Social learning is for human work

This past week I came across the theme of the changing nature of work several times.

As computers transcend many human capabilities and work is dehumanized, we must focus on the skills and abilities where humans excel beyond any imaginable machine capability. At the heart of those human capabilities are creativity and innovation. – Ross Dawson

“Focus on the human factor,” says Gerd Leonhard, “If our work – and our output – is robotic we will soon be surpassed by intelligent software agents and machines.”

This is exactly the message I am trying to convey in the image below. Standardized work (blue) is already being outsourced to the lowest cost of labour and will eventually be automated. This includes knowledge work. Customized work (yellow) is human. Its dominance will mark the end of the industrial era. Talent will replace labour as intangible assets will provide value while machines and software will handle any work that can be standardized.

jobs and workThe learning imperative for the new workplace is not to know more stuff, because software can do that for us, but to become more human. Social learning will help us collaborate and cooperate in doing customized work, requiring thinking and building skills in order to innovate and craft unique products and services.

Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory, 1977

Social learning helps groups of people share their knowledge in non-hierarchical ways and is not limited to the confines of instruction. Training courses take too long to develop and will be obsolete before they are launched. Most organizations today have a 95% informal learning gap they are not addressing. Social learning, using PKM methods and social networks, can address much of this.

Social learning networks enable better and faster knowledge feedback loops, essential for innovation and creativity. In an environment of constant innovation and faster market feedback, social learning is how we will share implicit knowledge and get work done. Social learning is for human work.

social learning is how work gets done

12 Responses to “Social learning is for human work”

  1. Andrew Jacobs

    Hi Harold, interesting piece as always. I agree that feedback loos become faster but does more extensive necessarily mean better? Previously one person might give feedback. As we moved into a training mode that became at least 2 (trainer and manager). In a social learning model the feedback is a constant. Isn’t the challenge to learn which feedback to use, which to store and which to ignore?

    • Harold

      Andrew, I think we will all have to get better at filtering, both information and feedback.

  2. Steve Scott

    I like that Ross Dawson quote. Very insightful article you linked to as well.

    > We are continually being pushed into the territory that distinguishes us from machines: emotion, relationships, synthesis, abstraction, beauty, art, meaning, and more.

    The positive side to this is, in my opinion, that we all have equal capacity for these things, regardless of “intelligence”. What makes people uniquely human is culture.

    Machine capabilities might be a great equalizer. We will no longer be able to build careers as human automatons, i.e. highly specialized job doers.

  3. Paul Johnson

    I’ve just discovered you Harold (that’s social media for you!). Your ideas appear very close to my values. In response to Andrew’s interesting comment, observing the behaviour of social networks so far could suggest it will be the social networks themselves that take on the task of filtering (ie what’s good and what’s popular – not always the same thing!) and it won’t be left to each individual to wade through everything themselves. ‘Natural selection’ anybody?

  4. Sheila Stone

    Social learning is certainly how lots of things get done these days. It’s not how the best things get done though.


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