Tag Archive for 'learning'

Learning culture and social media

If we talk about learning in organizations, many people will think of courses that are offered by the company’s training department. If we say e-learning, this is often associated with web based training modules. This is what we mostly refer to as “formal learning”. As we all probably (intrinsicly) know, there are more opportunities and places to learn than the formal classroom or web-based courses. What do you do when you are stuck with a problem at work? Do you call the training department for a course, or would you go ask a colleague, see if you can find info on the web? I guess we first go look for other people that can help us with our problem. Many of the tasks at work need some kind of learning to take place in order to get it done. We share our knowledge and expertise every day through conversations of any kind. We are being knowledge productive. We use knowledge to do our work better. And it is clear that this knowledge does not only come from formal courses, but a lot comes from the informal connections and conversations with from within and beyond the borders of your organization.

For some of you, who are in the learning business, this story is probably familiar. But yet, lots of organization still organize their learning through some kind of separate department. These are often called training departments, or corporate academy’s where people are are deciding what courses are needed for that organization. In this culture, managers often go to this department and ask for a training as a solution for their business issues. Willingly, training staff provides a training that seemingly fits the need and all are happy. Charles Jennings has referred to this phenomenon as “the conspiracy of convenience“.

But I can see times are changing! More and more, training departments are changing towards “learning and development” and starting to look at informal or social learning solutions. People from these L&D departments are exploring the possibilities of web 2.0. They want to have social networks, blogs, wiki’s and other tools alike.

The risk of all of this  is that sometimes, focus is too much on the tools instead of the process. Also, there is a tendency to view the social as “good” and formal as “bad”. Etienne Wenger has pointed out the importance of thinking about learning strategically. Learning needs to be connected with the strategic goals of an organization. It needs to contribute to whatever it is the organization wants to reach. That is why I think it is important to view learning in organizations from a more holistic, systemic point of view. This tells us that informal as well as formal learning solutions can have a place as long as they are aligned with the business. Moreover, in order to be successful, the horizontal processes that take place within informal learning needs to get connected with vertical processes within an organization.

The concept of Culture can help us looking at learning in organizations more holistically. There are various literature available on culture and culture in organizations. One of the clients I work with is IDEAS4, a management consultancy firm specialized in culture. They have (re)directed my attention again to this field and pointed me to studies from Hofstede and Schein. Geert Hofstede describes “the shared meaning of daily praxis” as the core of an organization’s culture (I’ve read the Dutch version, so this is freely translated). This description triggered me in several ways a) it is a shared meaning, so it is negotiated. And b) it is about the daily praxis. So, the core of organizational culture is about what we all think that we are doing here.

Schein needs a little more words: “Culture can be defined as (a) a pattern of basic assumptions, (b) invented, discovered, or developed by a given group, (c) as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, (d) that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore (e) is to be taught to new members as the (f) correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.” Schein also adds up with the importance of leadership with strength and clarity of these basic assumptions. This again calls for the alignment of the horizontal with vertical in the organization if we want to go ahead.

Learning Culture
Just recently, Bersin and associates came out with a full report on the importance of Learning culture for an organization. They have taken culture as a concept to describe that learning in organizations is more then just the course catalogue:

“Learning Culture is the collective set of organizational values, conventions, processes and practices that influence and encourage both individuals and the collective organization to continuously increase knowledge, competence and performance.”

I think it is absolutely needed to approach learning in organizations from this holistic perspective. Especially when we want to leverage the use of social media for informal/ networked forms of learning. We can even think of the power that social media can have in changing an organization’s culture. A culture that emphasize the importance of sharing knowledge and making it productive. A cultural that learns from its failures instead of punishing people that make them. What can be other values that are important for such a learning culture?

If we want to move towards a learning culture, we need to involve the system as a whole. It is not only bottom-up or only top-down that will do the job, it requires full system participation. This includes a “systemic shared leadership”. Leadership and management that is able to let go and involve employees in their decisions. Employees taken shared responsibility over the issues they are working with and take actions together to solve them. instead of sitting back and wait for leadership to take action.

#oeb2009: Relate to business goals for learning to have impact

It has been a week now since I was in Berlin at the Online Educa (#oeb2009). Prior to the conference I said in another post that I would experiment with using Mindmeister as a LIVE online mindmap tool. I wanted to experiment with new ways to create notes and instantly share and connect with others through that.

Well, in the end, Online Educa didn’t seem to be that online at all. Connections mostly were real slow or not available (eg. when attending a session across the street). Therefore at times I needed to get my little paper-notebook and completed my mindmap back home. Well, ok, opportunity for improvement i’d say. I was very satisfied with using mindmaps for taking notes. Next time I would love to connect with a few others to co-create a mindmap and see whats going on else-where.

Main theme

Thinking about main theme’s at the conference I realized that this is very personal and strongly related to my passion, things I’m working on at the moment and possibly also some frustrations:). The main thing that i repeatedly have seen coming back in various sessions is the need to relate to business goals in order for learning to have impact. (and yes this relates to my personal context).

Charles Jennings mentioned as one of the current fundamental changes the movement from learning as an event towards viewing learning as a process. Learning continuously embedded in the work process. I’m not sure if this was his wish, or something he had seen already emerging. In my view, looking for learning to embed in the process is one of the key aspects for L&D to have success. Also, many times, there not being paid any attention to. The reason for this might actually well be, what Jennings calls the conspiracy of convenience.

“A manager comes to a training manager and says ‘I’ve got a problem, I need training’. The training manager says ‘fine, we’ll develop a training programme’. So the training manager develops the programme, delivers it to the business and no-one measures it. The business manager is happy because they feel they’ve filled their requirement, the training manager is happy because they’ve done what they think their job is about, i.e. delivered training, and because no-one measures it, nothing really happens, but everyone’s happy….we need to break that conspiracy.” (quote from Newswire article)

When I talked about this with learning developers, their initial reaction was “you mean we need to do ROI?”. Could be, but moreover I would like a more process consulting approach (see eg. Ed Schein). Up front, try to discover the real need, why is your client or colleague asking for this training? What is the business problem behind this question? Try to actively engage the client/ colleague in the design process. Is training really the means to solve the problem. Afterwards, you can do research and come up with figures on the business impact but it depends on the situation if this is what you want. Mostly, it would be a great start to actually start the process of questioning the business impact (which is different from learning goals!!). Relate to business and help your client in this process of determining the impact of learning intervention.

On groups and emerging networks

Last week’s conversation in the cck08 course has been on the distinction between networks and groups. Which is funny, because in his presentation George Siemens starts off by saying this is an unfair distinction as “they are the same”. Siemens tell is this because groups are a type of network. But aren’t we really talking here about the distinction of groups and the concept of “emerging networks” which i discussed in my previous post?

I get started to think that there is an interesting conflict underlying these two concepts and when overlook, often causes failure of designed learning environments. In this movie Stephen Downes elaborates on the differences between groups and networks.

“A lot of what people are presenting as online learning focuses on groups. I believe what online learning brings us looks more like networks” (Downes)

Groups are based on unity, coordination, closeness and are distributive in nature. Networks, according to Downes, are more diverse are  based on autonomy and openness and are connective in nature. So groups are manageable, they can be coordinated by a manager or a teacher. Groups have closed walls and teachers will present knowledge to their groups/ class. Groups will therefore need technologies like learning management systems which allow teachers to offer their class structure and manage their learning in a close environment. Networks cannot be managed. Members (learners) are autonomous and their learning environment is not bounded by (physical) walls. Networks need technology like personal learning environments, blogs, e-portfolio’s.

The mapping of groups and networks with the technology that fits with their charecteristics was a real eye-opener for me. It made me think about organizations wanting to implement portfolio’s in closed learning environments, demanding employees to write a blog post every week and doing this in a shared blog (non autonomous!), etc…..

Thinking about the differences between groups and networks is not a very easy task, but its very worthwile for every educator/ learning designer to be aware of the distinct differences between those. We (or I) certainly need to do a lot more thinking on the matter, make it concrete for deeper understanding. Many web 2.0 tools are gaining loads of attention nowadays for their educational/ learning purposes. We need to question ourselves wether such a tool was designed for a network audience or if it was based group principles and in what sort we would like to use it.