Informal Collaborative Social Learning & Work

Some recent threads seem to be interweaving and creating patterns in what is becoming my de facto field of practice – “informal collaborative social learning & work”.

One thread is what Jay Cross has referred to with Hole-in-the-Wall Learning (HiW), which I first came across in the book Design Like You Give a Damn, and this conversation has been picked up by Peter Isackson:

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.

The idea of self-organised groups is a key theme in informal workplace learning, which Jay and I experimented with last year in the “unworkshops“. The HiW data is corroboration that we may be on the right path, though these studies involve young children only.

The other thread came via Michele Martin when she described some “new” roles that may be jobs of the future. The roles of Personal Learning Environment Assistant; Social Media Specialist; Online Coach; Social Network Catalyst and Social Network Analyst are ones that I’ve taken on at some time over the past few years. These descriptors are, for me, a clarification of the work that I’m doing.

One on my constant challenges has been in describing my work to others, and these roles can help with that. A current project with the Advanced Leadership Program of the Canada School of Public Service has me in the roles of Social Network Analyst & Catalyst and perhaps later as PLE Assistant. As we develop the online aspect of the wildlife emergency response network with AWI next year, I will assume similar roles and perhaps even that of Online Coach. If we use these terms in our proposals and work descriptions, they will become mainstream and should make it easier to get away from industrial-style roles such as workshop trainer, when not applicable.


The two threads of self-organised learning and some commonly used terms in online collaboration have come together for me and should make it easier to ‘splain just what the heck I do.

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