If work is learning, and learning is the work, why do we need experts responsible for managing it? Do we need learning experts in the network era? Hierarchies and experts have a symbiotic relationship. Without hierarchies, no authority can tell us who is the expert. Were people able to learn before there were hierarchies and experts? Would workers be able to learn today without learning experts?
Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. But without hierarchy we need to engage with knowledge networks because we are no longer told what to think and do. Our greatest knowledge asset today is our network. Individual expertise is gradually being replaced by cooperative expertise. I have said before that individuals need to take control of their learning in a workplace where they are simultaneously connected, mobile, and global: while conversely contractual, part-time, and local. This is becoming an imperative.
If individual expertise is diminishing in power and reach, so is individual ability to get anything done. Without direction from above we need to set our own direction with the help of our networks. The network learning model shows that we not only have to share knowledge with our work teams but also engage in communities of practice to experiment in how we work, as well as gain awareness from our professional social networks.
The network era is subverting the hierarchies of markets and institutions. Direction emerges from our networks, but slowly and indirectly. Only by engaging our networks can we learn from them. As professionals in the network era, not engaging in communities and networks leaves us at a significant disadvantage. When work is learning, and learning is the work, personal knowledge mastery becomes a core skill. As shown in Tom Gram’s model below, developing expertise takes deliberate practice. As we all become the experts, we are all responsible for our learning.