Thursday, February 21, 2019

Developing a Learning Environment

This is a map that came out of some reflections based on the Modes of Learning MOOC I mentioned in another blog and how it intersected with some other aspect of work (or work aspirations). 

It made me realize how comfortable I am constructing these maps and then using them to talk for hours if I had to.  I should try doing an entire lecture for one of my courses from a map, with links and resources attached. This one is about creating an environment for highly distributed collective learning using both virtual and face-to-face learning "spaces".
Inspired by the IDEAL activity and the Modes of Learning MOOC.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Deliberate Learning

I came across a new term this week: Performance Adjacent Learning.  I'm not sure it's completely new and the idea behind it isn't completely new.  It appears that as the context for a particular discipline constantly evolves, with new technologies and associated changes, our vocabulary can become inadequate or insufficient.  My hypothesis is that this creates opportunities for the Subject Matter Experts who have a deep involvement in the topic to invent new terms to fill in the gaps in vocabulary.  Sometimes it sticks and sometimes it won't hold.  I can't tell if Performance Adjacent Learning is the next big thing as a term, but I can relate to the idea behind it.

In short (my interpretation), we need to pay more attention to learning that is happening "in the flow of work" as opposed to learning that happens outside of the work flow.  Learning that happens outside of the work flow can happen at work (corporate training for example) but it is typically separated from doing the work.  Even the learning that happens in the context of a Community of Practice, which is much more informal than traditional training, is not necessarily "in the flow of work" and while very useful overall, does not necessarily provide immediate support for the accomplishment of a work-related task.  CoPs could be an avenue for more Performance Adjacent Learning if they are structured for that.

This reminded me of a map I created a while ago about investing in your own learning (posted below).  When the topic of learning comes up, people's minds go into two primary directions:
  • What professional development courses am I taking or should I be taking this year?
  • What are the books / blogs and podcasts I should read or listen to to keep up with trends in my profession?
I suspect that most professional do not think in terms of learning in the flow of work and asking people to engage in self-reflection regarding their work experiences is not an option that will appeal to everyone. 

The map below was created in the context of a Toastmasters Speech during which I focused on the benefits of the 5-Hour Rule.  The 5-Hour Rule is a commitment to 5 hours of learning every week.  That has often been interpreted as 5 hours of reading, but I think that would not be optimal for everyone... and the average professional no longer reads full-length books.

The core message remains that we are all individually responsible for our own learning.  The 5-Hour Rule is not necessarily the right approach (at least not all the time) because it clearly separates the learning from doing.  However, to get the habit of learning started, it's a smart way to dedicate time to learning.  Once the habit of learning is established as a thinking habit more than a dedicated time, then it can be embedded into the workflow more easily.

The same is true for other habits.  Let's take exercise.  To commit to exercise and stick to that commitment, it may be worthwhile to establish a specific goal of a certain amount of time every week spent exercising.  Let's say 3 times a week for 30 minutes of running.  That's the equivalent of the 5-Hour Rule.  It's a set goal that's easily measurable and trackable.  Once you've established a certain level of fitness and comfort with physical activity, it is easy to switch from taking the car everywhere to biking or walking, for example.  Physical activity becomes embedded in the flow of life as opposed to the scheduled trip to the gym.

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This idea of embedding rather than separating activities is also something I have tried to work on within Knowledge Management by arguing that Knowledge Management needs to be embedded in the flow of work so that it is not limited to 1) a lessons learned exercise at the end of a project or activity; 2) the responsibility of the KM office or lone Knowledge Manager.

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. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Bridging the Gap Between Individual Learning and Team Learning (in practice)

At the core of what I do is the concept of LEARNING. I work both with individuals in the context of formal and more informal classes, and I work with teams.

In the classes I teach, it doesn't matter how much I've taught the students.  What really matters is how much the students have learned.  It's the difference between measuring activities (my teaching) and keeping an eye on results (what they've learned) or even impacts (what are they doing with what they've learned).

There is nothing more rewarding than a student who tells me at some point in the course that they've done something different as a result of what they've learned in the course.  It makes all the grading headaches vanish. Perhaps they've had a conversation with a colleague or they suggested a new way to do things at work. Sometimes it's a simple impact in their personal / family life. They've realized that Knowledge Management principles can be applied to many aspects of their life.

Too often, our modes of teaching are geared towards making students "study" rather than "learn."  After years of studying in traditional educational environments, they are not prepared to learn in the workplace.  Professional development in a workplace environment is still primarily a matter of attending a conference or signing up for a class to get one more certification or some kind of electronic badge in recognition for participation in some form of training.

As a result, many professionals fail to fully leverage the power of learning to enhance their careers and their lives in general.  They fail to do so as individuals and they find it difficult to do so in a group or team context.

Traditional studying and classroom-based learning do not emphasize learning from our mistakes -- or even from our successes.  When the goal is to pass the test, students learn to pass the test, not to master the content that was on the test.  The equivalent in the workplace, in the absence of regular testing of acquired competencies, is the traditional annual performance review.  The goal, in this context, becomes making sure to impress one's supervisor with how well we've done in the past year to ensure that we do not get penalized with a lower raise than our peers (or no raise at all).  Where is the incentive there to reflect on what we did not do so well, what we struggled with?  Where is the incentive to learn and grow?

How can we get past these learning challenges at the individual level and ensure some enhanced learning within a team?

Here are some simple, practical ideas:
  • Stop treating individual learning and team learning as so separate and distinct that they are handled by different departments (HR, KM/Business units). 
    See "From Individual to Team Learning."
  • Help individuals reflect on their individual lessons and bring those individual lessons to the group in a safe environment.  Writing a lesson learned sounds like a simple exercise on the surface but writing a useful lesson requires more work.
  • Help the group think of group learning not just in terms of the aggregation of the lessons of individuals within the group, but learning that applies to the entire group.  There is always an "I" and a "WE" in groups. Neither should be ignored.
  • Discuss the issue of lesson ownership at the individual level and at the group level.
    See "The Ownership of Lessons."

Related Posts on this Site:


Ask about my newest course offered through George Mason University's Executive and Professional Education Program (and through corporate training programs): Knowledge Management in Project Environments.  The course touches on a lot of issues related to team learning.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Never too early for KM

It's never too early to develop good knowledge Management habits. 

Read more on the KANAVA International website.