A Learning Reformation

In — No more “learners” — Jay Cross uses the preacher-congregation metaphor to show the dysfunction in our educational and training systems. Much as the Reformation, sped by the new technology of the printing press, ushered in an era of believing and thinking for ourselves, we have the makings of our own Learning Reformation.

The removal of overt rules (Jay uses traffic signs as an example) can empower people, while thinking of them as just “learners” is condescending and plays to the power game of teacher-students. Let’s face it, especially in light of how our institutions have screwed up the world, we all have to be learning together.

In The future of the training department, Jay and I put forth the idea that in order to help organizations evolve in a complex environment we have to move away from training delivery and focus on Connecting & Communicating. Workers, provided the right tools and resources, can figure out what they need to learn. Tony Karrer has picked up on this, as has David Wilkins.

Here are some suggestions for people in training organizations as they shift to supporting the networked workplace:

  1. Be an active & continuous learner yourself (e.g. personally manage your knowledge).
  2. Be a lurker (passive participant) & LISTEN
  3. Communicate what you observe.
  4. Continuously collect feedback, not just after formal training (yes there’s still a place for some of this).
  5. Make it easy to share information by Simplifying & Synthesizing.
  6. Use Networks as research tools.
  7. Identify learning skills and develop them in yourself and others [thanks, Clark]

All of these skills are dependent on #1. You can read about being a good learner and then put the book back on the shelf, but learning is a process and leadership by example is needed. Be an example.

Q: What’s the best way to use social media in your organization?

A: Start by using them yourself.

Steve Simons recently wrote:

I read with interest your article “The future of the training department”, particularly the last paragraph. As an IT trainer in the UK (I train on a contract basis for large organisations), I’ve often wondered what uses people will get from their learning. Sometimes my general feeling is “none”. Your phrase “shift the focus to creativity, innovation, and helping people perform better, faster, cheaper” really hit the spot with me.

I recommended the book From Training to Performance Improvement to Steve, as it helps get training departments out of the “solution looking for a problem” approach. As much as books like this are a good start, a shift to performance improvement is not enough. There is no single best approach and we need to bring in other frameworks such as connectivism, wirearchy and social network theory. The era of silos is over.

Here’s some advice for anyone in charge of a training department:

No single, sure-fire, cookie-cutter approach can be implemented in a top-down or consultant-driven manner to create a networked workplace performance model that works for “your” organization. Don’t believe the hype that one technology or one method will save you, because no single method in the past has done that. You have the best knowledge about your organization. You may need some direction, support, data, advice or a sounding board, but you have to create your own inter-dependent network.

5 Responses to “A Learning Reformation”

  1. Clark Quinn

    Harold, I generally agree, but I don’t think being a learner is a ‘just’. It can be a choice of empowerment. Also, I’d add 7. Identify learning skills and develop them in yourself and others. Great stuff!

  2. Harold Jarche

    Clark, I agree that being a learner is not a “just”, but that is too often a perception in organizations and amongst some trainers. When you’re the learner, you’re no longer in control; just like at school. Thanks for #7.

  3. Dave Wilkins

    I like your list. All spot on. Others worth thinking about:

    * Learn how to an awesome facilitator and how to seed conversations or on-going “programming” to drive participation.
    * Consider moving into the role of “producer” or “vetter” of other people’s contributions, specifically around “sense-making” and “distilling” the contributions of the crowd for re-publication as codified knowledge (like iReport on CNN)
    * Get some experience as a moderator or community manager so that you understand that sometimes the best ways to gain control is to give up control, and that other times, “someone needs to run the show” to prevent abuses or other trust-destroying behavior.

    I think the future of training is going to look a lot more like community management and facilitation than “sage on stage” so I think that in addition to your fine list, we should also be examining the roles and various skills and competencies in the world of community management.

  4. Harold Jarche

    Community Manager may be the new role for what was once Training Director. Becoming a CM will take a lot of learning and some unlearning as well.

    Thanks for the additions to the list, Dave.

  5. Jon Husband

    IMO the principle of mass customization is important to understand, both theoretically and practically.

    There’s no longer a “one-size-fits-all” model … unfortunately, most organizations use management and developmental processes the principles of which are still derived from a “one model” era, even though consultants are often called in to tinker and mend.

    However, I do think that the next two decades will be an interesting times to be an organizational designer-and-tailor 😉


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