Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Work = Learning

"Change is so fast and furious that work and learning blur into one activity."
Jay Cross, et. al., Working Smarter in Terra Nova Circa 2015

Jay Cross and his colleagues at Internet Time Group have recently published an interesting article on the evolution of work. Noting the major shifts in human history, from the Agricultural Age, to the Industrial Age, to the Information Age, they now say we are on the verge of "Terra Nova," a new age characterized by "creative collaboration in networks." Their thesis is that Terra Nova will supplant traditional top-down hierarchies with networks of people working collaboratively, sharing information in real time, to solve problems. To quote:

"Terra Nova screams out for a never-ending process of applying learning while working, not apart from it, predicated on:

1. Learning what you need to know, when you need to know it
2. Reinforcing the lesson by applying
3. Knowing where to find relevant information in lieu of memorizing it
4. Learning from your peers and on your own rather than from instructors following a set curriculum"

We are seeing this shift occurring in our own work for clients recently. Many of the projects that we have worked on lately have been less about creating online courses, and more about creating the means for individuals to learn collaboratively (e.g. learning communities, wikis, etc.), and to learn at the point of need (e.g. searchable knowledge repositories, embedded electronic supports, etc.). Sometimes courses do not meet the learning need because they take too long to develop, their lessons can be forgotten over time, and they are often too long and detailed to meet specific learning needs effectively or efficiently.

This trend suggests that we should worry less about teaching people about specific subject matter content, which can change rapidly in the context of a job, and help them develop competencies in searching, sharing, critical thinking, analysis, networking and collaborating.

I have seen this shift myself for the last few years in watching colleagues who work in IT. Developments in this field change rapidly and regularly. When something goes wrong - such as a system going down - IT personnel do not have time to take a course to figure things out. They need a solution ASAP, so they do Google searches and scan various online IT community of practice discussion boards or help boards, as well as tapping into their network of contacts, for immediate answers. They are learning about the intricacies of their field each and every day in this way. As the pace of change in all fields starts to match that in IT, we are all now having to learn quickly and on the fly.

This does not mean that the course is dead, or that there is no need for the course. There is still a place for the course in developing more complex competencies over time, and for various forms of compliance training. However, organizations have to decide what kind of learning is best suited to a course and what types of learning are best suited for "quick hit" approaches such as knowledge databases, online communities, and live webinars, versus formally-structured courses. To help clients determine what approaches work best for which training challenges, we often provide a decision-making matrix that maps training mode against the complexity of desired learning objectives, degree of feedback required, content stability, timeliness and need for evaluation and tracking.

In short, the pace of change is too rapid, learning needs too immense and immediate, and time is too precious to force fit all required learning in an organization through courses. Learning can no longer be thought of as something apart from work, it needs to be integrated into the daily fabric of work life. We need to create work environments that facilitate learning at all times.


Anonymous Jean-Rémy Duboc said...

Excellent article.
I would add that in a world where work and learning are intimately linked, we need to learn how to teach. Today, everyone is a teacher : managers, team members, quality specialists, admins, everyone.
There is a great need for clearer communication and teaching skills for everyone.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Rick Nigol said...

Thanks Jean-Remy, I agree that the role of "teacher" (broadly defined) will be more diffuse as social learning replaces top-down approaches in many organizations.

9:30 AM  
Blogger muddymud said...

can you share the decision-making matrix mentioned above?

2:23 PM  
Blogger Rick Nigol said...


Email me directly for a sample matrix.



7:39 PM  

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