For a while now, I’ve been contemplating a return to roots.
In the last few months from the tail end of annus horribilis that was 2017 to now, a series of events – mainly due to conversations and collaborations with people outside my field of corporate learning and development, has made me reflect on the exact reason why I left corporate Australia to become an independent consultant.
Back in 2012, I was inspired by the concept of people using technology to find each other, connect with each other and together work and create projects that solve complex problems. A series of different and unrelated events in my life (and which are still happening such as being involved in projects outside of work that got people who were strangers using digital tools to connect with each other around their particular craft fired me up).
This is what learning is about.
I referenced the connectivist learning theory which was first defined by George Siemens and Stephen Downes who called it “Learning for the Digital Age” – at its heart was personalised learning that included using tools to research, discover, contextualise, co-create and socialise with others.
To me, this was what learning was all about. Not the tools, not the tech and gadgetry, not the learning management system, not the enterprise social network platform.
It was PEOPLE who happen to use ANY resource at their disposal to make sense of the world and their place in it.
My resolve that Learning and Development was focussing on the wrong end of the process – on the “transmission” (1) rather than allowing for workers to create their own explorations, inquiry and meaning from their work made me get out of corporate and want to help Learning and Development inspire their organisations to consider this as an approach in the workplace.
In fact, every solution that L&D puts in place for their organisation, has, in some element of transmission. That is, they’re the ones who buy the LMS, the licensing arrangements to vendor platforms such as curating or social learning platforms, they push out the courses that need to be completed, they’re always “asking” for something from the business who look at them as a pesky mosquito on their arm that keeps coming back to bite and draw blood out of them.
I believe that Learning and Development know what they need to do to help employees build skills and capabilities of the task or job role at hand for TODAY (that’s not the issue), but do they know how to help them find meaning in this work and their place in it for TOMORROW?
I wanted to explore how personalised and social learning (learning from and with each other) made us BETTER people who will make a BETTER world.
To me, THIS is why I use social media and networks. To tap me into a world of people who can inspire my thinking, allow me to contribute, experiment, create and co-create and then to reflect on what I’m learning and how to apply it to the problem I’m trying to solve.
I realise this is an idealistic approach and I found out quite rudely enough over the last few years as a consultant where I struggled to make any traction of this vision into corporate learning and development who did not see this as their edict. Theirs was to formalise programs to develop skills and capabilities for workers to achieve performance outcomes of the job that were linked to business strategy.
I wondered if corporate Learning and Development were indeed the wrong people to be influencing after all, this type of thinking threatens their role and jobs. Maybe it was Marketing? However, in my work and discussions with Marketing people around the world, they are just as much focussed on “transmission” and “control” – broadcasting of corporate messages out across the myriad of platforms with very little engagement in diverse conversations across their own business, industry or the world. Was it IT? However IT too, baulked at the idea of workers being allowed to access anything and everything in the pursuit of their own knowledge and learning.
So this got me thinking whether really, the idea of personalised and social learning does not fit within the corporate construct. It’s simply not possible unless the organisational culture and systems are such that where they VALUE employees and what they bring rather than focusing on PROFIT which is always measured by reduced headcount.
Maybe the people who I should be helping are those people within the organisations who sit in the space between these departments. Call them the “change agents”, “intrapreneurs” or the networked individuals? But once again, how much influence and decision making authority do they hold when they too, are within an environment that may not recognise or acknowledge their talents and strengths?
THE POWER OF CONNECTIONS
And then there’s ETMOOC. I was first introduced to connectivism and experienced it by participating in the Educational Technology MOOC by Dr Alec Couros. The community that was created within this cMOOC (open source, driven by learners) is still going strong after 5 years. You can read more about my experience:
Yesterday, we had our 5th anniversary and we gathered together on Zoom to find out what we were up to and how our connections had helped us in our work. It was amazing to hear peoples stories of how this opportunity to work and learn together so openly had such a positive and beneficial impact to their work. You’ve read a lot about John Stepper’s work with Working Out Loud circles – this is a similar concept because at its heart, even the Working Out Loud circles use the CONNECTIVISM approach at its core.
— Alan Levine ☠ (@cogdog) January 26, 2018
BUT THEN THERE IS THIS….
I stumbled upon Eric Stoller’s post Seven Years of Social Media Repetition, Time to Be Bold Again and that just exemplified why I had been struggling with social learning with corporates and why I had slightly changed the focus of my products and services to be focused on HOW to use certain social tools for learning. In my experience, people simply don’t know how to use social media effectively in personal knowledge and learning.
The types of questions people were asking made me realise that they aren’t in-depth users of social and virtual tools themselves beyond what they use for personal or family use. They haven’t explored in-depth the possibilities of how to use these tools to find people, build networks, engage in communities, create and co-create new knowledge, projects or inspire others. If they themselves hadn’t gone on their own personal learning journey, it was impossible to have them see and most of all, understand what you see.
It was reinforced with recent social media posts and articles saying that “Social Learning is Dead!” (no it’s definitely not) or that it is relegated to the workplace where it belongs and not part of Learning and Development’s role but again, I beg to differ.
L&D has a strong role to play here in enabling and supporting the metacognition skills of their workers (“learning how to learn”) and their personal knowledge mastery (PKM) I have yet to see an active example of how L&D is the one driving this – it’s still up to the individual to find this out for themselves.
So I’ve been re-reading many of my old posts and revisiting the work of George Siemens and Stephen Downes as well as the work by Harold Jarche as I believe that this is where I want to focus on but I understand that people need to understand the basics of social media first. This is hard when there’s negative press around social media such as Fake News, privacy and data security. It makes finding the people who ARE making a difference in their fields and using social networks in such a way that puts the human voice into the conversations doubly difficult. There’s also rising tide of people who are disengaged, tired and disheartened with social media while others are driven only by what they get personally get out of it (money, status, power, recognition).
Where am I going with this?
I’m not entirely sure but what I do know is that I believe L&D may be missing a critical piece of the formula here – an essential element – that they’re desperately trying to find. I think it’s been under their noses all along.
- Siemens, George (2016) Knowing Knowledge http://www.elearnspace.org/KnowingKnowledge_LowRes.pdf
- Stoller, Eric (2017) even Years of Social Media Repetition, Time to Be Bold Again https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/student-affairs-and-technology/7-years-social-media-repetition-time-be-bold-again