Thursday, February 14, 2019

Distributed Learning - Individual and Collective

I have been participating in a MOOC on a French MOOC platform called FUN.  I've done MOOCs on that platform in the past and it helps me practice my French in useful educational contexts.  This current MOOC is called "Leaders of Learning: Les pilotes du changement."  It's a collaboration between Harvard X and a French institution and the main lectures and materials are clearly from Harvard, in English, while the course has been adapted to include instructions, quizzes, writing prompts and discussions in French. It's an interesting blend.  Usually I don't like mixing the two languages because I find it more taxing on brain cells to be constantly switching but I've been using my French language skills more in the past few months and I've noticed that I no longer notice the switch.  It just happens unconsciously.

That was a digression.  I really want to talk about the meat of the course, which is a "Modes of Learning" framework developed by Professor Elmore from Harvard University

The framework presents four quadrants.  The top two are about individual learning and the bottom two are about collective learning.  The two quadrants on the left are about hierarchical learning and the two quadrants on the right are about distributed learning.  The two distributed learning quadrants are the modes of learning I am most interested in because they correspond better to adult learning situations. 

Individual distributed learning is typical of the modern adult learner who is very self-directed, motivated to learn and relatively knowledgeable about how to identify what they want to learn, define how they are going to learn it just go learn.  This does not mean that they necessarily learn alone.  It is "distributed" learning because the self-directed learner will find individuals with similar interests to connect and learn with as well as mentors and subject-matter experts to tap into.  In an organizational context, there is a need for L&D departments to pay more attention to this distributed learning and Performance Adjacent Learning (just learned this term, had to use it) and focus less on formal, individual hierarchical learning which happens in the context of traditional training programs taught by Subject Matter Experts.

Collective distributed learning is found in the context of Communities of Practice where there is a common goal and a sense of community.  Learning is not just in the service of the individual but rather in the service of the community as a whole.  This type of learning is also very important within organizations to help address issues related to organizational memory and knowledge sharing in the context of Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning initiatives. 

There is a short piece of dialogue I regularly see posted on LinkedIn.  It goes like this:

- What if we train our employees and they leave?
To which someone answers.
- What if we don't train them and they stay?

I would change the wording to something closer to learning rather than training. 

- What if we encourage our employees to learn and they leave?
- What if we discourage learning and they stay?

The smarter approach is to encourage employees to learn both individually in a distributed learning mode that would address personal incentives and motivations for learning AND encourage them to participate in collective distributed learning so that even if they leave, they have been sharing their knowledge on an ongoing basis with their peers.  I would love to find an example of an organization that has successfully combined an L&D-driven approach to individual distributed learning with a KM-driven approach to collective distributed learning.

My UMUC Knowledge Management students are dealing with the issue of organizational memory this week, thinking about ways to prevent knowledge from getting out the door when employees retire or go work for the competition.  While the first reaction is always to say that we need to "capture" their knowledge before the employees leave, I always try to push for a broader, more long-term approach that encourages knowledge sharing approaches that ensure that when someone is getting ready to leave, they have already shared what they know through Communities of Practice, mentoring, apprenticeships, shadowing, storytelling and knowledge sharing workshops for example. 

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