Learning as a Network

Mohamed Amine Chatti extends the framework on personal knowledge networks with his post on Learning as a Network (follow link for graphic):

The Learning as a Network (LaaN) perspective draws together some of the concepts behind double-loop learning and connectivism. It starts from the learner and views learning as the continuous creation of a personal knowledge network (PKN). For each learner, a PKN is a unique adaptive repertoire of:
– One’s theories-in-use. This includes norms for individual performance, strategies for achieving values, and assumptions that bind strategies and values together (conceptual/internal level) Tacit and explicit knowledge nodes (i.e. people and information) (external level

Here is Chris Argyris’ double-loop learning theory in a nutshell:

“There are four basic steps in the action theory learning process: (1) discovery of espoused and theory-in-use, (2) invention of new meanings, (3) production of new actions, and (4) generalization of results. Double loop learning involves applying each of these steps to itself. In double loop learning, assumptions underlying current views are questioned and hypotheses about behavior tested publically. The end result of double loop learning should be increased effectiveness in decision-making and better acceptance of failures and mistakes.”

And here is George Siemens’ Connectivism theory:

Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.

Finally, you can get a quick overview of the Cynefin model and complexity with this video from Anecdote.

So that’s: double-loop learning – connectivism – complexity; three concepts, each requiring some depth of understanding . No wonder this is a hard sell in the boardroom. Many people think of learning as school, training as something that is delivered, and complexity as problems that can be solved with effort and resources.

Like Mohamed, I am interested in these theories but my true passion is in implementing frameworks for the workplace.  I too think that merging learning and knowledge management into our work is a good way to help organizations deal with complexity.

Here’s a possible elevator pitch for learning as a network, or PKM:

Is your work becoming more complex? How much complexity is there in the markets or the environment? Can anyone predict what’s going to happen next? Obviously many of the world’s economists have been wrong about most things. Looking backwards hasn’t helped us much.

In a complex world we cannot predict outcomes but we can engage our environment and learn by doing. That makes constant learning a critical business skill. But how do we help people develop that skill?

Giving tools and teaching by example is a good way to start. People need to make connections and see patterns and then reflect, criticize and detect errors. Only in a trusting, collaborative workplace can this happen.

Want to know more? Well let me you tell a story …

8 Responses to “Learning as a Network”

  1. Clark Quinn

    Harold, great post. The pitch is definitely a problem. I’m concerned that it’s too easy to read it as “it’s all too difficult, we have no idea what to do so we’ll just take random steps”.

    I’d like to offer a more hopeful prognosis, along the lines of: “what we’ve found is that by inspiring people with visions, empowering them with tools and supporting their processes, leads to better outcomes in these uncertain areas that trying to train…” and so on.

    It’s clearly something we’re still wrestling with!

  2. Sreya Dutta

    Hi Harold,

    Its really a great thing to analyze and understand the mental process on learning. You’ve just very well explained what we are all trying to tell everyone around in our workplaces and how it will impact employees and bring in value. Speaking about double-loop learning – connectivism – complexity is way too complex and even i had to re-read the post and related links several times to figure this out. I think the issue that often happens in our domain and probably in others is that theory always seems to justify itself and feels great when read. When you get down to the nitty gritties of implementation, its another ball game all together and thats when you need specifics.

    The one way I figured out would work, is to be an instructional designer and know your audience. Define the solution using terms and examples they already understand. Again, what I just said may sound like theory, but thats the least i did and it worked. I just managed to tell our manager that we need to work on sharing knowledge with the team using our tools like wiki, forums etc. I made it sound like it was something that was available and we’re not making sufficient use of. They have accepted to try out what I said on one of our product teams as a prototype. I;m not saying that I’m done, but I’ve managed to get a ‘yes you can try’ from management. I still have unanswered questions though which i listed out in my blog. http://road-to-learning.blogspot.com/2009/05/social-learning-adoption.html

    So i think the key is, no matter how deeply you understand the concept, when you want to sell it, it works better if you don’t make it sound like a big new thing and use words that people understand. Thankfully, social learning uses tools that people are familiar with in general but probably can’t imagine “making connections, seeing patterns, reflecting…”. But given a chance, they will involuntarily undergo this mental process purely out of intuition.

    I am hoping i understood all the facts in your post well enough. Please let me know otherwise.

    Thanks so much for sharing this. It helped me understand the process much better.


  3. Vania

    Please correct me if I’m wrong. Knowledge and learning can not be merged since they are intrinsically linked, learning is a process and knowledge the result of this process, regardless how either of them are understood… Another topic is how one understand that process and how this result is represented, if as an individual or social process, if as a construction or as transmission, if as an isolated artifact or distributed among people/connections/nodes… regardless of that, learning continue being a process and knowledge continue being the result (residual or direct) of it… isn’t it?

  4. Harold Jarche

    Knowledge and learning are individual, and reside within each person. However, the social environment has a significant impact on knowledge and learning. I would call it an individual process within a social surround.


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