Learning. Who is responsible?

A hero: Ivan Illich

A hero: Ivan Illich

Just now I delivered a keynote at the 20th Annual Israeli Learning Conference. I was there at the kind invitation of HR Israel and Amir Elion.

My talk was pitched as follows:

Over the next few years the role of the learning organization will shift, moving away from the current focus on course and curriculum design. Two new responsibilities will appear: 1. Supporting individuals with their self-directed learning and 2. Creating behavioral change interventions for smaller and larger teams. Hans de Zwart will take a fresh perspective on the underlying causes of this shift (like the increasing percentage of knowledge workers or the easy availability of global virtual collaboration tools), he wil give a wide and historical range of examples of existing “do-it-yourself” learning and he will share his thoughts on what this means for you as an HR professional.

I have come to believe that SlideShare is fundamentally broken, so while WordPress.com is hopefully working on providing the ability to show PDF files inline in my posts I’ve decided to just post a PDF version of my slides online.

The slides can be downloaded here (or here for a Dutch version)

The talk was divided into three parts:

Why is DIY Learning relevant?

Firstly I showed that the accelerating change of pace is not just a clich√©, but that technology actually does progress exponentially. I showed some of Kurzweil’s graphs to back this up.

This means that we are increasingly living in a complex world. According to the Cynefin framework the sensible approach to problems in the complex domain is to first probe, then sense and finally respond. This aligns nicely with Peter Drucker’s definition of the knowledge worker who necessarily is solely responsible for their own productivity: they are the only ones who can understand their own job. For me a logical consequence of this is that you cannot create a learning curriculum for a knowledge worker. With the increasing mobility of labour, you could even argue that businesses will not want to invest in training a knowledge worker but that they will just assume competence.

Next I talked about Ivan Illich and his book Deschooling Society. We are institutionalizing students through the school system. We mistake teaching for learning and diplomas/certificates for competence. Illich’ solution is radical: to replace school with what he calls “learning webs”. He had some very practical ideas about this, that have become easier now that we have the web.

Another reason for DIY learning to come to the forefront is the ubiquity of free (mostly in beer, but also in speech) tools that enable us to connect with each other and organize ourselves. It is simple to set up your own website with something like WordPress.com and tools like Google+ (hangouts!), Facebook and Twitter are amazing in enabling people to take charge of their learning.

Examples of DIY Learning

I shared a set of examples of existing DIY learning efforts from a wide variety of fields.

The first example was from the European Juggling Convention in Lublin. People organized workshops there by using a simple central board and a set of activity templates.

Sugatra Mitra realizes that there aren’t enough good teachers to teach all the children in the world. He is therefore looking for a minimally invasive pedagogy. He has found a simple method: give groups of children a computer with access to the web, ask them an interesting question, leave them alone (maybe give them a bit of “granny pedagogy” support) and come back to find that the children have learned something. Do check out his wiki on Self Organising Learning Environments (SOLEs).

The original Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs (as first run by Stephen Downes, George Siemens and others, now known as cMOOCs) are great examples of learning in a decentralized fashion.

Open Space technology (with its four principles and a law) is another example of how people can learn in a completely self-organized way.

Yammer groups are a great way for communities of practice to construct knowledge together. Anybody can start a group and these are often on topics that are relevant, but don’t get addressed top-down (an example I know of is a group of Apple users in a Microsoft-only company sharing knowledge with each other on how to use Apple products in that situation).

Dale Stephens has shown that there are alternatives to a formal college education with his Uncollege platform.

The reading group I organized in 2010 was the final example I used of a group of people getting together to learn something.

What should you (= HR) do?

All of this means the role of the HR Learning department will need to change. I see three imperatives:

  1. It is crucial to devolve the responsibility for learning to the learner. Stop accepting their “learned helplessness” and stimulate everybody to become truly reflective practitioners.
  2. Make sure to provide scaffolding. You should build things that will make it easier for the learners to build their own things. This only works if your approach is very open. Both for the learning materials (think Creative Commons and OER Commons) and for who can join. Efforts should be across organizations and across businesses. Don’t accept the naive (layman’s) idea which always seems to equate learning with content. Instead focus on designing learning experiences. Nurture any communities of practice and invest time in moderation.
  3. Finally, change the unit of intervention. You should never focus on the individual anymore. The unit of change is now the team (at minimum).

Notes

I’ve used the fabulous Pinpoint to create this presentation. This allows me to just get a set of image files and write the presentation in a very simple text based format. The PDF output doesn’t quite look like I’d want it to. Does anybody know whether it is possible to set the width/height ratio of the PDF export (4:3 rather than 16:9)?

I started collecting the licenses for each of the images in the slidepack so that I could attribute them correctly (find my incomplete list here). At some point I just couldn’t be bothered anymore. My blog is just too insignificant and I really do believe I can have more positive impact on this world by doing something (anything!) different with my time. If your picture is used and you are very disgruntled then I would be more than happy to make amends.

Do It Yourself Learning at Masie’s Learning 2012

Marcel de Leeuwe and I hosted a session at Elliott Masie’s Learning 2012 about Do It Yourself Learning. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously preparing for the session and created a special website for the conference: doityourselflearning.org.

Why DIY?

One of the Learning 2012 buttons

One of the Learning 2012 buttons

There are a few things happening in the corporate learning world:

  • The business is changing faster than the Learning function can keep up with.
  • Effectiveness of learning is low with constant questions of the Return on Investment.
  • Knowledge work (defined by Drucker as that work that can only the knowledge worker themselves can understand) is so complex that no curriculum can be made that can fit the very personal needs of each professional.
  • There is a high mobility for employees, making it hard to defend investing in them.

At the same time the world is changing:

  • Much of the world is globally connected.
  • Effective tools for collaboration are ubiquitous and cheap.

This means that learners will start organizing their own learning. They will become their own designers and the role of the learning function will have to change.

Principles

We thought of five imperatives for the learning function to enable DIY learning and empower their staff:

  1. Devolve responsibility
  2. Be open
  3. Design experiences
  4. Provide scaffolding
  5. Stimulate reflection

Examples

To give people some idea of what DIY could look like we listed a set of examples: Self Organizing Learning Environments (SOLEs), MOOCs, Open Space Technology, a Juggling Convention, Yammer, World Without Oil, Uncollege, a virtual reading group and Livemocha.

We are always looking for new examples.

A DIY Manifesto

Through a very energetic process (first collaborative and then argumentative) the group of participants came up with a tentative set of statements for a Do It Yourself Learning Manifesto:

A big you thank you to everybody who participated!

Elliott Masie’s Learning 2012 – Opening Night

I am one of the masses

I am one of the masses

These few days I (and 1600 others) will be attending Elliott Masie’s Learning 2012. I will be hosting a session with Marcel de Leeuwe and will be blogging about what I see.

The opening evening started with Lisa Nicole Wilkerson singing Defying Gravity, one of the themes of the conference.

Masie then made a comparison between how we watch television nowadays (everything on-demand and personalized) and how we do learning today (not quite there yet). So one of the themes is personalized learning. Another challenge that he sees is what he calls the Learning Mix: mixing live events with on-demand events. One more theme is Learning Together (he doesn’t like the term “Social Learning”). In this domain Masie touched my heart by talking about SharePoint “as a technology without a methodology”. A final theme will be Learning Everywhere.

The first keynote speaker was Richard Culatta. I first met him at this conference in 2008 when he was still at the CIA and presenting in the “trenches” of the conference. His career has progressed and he was now on the main stage. A lot of the conversation was quite obvious (at least for me), but I liked the short discussion about how learners will necessarily become designers. Richard also made a plea for there to be more “edupreneurs” and has started a MOOC, Ed Startup 101, to help this process. I’d be curious to hear his thoughts about the debatable role of VC capital in the educational world (see here and here).

Elizabeth Bryant from Southwest Airlines came to pick up a “Spotlight” award. Elizabeth talked about the learning centralization journey at Southwest.

Masie has started a program titled 30 under Thirty. All 32 of them (don’t ask) came on stage and talked a little bit about what drives them. They will be doing “reverse mentoring” at the event. Interesting concept!

Jenny Zhu of ChinesePod fame came to talk about the Masie Asia Project. This seems to be Masie’s attempt at getting a foothold in the fast-growing learning market in the East. I like Zhu’s post on 10 Chinese words that don’t have an English equivalent.

Lisa Pedrogo from CNN got a Masie award a few years back for her work with video in the learning space. Elliott shot a little video of her. He apparently did not get the memo about how to shoot video with a phone (from here, with a thank you to Marcel de Leeuwe for sharing it with me):

How to shoot video with your phone

How to shoot video with your phone

Lisa discussed how we shouldn’t make video more difficult than it really is. You shouldn’t be scared of using it and you should just have fun.

The final speaker of the night was Rahul Varma, the Chief Learning Officer of Accenture. It is interesting to see that Accenture has chosen somebody based in the East to head up learning for them. This probably has to do with the fact that the country with the most of their employees is India. He also talked about what he termed the talent challenge: how the rate of talent development will not keep pace with the growth of the emerging markets.

Finally, one interesting element of the conference is the Real-Time track comprising 15% of the scheduled content at the conference. This is explicit time and space for people to organize their own events. I will try to visit at least one of these events to see if and how they are working.

Facilitating “DIY” (Do-It-Yourself) Learning at Elliott Masie’s Learning 2012

In late October I will be attending Elliott Masie’s Learning 2012.

Elliott Masie's Learning 2012

Elliott Masie’s Learning 2012

This year Marcel de Leeuwe and I will be hosting a learning lab session which is described as follows:

Facilitating “DIY” (Do-It-Yourself) Learning

Only knowledge workers themselves really know what their jobs entail, which makes providing learning for them increasingly difficult. The level of connectedness in our world and the abundance of suitable technical tools now allow these workers to organize many parts of their own learning. So, what is our role as learning professionals in this new world of “DIY” learning? We can empower our employees to create those tailored learning experiences!

  • Examples of self-organized learning from surprising places, like MOOCs, Edupunk, the world of juggling and social media in corporations
  • The principles behind facilitating self-organized learning
  • Create your own high-level design for a self-organized learning event

It would be great if you could make it to the session. You are more than welcome! Also, I am always interested to meet new people in the world of learning and (open) technology, so do reach out to me if you would like to have a chat in Orlando. I am especially interested in truly innovative uses of learning analytics and networked learning (i.e. a Connectivist pedagogy).