Friday, August 10, 2018

Job Crafting & Stretch Assignments - How to continue to learn

About a year ago, I started on a new professional path, committed to launching a new stage of my career, leaving behind the relative security of a full-time federal government contractor job for the freedom and uncertainty of consulting and teaching.  It was meant primarily as a learning journey. 

Growing and learning require stretching.  That stretching can get quite uncomfortable.  Every single thing I did over the past year was a stretch and therefore the level of discomfort was at times very palpable.  It helped (a little) that I knew this was likely to happen and I was somewhat prepared for it. 

Here are some things I've learned in the process:

  • While I often talked about this past year as a "Year of Learning", it was a form of learning that was meant to help me craft a path forward, not just learning for the sake of learning.    Specifically, I learned that while my initial expectations were to do 80% consulting and 20% teaching, the ratio was perhaps not the right one.  A 50/50 split might work out better. 
  • Stretching should not be confused with pushing oneself to the edge of burnout. In fact, overloading on work and getting overwhelmed only guarantees a decrease in "learning."  If it is impossible to set aside time to reflect on the job/assignment, then I can almost guarantee a lower quality output and no learning (other than not to do that again).
  • As I move forward and leave the idea of the "year of learning" behind, I will focus on the concept of job crafting for myself, which is easy as a self-employed consultant/part-time faculty.  I am writing my job description with a blank canvas.
  • I also want to continue integrating and combining my areas of expertise, looking for deeper insights as well as innovative solutions to stubborn challenges. 

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Action Learning and On-the-job Learning - a Follow up

This is perhaps a demonstration of how we learn just by being exposed to a diversity of conversations and how a simple blog and some prompting by others online can generate unplanned learning.  A few weeks ago I posted some questions reflecting my confusion around action learning, on-the-job learning, action research, experiential learning and similar terms.

My understanding of action learning was very fuzzy at the time and it has now evolved to the point where I see it as a specific group learning technique with a narrow range of applications in the same sense that After-Action-Reviews are a specific group learning/reflection technique.  It's a process with a specific set of rules.  It needs to be facilitated by an action learning coach, and it is meant to help solve a specific problem which first needs to be identified carefully so that it can in fact be addressed through this action learning process.

I'm both satisfied that I have a better understanding of the process and somewhat disappointed.  I wanted it to be more than that.  With a name like 'action learning', I expected more.

Is it on-the-job learning?  There is a learning component to it.  Using action learning as a process is a way of learning group problem solving.  It's probably a useful mechanism to improve critical thinking skills and team dynamics.  It's entirely about a work-related problem and therefore it's "on-the -job". However, it's not really what I would call 'learning by doing."

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Prototyping through Conversations

I'm in Week 7 of a Working Out Loud Circle (my first) and while I had some difficulty connecting this week's exercises to my goal and I've almost lost track of what my goal was in the first place, there are always interesting insights that come out of the conversation with my circle buddy. 

I have found the additional resources provided in each of the weekly guide to be a great source of useful insights even when I'm not sure the rest of the activities did anything for me. 

Here's an example:  This week was about thinking about a long term vision of oneself. I did a lot of work on that a year ago when I was transitioning from full-time work to consulting.  My vision is still the same and I'm on track. In a sense, this entire year has been an experiment, prototyping a range of different activities.

One of the additional resources for week 7 is a blog post by John Stepper titled "The simplest and easiest form of prototyping is a conversation."  I experienced this earlier this week when, after a significant number of individual interviews to collect data on on-the-job learning for a client, I was finally starting to see where this work was going, I did a hand-written sketch of the framework that was emerging, and during the last two interviews of the week, I went with my "prototype" framework to test some of the ideas that were emerging.  These conversations were some of the most satisfying I have had so far.  Listening, asking questions and absorbing information in interview is great, but I find the conversations where I start to validate my own emerging understanding to be the most satisfying.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Action Learning, Action Research & Experiential Learning - Lots of questions & no answers

I am currently doing work around on-the-job learning.  Trying to define what constitutes "on-the-job learning" has turned into an interesting exercise.  On the face of it, anything that you might learn while doing your job is on-the-job learning. You might also define it by articulating what it's not.  Anything that requires you to leave your work to go attend some "training" may involve learning but it's not "on-the-job" even if it's sponsored by your workplace.

Some on-the-job learning is planned and intentional (mentoring, coaching, stretch assignments, etc...) but most of it happens in the flow of work and may be unconscious. In the past few weeks I've come across many variations without coming any closer (yet) to a definition.  How does on-the-job training (as opposed to on-the-job learning)?  Is it different?    It would seem that something like an apprenticeship would be closer to on-the-job training.

What about action learning? Is that a form of on-the-job learning?

According to the World Institute for Action Learning (WIAL), action learning can be defined as "a process that involves a small group working on real problems, taking action, and learning as individuals, as a team, and as an organization. It helps organizations develop creative, flexible and successful strategies to pressing problems."

The main difference between what is traditional seen as on-the-job learning and action learning may be the team dimension of action learning. The same can be said of many knowledge management practices, including After-Action-Reviews.  They focus on team or group-level learning.

What about action research?  Is that the same as action learning?  Is that a form of on-the-job learning?  Does the word "research" make it sound more scientific and rigorous?

This is where we need to define "on-the-job."  If "on-the-job" means in the process of one's daily job, then action learning and action research might not fit the bill.  While they are meant to address real, practical problems, they appear to be separate from the normal workflow.  But then, the same could be said of mentoring and coaching.

How about experiential learning?  That might get things even more mixed up because people delivering training might argue that they make it "experiential."

I'm quite lost at this point.  What if "on-the-job learning" is a useless label?

On May 25th, the Knowledge Management Community of DC is hosting Dr. Bea Carson for a session on Action Learning.  Dr. Carson is an author, speaker and expert in the field of Action Learning.

I look forward to it since I am personally quite confused about some of what I perceive as artificial boundaries between disciplines and overlapping terminology.