Saturday, April 25, 2009

Learning at the Speed of Change

Sometimes there's a word or a phrase that catches my attention. Perhaps it's just a few words that appear to perfectly encapsulate a thought or a feeling. "Learning at the speed of change" is one of those. We rejoice about our increased ability to communicate. We can communicate more often, with more people, with more tools. Most of that seems to be about quantity (How many twitter followers do you have?). Are we communicating better or just "more"?

At the same time, we complain about information overload. In fact, just as the quantity of information we have access to doesn't guarantee anything about the decisions we make, the fact that we can and we do communicate more doesn't guarantee that we're communicating better. The overload (of information and communication) might become a distraction if we're not able to increase our ability to focus.

"Learning at the speed of change" is a reference to the fact that change is the only constant and the speed of change is increasing. Information overload is only going to get worse and it would be nice if were collectively able to focus our attention on two things:

1) the quality of our communications; and
2) our ability to extract value from massive amounts of information.

We need to learn faster. We probably need to become better lifelong learners as well. If the pace of change is increasing, our ability to learn continuously and faster is going to be critical. Yes, the vast amounts of information now at our fingertips and the many, many tools we now have at our disposal to communicate and learn from each other are wonderful. They will really provide value if and when we learn to collectively harness their potential.

Some possible implications for Knowledge Management:
  • Pay more attention to meta-learning (learning about learning)
    Very little attention is paid to the connection between personal learning styles, group learning and organizational learning. The connection between personal learning styles, personal learning strategies (& personal knowledge management) on the one hand, and organizational learning and traditional knowledge management initiatives on the other, is missing.

  • Treat knowledge as a very dynamic thing
    If you are going to try to capture and store knowledge, it will need to be in formats that are easy to edit so that it doesn't quickly become outdated. The types of knowledge that you should be focused on will also change rapidly.

  • Accompany the introduction of new tools
    Don't just demo new tools to show people how to start using them. Accompany the new users in figuring out how to handle those tools strategically from an information overload perspective. Accompany the users in climbing the learning curve and learn with them.

  • Keep an eye on the trade-offs between speed and depth of learning
    You can use Cliff Notes or Spark Notes to make sure you've really understood a difficult piece of literature and to facilitate your learning and preparation for a test or you can use them as a cheat sheet to pretend you've read the book and try to pass a test with minimal time investment on your part.
All of this is assuming that we all need to catch up or keep up with change. Does this also imply that if you want to make change happen, you need to be learning even faster, you need to be the one ahead of the crowd, making all the mistakes that followers will learn from and avoid? Does it mean that in order to lead change rather than react to it, we need to learn FASTER than the speed of change?
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