Monday, December 18, 2017

Lifelong Learning, Learning & Development, Organization Development, Organizational Learning & Knowledge Management

Lifelong learning  has been mostly "sold" as the responsibility of the individual, a pursuit of learning beyond formal education, throughout life, sometimes as a means of strengthening one's employability in changing economic contexts, as a way of keeping up with new advances in one's professional field, as a way of staying engaged, even as a way to build cognitive reserves and ward off Alzheimer in old age.

Beyond personal responsibility, lifelong learning is often integrated into the vocabulary of Learning & Development (L&D) specialists.  In more traditional L&D approaches, lifelong learning may be advocated as a way to encourage employees to keep building their credentials by signing up for and attending courses, especially when the organization has invested in the development of corporate training.

Increasingly (and it's a good thing), learning has been broadened to cover much more than formal courses, whether in formal educational institutions or corporate environments (see the work of Jane Hart and Harold Jarche in particular).  As technology has evolved and penetrated learning and training departments, formats have evolved as well. For example, the recognition that time is often a constraint has led to the development of micro-learning, which can happen at any time using conspicuous mobile devices.  The alternative explanation for the development of micro-learning is that our attention spans are decreasing and we need bit-size learning moments to accommodate shrinking brain power.  That's scary.

This expansion of opportunities for learning has been accompanied by the recognition that most of our learning comes from first-hand experiences.  When we learn from experience, we essentially teach ourselves what no one else could possibly have taught us.  This learning by doing (and learning by reflecting on our experience) is still not well integrated in most models or framework of workplace learning. Harold Jarche's work is probably the notable exception.

From an organizational learning perspective, we often emphasize group/team learning, and the learning organization.  Yet group and organization learning cannot truly happen unless the individuals within that organization are themselves, learning.  Organization Development (OD) as a field of study, does pay much more attention to the different levels of analysis (individual, group, organization).  Knowledge Management, on the other hand, tends to neglect individual learning and focuses on leveraging knowledge for the organization with a strong focus on benefits to the organization's mission.

In the end, it is unfortunate that professional disciplines end up digging deep tracks and creating their own vocabulary when it's all connected and challenges would be much more effectively addressed with a broad systems approach.  I don't even want to say cross-disciplinary because it reinforces the fact that there are disciplines with artificial boundaries that need to be crossed.  In a systems perspective, the boundaries disappear.

We need a framework that speaks to the connections between individual learning, team learning, and organizational learning and addresses the dynamics of such a system in the context of a rapidly changing world where individuals AND organizations need to increase their learning agility in order to keep up but also to stay ahead and innovate.

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