tensions of modern learning

Clark Quinn, my Internet Time Alliance colleague, has presented a quick view of old and new ways to address organizational learning engineering. Clark created a table “representing just some of the tensions” between what we still do and what we now know about learning. I have appended these new practices with examples and elaborations of what Clark has presented.

Are we impacting business metrics?

It is important for the learning and development world to understand the mindset of those making the big enterprise decisions. Training and learning are of little importance to them. However, acceptance of this fact can put the L&D profession in the right position to advance learning and development. They must be prepared to sell the idea behind anything they need to accomplish. L&D professionals have to become internal marketing specialists. – ld-outside-the-box/

As much as possible, information should be in the world

Three billion people around the world are now connected with ubiquitous digital technologies that keep improving. They also keep getting cheaper. History shows that technology can be an enabler of democracy. Distributed communications subvert gatekeepers. John Gilmore said that, ‘The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.’ As networks become the new companies, we may be moving toward a more democratic future of work, with authority distributed throughout the network. One significant counter to this trend is the emergence of platform capitalism. – the-democratic-advantage/

Our thinking is very much situated and emergent

In order to develop emergent and novel practices, people need to collaborate and cooperate as they work on understanding the changing environment and technologies. This is social learning, and it is a necessity when working in complex or chaotic environments.

Training helped us prepare for a relatively stable workplace. Integrating learning and work ensures that we can adapt to a changing workplace. By extending the borders of work, through communities of practice and social networks, we can support social learning. Structured and goal-oriented work still needs to get done. However, knowledge workers also need to develop emergent practices through their social relationship outside the workplace. This keeps work connected to the changing external environment, through human relationships and social networks. – from-training-to-social-learning/

The room is smarter than the smartest person in the room

Solving problems is what most knowledge workers are hired to do. But complex problems usually cannot be solved alone. They require the sharing of tacit knowledge, which cannot easily be put into a manual. Tacit knowledge flows best in trusted networks. Trust promotes individual autonomy and this becomes a foundation for social learning. Without trust, few are willing to share their knowledge. An effective knowledge network also cultivates the diversity and autonomy of each worker. Connected leaders foster deeper connections, developed through ongoing and meaningful conversations. They understand the importance of tacit knowledge in solving complex problems. Connected leaders know they are just a node in the network and not a position in a hierarchy. – hierarchy-to-the-rear/

Learning is doing

B.J May shared ‘How 26 Tweets Broke My Filter Bubble’, which enabled him to see the word beyond a workplace that he described as, “All men, all heterosexual, all white”. He decided to follow Marco Rogers’ advice to use “Twitter as a way to understand viewpoints that diverge from your own”. At the end of this experiment, which turned into a permanent practice, May concluded that

“Every one of my opinions on the issues at hand had been challenged, and most had shifted or matured in some way. More importantly, however, was this: The exercise had taught me how to approach a contrary opinion with patience and respect, with curiosity and an intent to learn, with kindness and humanity.” – B.J. May

Would B.J. May have been able to learn as much through solitary reflection? His reflection was directly linked to his engagement with others, often fully so. It hurt to learn. He learned socially, as we have for millennia. We need time for reflection, but even more so, we need experiences to reflect upon. This makes our learning personal: felt in our gut. Real learning is not abstract. – real-learning-is-not-abstract/

Learning is a process

Smart Work starts with an understanding of what is important for the 21st century workplace. It’s not content delivery. We are awash in content. Smart workers need ways to enhance their experience-performance-reflection processes, not have more information dumped into the pipeline. – experience-performance-reflection/

Use the best learning design

To focus on deliberate practice, we need to put it into all aspects of workplace learning. This means instruction based on action, not content, such as Cathy Moore’s action mapping approach. It also requires cognitive apprenticeship, especially within communities of practice. Using the 70:20:10 principle, a good practice would be to include deliberate practice into all aspects of workplace learning, whether in education programs, coaching and exposure, or through everyday experience. – deliberate-practice/

Automate the rote and leave people to important decisions

One small change, that could have a major impact, would be to look at everyone’s work from the perspective of standardized versus customized work. Every person in the company, with the help of some data and peer feedback, should be able to determine what percentage of their time is spent on standardized work. If the percentage is over a certain threshold, say 50%, then it becomes a management task to change that person’s job and add more customized work. The company should be constantly looking at ways to automate any standardized work, in order to stay ahead of technology, the market, and the competition. Automation is pretty well inevitable but it does not have to decimate the workforce. – pre-empting-automation/

Mistakes are part of innovation, just don’t lose the lesson

Narration is making implicit knowledge (what one feels) more explicit (what one is doing with that knowledge). Also known as ‘working out loud’, this can be a powerful behaviour changer, as long-term bloggers can attest. Narration can take many forms. It could be a regular blog; sharing day-to-day happenings in activity streams; taking pictures and videos; or just having regular discussions. Narrating work also means taking ownership of mistakes. This requires a culture of openness: making sure that sharing is the default mode for all communications. But people inside organizations, and professional communities, are often afraid to challenge conventional wisdom, even when the data are overwhelming. The power structure exerts great pressure to conform. Only organizations that share power and encourage conflict can advance different ideas. Openness alone cannot drive change. – innovation-means-learning-at-work/

Workers must be empowered

Self-organizing teams are more flexible than hierarchical ones, but they require active and engaged members. One cannot cede power to the boss, because everyone is responsible for the boss they choose. Like democracy, self-organized teams require constant effort to work. Hierarchies work well when information flows mostly in one direction: down. They are good for command and control. Hierarchies can get things done efficiently. But hierarchies are useless to create, innovate, or change. Hierarchies in perpetual beta are optimal for creativity and to deal with complexity. – temporary-negotiated-hierarchies/

2 Responses to “tensions of modern learning”

  1. rahul dikshit

    excellent article , got to understand the new ways of learning & training .

  2. Adhir Mathur

    As the learning is evolving, the Knowledge worker needs to work on Social learning through their social relationship outside the workplace. Secondly, what one feels about knowledge is turning into what one is doing with it.


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