Work is learning, learning work

As host of this month’s  Working / Learning Blog Carnival, David Wilkins challenged participants to think about the intersections between working and learning:

  • When does work become learning?
  • When does learning become work?

The integration of work and learning is a key part of my professional practice. Why?

Networks — Our workplaces, economies and societies are becoming highly networked. That means the transmission of ideas can be instantaneous. There is no time to pause, go into the back room and develop something to address our challenges. The problem will have changed by then.

Life in perpetual Beta — Not just rapid change, but continual change, requires practices that evolve as they’re developed. In programming, this has meant a move from waterfall to agile methods. Beta releases are the norm for Web applications and as we do more on the Web, other practices are sure to follow.

Complexity — The Cynefin framework shows that established practices work when the environment or the challenge is simple or complicated. For complex problems there are no established answers and we need to engage the problem and learn by probing. This requires a completely different mindset from training for defined problems and measurable outcomes. The integration of learning and work is not some ideal, it is a necessity in a complex world.

My current interest in Web social media is that these tools and platforms give us a better way to engage in collaborative work and help us integrate learning into our daily practice, such as personal knowledge mastery. There is no excuse that we cannot address the huge amounts of information and the complexity in our workplaces, as we already have the tools and much practice to inform us. All we need is the will.

“Work is learning, learning work” – that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

(apologies to Keats)

• Did you like this post? Check out the perpetual beta series

7 Responses to “Work is learning, learning work”

  1. Milan Davidovic

    re: Life in Beta — how do we feel about being hooked up to a “beta” infusion pump. Or taking “beta” pharmaceuticals? Or driving along a highway in a “beta” motor vehicle? Or flying 35,000 above the earth in a ‘beta” aircraft?

    Or am I looking at this the wrong way?

  2. Harold Jarche

    Thanks for the comment, Milan. I think we’re actually living life in Beta in every aspect of life. We just accept, or don’t understand, the inherent levels of risk.

    Beta health care: e.g. super bugs created from overuse of (beta) antibiotics

    Beta pharmaceuticals – e.g. Vioxx allowed on market when still in Beta

    Beta motor vehicles – check all the recalls here:

    Aircraft: Eurocopter crashes at sea with engine failure; national safety systems not up to international standards, etc.

    I contend that accepting that we are in Beta helps us to stay vigilant and look for ways of improving our systems and organisations, instead of assuming that everything is working just fine. An attitude of life in Beta for companies may get them to stop denying or covering up their errors. An open method of accident investigation has made the airline industry safer than our health care systems (see “The Human Factor”, by Kim Vicente).

  3. Sreya Dutta

    Harold, very realistic points made-Networks, life in Beta and Complexity.
    Networks are always growing and becoming a great medium for knowledge and information transfer.
    Agreed, life in beta gives you scope to improve continually, but I find taking a risk on life and health to be kind of freaky.
    Complexity especially does not have a single solution, you need to probe and come up with something more customized to address the issue.



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