Agility and Autonomy

for social learning to be successfully implemented in an organisation it is not just about adding in the new tools or platforms but also about acquiring a new mindset and new skillset for both learning professionals and individuals.

Jane Hart  shows in this Table; Social Learning = New Toolset + New Mindset + New Skillset

New Mindset: Agility

A key part of the New Mindset is agility. This is one of the limitations of instructional design as it too often practiced. For instance, at one time, software engineers assumed they could design a program and then build it based on the initial  specifications. Today, that is not often the case and much software development has adopted more agile methods. Assuming you know everything at the start of a complex development project is rather arrogant. This article on the future of software development had me asking if instructional design is also arrogant:

The problem was that the Waterfall Model was arrogant. The arrogance came from the fact that we believed that we could always engineer the perfect system on the first try. The second problem with it was that in nature, dynamic systems are not engineered, they evolve. It is the evolutionary idea that led to the development of agile methods.

Instead of factory-style production teams, agile programming uses far fewer, but better, programmers. The principles of communicating, focusing on simplicity, releasing often and testing often are all applicable to developing good instructional programs.

A culture of perpetual Beta is critical. Perpetual Beta means we never get to the final release and that our learning will never stop. Agile organizations realize they will never reach some future point where everything stabilizes and they don’t need to learn or do anything new.

New Skillset: Autonomy

I have observed over the years that a significant portion of the workforce has not been able to develop the skills to learn for themselves. What many lack are tools, methods and practices to learn and to take action. Autonomous learners face many barriers on the job, particularly the pervasive attitude that you must look busy or you’re not working.

We are trained early in life to look to authority for direction in learning and work. The idea that there is a right answer or an expert with the right answer begins in our schools. John Taylor Gatto describes this in the seven-lesson schoolteacher.

The fifth lesson I teach is intellectual dependency. Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. It is the most important lesson, that we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. The expert makes all the important choices; only I, the teacher, can determine what you must study, or rather, only the people who pay me can make those decisions which I then enforce. If I’m told that evolution is a fact instead of a theory, I transmit that as ordered, punishing deviants who resist what I have been told to tell them to think. This power to control what children will think lets me separate successful students from failures very easily.

The message from many workplaces continues to be that good employees wait for their supervisor to tell them what to do.

However, when we move away from a “design it first, then build it” mindset, we need to engage everyone in critical and systems thinking. Workers in agile workplaces must be passionate, adaptive, innovative, and collaborative. The way to begin is to become autonomous.

Developing practical methods, like PKM, is a start on the path to autonomy. A major premise of PKM is that it is Personal and there are many ways to practice it.  We need to think about and talk about work differently. For example, dropping the notion of being paid for time is one way to start this change.  An hourly wage implies that people are interchangeable, but no two minds are the same. Many of our human resource practices should be questioned and dropped.

Social Learning

Social learning is how things get done in networks. For example, Sue Schnorr recently asked if Networking = Learning?. It seems that way to me. Learner autonomy is a foundation for effective social learning within and without the enterprise and social learning is the lubricant for an agile organization. Agility is a necessity because we are dealing with increasing complexity.

Esko Kilpi puts it very succinctly. Let me paraphrase his words:

In order to develop the necessary emergent practices to deal with complexity you need to first cultivate diversity [autonomy of each learner] .

You also need rich and deep connections, but these are not enough if you don’t also have meaningful conversations [social learning].

Learning is the work …

5 Responses to “Agility and Autonomy”

  1. Kare Anderson

    Ironically, in this ever more connected age, to remain relevant and savor one’s work one must not only learn to think and act autonomously but also collaboratively. Sometimes the best way to seize an opportunity or solve a problem in time one needs to be able to recruit the right team, speak to the sweet spot of mutual benefit, allow someone else to “lead” or facilitate if it best serves that sweet spot, and convince the group to agree on at least minimal rules of engagement so that everyone is on the same page sooner…. then we can move from me to we

  2. Bill Farren

    Great article. Totally agree with your take on agility and evolution. It’s interesting to note that , “Gallup Poll shows that only 39% of Americans say they “believe in the theory of evolution,” while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36% don’t have an opinion either way. ” Scary.
    Tried to tackle the issue of autonomy and who’s in charge of one’s learning in a short video:
    Thanks for this post.

  3. Gloria Kinrot

    I enjoyed reading your perspective. Comparing the old waterfall and agile models of software development. The need for flexibility in today’s organizations and businesses is key to success. Thus a New Mindset. Empowering employees and individuals to be proactive in learning & setting goals. Requires a New Skillset. I see the learning organization’s answer in a Coaching Approach. Promoting the change in mindset to open, flexible, agile methods. OK to try & make mistakes, even fail & learn. Promoting managers to lead employees to autonomy. Leaving time for networking and community building. Maybe the model to do this is to follow the software & project management’s success in moving from Waterfall to Agile modes. To show how a person can learn and integrate best at his own pace & with the support of others around for collective learning. Benefitting the business bottomline. Thanks for the insights!


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)