Monday, 27 February 2012

4 trends in learning

Over the past few months I have been exploring the social web to find out more about it, to work out how I might use it and to learn from others.  My eyes have been truly opened as to what there is to be learned.  It may be a truism that the volume and quality of topics is extraordinary but I have only really appreciated quite how much is available by getting involved.  So far, Twitter has stood out as my favorite personal learning network.  Without any direct personal experience and a perception that I might be wasting my time, I was originally swayed by its detractors as to its triviality.  However, as I have started using Twitter actively, I have learned how to find #topics and interesting people.  I particularly like the fact that I can tap into the conversations of others, at a time that suits me, which means that I don't feel I have missed out due to being somewhere else when the conversation was taking place.
The main topic that I have been following has been trends in learning.  This post is about some of the things I've been noticing and the implications as I see them for learning. 

1. Collaborative, conversational, collective

There is a profound shift taking place from 'me' to 'we'.  In one sense, I don't think all the collaboration and sharing that's going on in borne out of altruism, but there is something happening that is socially interesting.  

There has always been a social element to our learning, whether this was about hunting trips in pre-historic times to conversations about the latest gossip around the water-cooler.  Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger created a Social Learning Theory in their work on Situated Learning that showed how different groups: tailors, midwives and butchers, amongst others, learned how to do their work by observing and interacting with expert practitioners. 
The shift that's taking place isn't that we are somehow becoming more social but that we are sharing what we know in different ways using social media.   Most markedly for me is the way in which I can interact with others that breach traditional boundaries be that hierarchies, communities, time zones and so on.

The implication is the amplification and democratisation of information and ideas.   

2. Strong and weak social ties

Building on this, I have found Harold Jarche's presentation Bridging the gap very thought provoking.  He makes interesting points about the 21C organisation and the importance of strong and weak social ties.  

What interests me is the massive growth and adoption of social media networks that operate independently of traditional organisation boundaries and how this will effect the nature of managerial work.  There are implications for how power and authority is exercised.   

3. Flipping classrooms

There are several interesting examples of changes taking place in the way knowledge is being taught in schools and these feel some steps ahead of what is happening in companies.  Examples like the Khan Academy with its claim 'learn almost anything for free', have shown what's possible, at huge scale.  And there are interesting trials taking place where teachers are making good use of technology to change the relationship betwen classroom teaching and student homework.  For examples follow these links:  Educational Technology blog for a nice description of flipped classrooms and Millie the Geography teacher for an engaging example of how a teacher in a UK secondary school is using social media to enhance learning.

My experience of being both a buyer and supplier of learning is that the current approach is still dominated by a teacher-led, classroom model.  Notwithstanding the wider adoption of e-learning by organisations , my sense is that this shift is only scratching the surface.  The Towards Maturity 2011 benchmarking report provides some useful data on current trends.

4. Making collaboration happen

Perhaps the most interesting blog that I have read lately is this one about the potential need for the role of a Chief Collaboration Officer.

The argument goes that if the future is about putting collaboration to work, then perhaps there is a need for a role that has responsibility for making this happen; a role that can work across the traditional silos and foster collaboration.  I'm not sure about this as I fear an organisational response that will attempt to place responsibility with one person whereas it's an intangible that is the responsibility of all.

However, along with the other trends I have commented on, it is showing something interesting about the rising awareness of collaboration as a serious topic for debate.


The examples I have pointed to here show us how learning can become deeper and much more practice focused.  The implications are signficant on many levels: for our expectations of the role of the L&D function and the role of the trainer, eliminating the artificial seperation between learning and working and creating the conditions in which everybody's knowledge can be shared democratically and amplified through strong and weak ties. 


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