« What are human beings good at? | Main | When do you need external learning tech services? »

More effective learning: how to move forward 

I tend to walk away from conferences in a state of some frustration these days. Of course, I find the social learning-driven, informal, pervasive, learner-led visions of forward-thinkers like Jay Cross, David Puttnam and Stephen Heppell profoundly inspiring. What they, and others, are saying is what gets me up in the morning. But I find the gap between them and the majority of practitioners (organisational L&D staff and learning technology providers), to be so substantial that sometimes it's hard to see both sides as in the same profession. It's this gap that gave rise to the flurry of blog postings following Learning Technologies in January (by Mark Berthelemy, Jane Hart, myself and quite a few others).

The question I always find myself asking on the way home is "so what do we do now?". How do we get our clients and organisations to take substantial steps forward, away from the structured LMS, course-driven, formal, (plodding, dull, unpopular, ineffective...) current state of things?

A client asked me this yesterday and I made up a quick reply, which perhaps foolishly, I'll attempt to convey here. I reckon there are three strategies:

  1. Top down - the "traditional" approach to organisational transformation of any sort. You find a senior exec who understands learning and technology and who drives the change. You'll need a business case of course, and probably not the typically over-worked, data heavy arguments presented by L&D people, but a simple "this will work because...". Pick a business area and a method that will raise profile and show results. BT's "Dare to Share" is a good example of this as participants are producing something tangible. Personally, I'm finding that there are quite a few of execs around who are willing to be open to new ideas. Indeed, I'm wondering whether the risk-averse, ponderous, computer-phobic caricatures of execs often discussed at conferences are actually the creations of L&D people who are anxious about taking risks themselves.
  2. Driven through the middle. I have a client who's a senior-ish middle manager, and who's pushing hard and trying some interesting new things using social and other learning media. Although he has a relatively small sphere of influence, within his area he's making things happen and can work outwards from there. Because social media tools are so cheap, they're not that difficult to squeeze through the budgetary cracks; to put in place without too many people noticing. It's unlikely you'll change the world this way, but finding an enthusiastic advocate - a "post-conventional thinker" whose mid-level position means that they're not in the full glare of organisational spotlights - can be a good place to start.
  3. Bottom up. Stephen Heppell in this presentation (you'll have to join the L&S group to see it) says that "people + technology = change". In other words, if the technology is made available to people, they'll just grab it and use it. As people are finding and using technology all the time, change will happen. Personally, I find this approach attractive; I like its slightly anarchic overtones. The problem for L&D people with this is that it's all but impossible to direct; you'll never know quite what will happen next, or where things are heading. But learning from how communities of practice are often established (and I mean real ones, not just online discussion groups), by identifying and encouraging low-level enthusiasts in organisations, you can very quickly build momentum around change that really means something to people.


Reader Comments (2)

In 25 years of education & IT I have only bothered to go to a handful of conference type things. So often there is "conference speak" - stuff that only circulates in conferences - a whole different reality.

Anyway - the reality for moving forward is that it all depends on your organisation - any of the three methods in whatever combination.

My view - I like the bottom up approach supported and encouraged by middle and top down - the central problem is the relationship between the institution, higher managers and control.

It's all about "losing control" - you don't always know where things take you - its about exploring rather than navigation.
June 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMartin King
I work in a university as a change agent and the link I provided takes you to the outcomes of our program. I can name why what we did worked. In an type of organization known for being difficult to organize, we did the following.
First, we had money. Second, we hired an external consultant who worked with us to develop a theory and strategy for change. We followed it. Third, from that strategy we identified our partners and worked closely with them. Fourth, clear programmatic goals allowed us to lay out clear expectations (aka deliverables). The people we asked to change (faculty) responded positively to this. Fifth, we think and operate in terms of iterative design and "teach" that. Sixth, we produced evidence that what we were doing worked. Seventh, we used it to leverage and advocate. Eighth, we created a community and it felt good. Ninth, we gave people food and boos to hang out with us. Tenth, the timing was right.
June 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Aurilio

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.