Last year I put down some working definitions in the field of performance and learning:
My own working definitions of these terms [these are not robust, dictionary definitions, but just my own way of putting each term], which I often discuss here and with clients are:
Performance – something measurable and observable to achieve an agreed-upon objective.
Performance Support – tools and processes that support the worker in the desired performance, including, but not limited to, job aids.
Training – an external intervention, designed only to address a lack of skills and/or knowledge.
Education – a process with its main aims of socialization, a search for truth and/or the realisation of individual potential.
Learning – an individual activity, though often within a social context, of making sense of our experiences.
I’d like to add in Peter Senge’s important clarifications on terms we often use:
Knowledge: the capacity for effective action. “Know how” is the only aspect of knowledge that really matters in life.
Practitioner: someone who is accountable for producing results.
I had said that learning remains an individual activity, with all of the variables of the human experience and much less clearly defined or controlled than education or training. I also recommended that organizations should get out of the learning business and focus on performance. Organizations can direct performance but they should only support learning. Individuals should be directing their own learning.
Senge’s presentation last week gave me cause to reflect on this. He said that individual learning in organizations is irrelevant because work is almost never done by one person. All value is created by teams and networks. Furthermore, learning may be generated in teams but this type of knowledge comes and goes. Learning really spreads through social networks. Therefore, social networks are the conduit for effective organizational performance. Blocking, or circumventing, social networks slows learning, reduces effectiveness and may in the end kill the organization (my conclusion).
To reduce these thoughts to their essence, I would say:
Organizations should focus on enabling practitioners to produce results by supporting learning through social networks. The rest is just window dressing.
In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed – [Charles Darwin]