&D think what they do is important. It’s a big challenge, but learning is becoming critical to all businesses. It is up to L&D to be part of this.
Communities of practice act as filters of new knowledge in order to find competitive knowledge for your organization. People who understand the context of the work teams must participate in communities of practice, as only they can identify what new knowledge could be competitive. That means that those doing the work need time and support to get away from their teams and see the bigger picture.
Building knowledge networks of trusted connections is one way we can learn as a society and address the complex problems facing us. Nobody can do it alone. Explicitly using social media and social networks to better understand complex issues should be part of all education programmes and everyone’s professional practice. There is so much to know and very little time. I call this serendipitous drip-fed learning. You just have to find the feeds, thankfully of which there are many.
It is not the size of our networks that matters, but the diversity of opinions and expertise that we can draw upon, in order to prevent group think, or an ‘echo chamber’ effect. In times of crisis, when information is critical, then having a diversity of opinions can ensure that drastic measures are not taken for the wrong reasons, or that viable options are not ignored.
“Work is learning, learning work” — that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.