Changing the Responsibility for Learning

Last week has been a busy week with both the E-learning Event and a webinar for En Nu Online. I’ll share some of the presentations that I did in this short post.

Based on my presentation at last year’s E-learning Event I was interviewed by the Tijdschrift voor Coaching about culture and the quantified self. You can read a PDF of the Dutch interview by clicking the image below:

Culture and the Quantified Self

Culture and the Quantified Self

Marcel de Leeuwe and I hosted a session at the E-learning Event on Do-It-Yourself learning (building on what we had done earlier at the Masie conference last year). The slides are available on SlideShare.

We copied one of Mitra’s Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) experiments and gave all the attendees a challenging assignment to be solved by themselves in groups of four while Marcel and I walked out of the room for 20 minutes. This gave us interesting results: the attendees had no problem engaging with the assignment and were hard to stop after 20 minutes of discussion, while Marcel at the same was struggling with letting go (“Can we please check whether they are doing ok? Shouldn’t we tell them they only have 10 minutes left?”). This taught us that it is often our own behaviour as educators that is an inhibitor for people making themselves responsible for their own learning.

Minimally invasive pedagogy (as Mitra calls it) could then be a way to battle the now pervasive learned helplessness.

During the boardroom session at the E-Learning event I worked with Marcel (again) and Ruud Smeulders to deliver a masterclass on Learning Business Models. I’ll publish a full post about that session a little bit later.

In the webinar for En Nu Online we also discussed self-organized (or self-directed) learning. I did a short presentation, explained my rules for a Socratic conversation and then we discussed on the basis of a few questions. One interesting topic we addressed was the balance between providing a safe learning environment while at the same luring the learner into a stretch or into a zone where they are less comfortabe. The webinar has been recorded (there were some technical issues during the start, heroically battled by Sibrenne Wagenaar and Joitske Hulsebosch). You can view the Dutch recording on YouTube:

The Caledonian Academy: Learning from Incidents, OER en Self Regulated Learning

Earlier this year I visited the Caledonian Academy (part of the Glasgow Caledonian University). Their work focuses solely on technology-enhanced and professional learning. I spent most of a day exploring their delightful areas of research and have now finally found the time to write it all up.

Learning from Incidents

Dane Lukic worked with the Energy Institute and Hearts and Minds (check their set of tools) in the Learning from Incidents project. He created a set of outputs.

In the project they combined the literature around Safety with the literate on Learning. Learning is usually a blind spot when it comes to “Learning from Incidents”. Most approaches come from safety science which is mainly based on engineering (i.e. ergonomics, human factors). In his research Dane used a “Change Laboratory” method (based on Finnish research). This is a way to analyze problems in which you have as many people from the site as you can together, meet in a set of workshops and present a “mirror” as an external view.

Two models were developed through these workshops: a conceptual framework and a cycle model:

Learning from Incidents Framework

Learning from Incidents Framework

Learing from Incidents Cycle

Learing from Incidents Cycle

Next to developing these models Dane learned some interesting things:

  • Face-saving and blame are important elements: you should be aiming for double-loop learning.
  • Currently the approach isn’t changed on the basis of the type of incident: simple, complicated, complex or chaotic (e.g. “best practices” only work for simple problems, not for complex problems). Instead we only look at the level of the hazard.
  • Often it is thought that we have learned once we have disseminated. That is like giving students books and saying that they have learned.
  • You should allow and encourage people to give feedback during the contextualization phase and these should get “feedback on their feedback”.

He is now working on Learning from Incidents Engage (to be finished in June this year), a toolkit on the basis of his PhD work. It will include a questionnaire (780 respondents), an online model of the cycle, a set of recommendations and a Learning from Incidents engagement session (i.e. how can you run a session that helps with improvement). The toolkit will be online and should grow through use. Other staff working on Learning from Incidents are Allison Littlejohn and Anoush Margaryan.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Isobel Falconer and Allison Littlejohn talked to me about a few Open Educational Resources (OER) related projects and studies. The OER4Adults investigates the work and learning practices evolving through the use of OERs. It builds on the earlier UKOER which explores the social aspects of open educational and open knowledge practices in the public and private sectors. Other staff working on OER are Lou McGill and Helen Beetman.

They find that increasingly the private sector (commercial publishers) and higher education collaborate around OER and are interested in exploring the ways that lifelong learners make use of these materials. A lot of the OERs are around providing content, but there are also examples of community formation around them. Take for example Community Energy Scotland.

The professional practice around Open Educational Resources is in development. They found that it really makes people think differently when they start to think about openness. There are many issues to explore. For example: is the license important or is it just access that is relevant (making the learning barrier free). How can the student expectation of being lectured (“it is far more efficient if they tell me, rather than me finding it out myself”) be overcome? What are the barriers of the community? How does trust work? How to deal with the conflicting motivations between people and institutions? How to deal with academics who only blog and stop writing articles (and how does that relate to the Research Excellence Framework)?

Work and Learning at the Boundaries of Knowledge

Pia Fontana and Colin Milligan talked to me about a project titled Work and Learning at the Boundaries of Knowledge which aims to surface, describe and systematize the strategies that knowledge workers use to self-regulate the learning they undertake to maintain expertise and support the generation of new knowledge. Other staff working on the project are Anoush Margaryan and Allison Littlejohn.

For Self Regulated Learning (or SRL) they used Zimmerman’s thinking who has a social cognitive perspective on it. Zimmerman says that there are three cyclic phases:

  • Forethought phase where goal setting behaviour is important
  • Performance or Volitional Control phase (or implementation) where it is about strategies and devoting attention
  • Self-Reflection phase where it is important to measure yourself internally or externally

They did research on SRL in the Change 2011 MOOC. They are still analysing the results but will likely have a typology of SRL activities and strategies of knowledge workers when they are done. Collin has already written about some initial findings on his blog.

The Caledonian has done some very interesting earlier work on what they call Charting (also see their wiki:

"Consume, Connect, Contribute, Create"

“Consume, Connect, Contribute, Create”

“Consume, Connect, Contribute, Create”

This reminded me a lot of Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) (“Seek, Sense, Share”), Scott Leslie’s work on PLE diagrams or Shell’s “Ask, Learn, Share”:

Most of these miss the important part of goal-setting which is an integral part of the charting methodology.

Self Organized Learning Environments: An Assignment

This post is an assignment for the participants of the “Sociale media voor Leren en Veranderen in Organisaties en Netwerken”-leergang by En Nu Online.
(Click here to get a Google Translated Dutch version of this post).

Last February Sugata Mitra was awarded the TED prize for 2013. The prize money will help him carry out his wish:

My wish is to help design the future of learning by supporting children all over the world to tap into their innate sense of wonder and work together. Help me build the School in the Cloud, a learning lab in India, where children can embark on intellectual adventures by engaging and connecting with information and mentoring online. I also invite you, wherever you are, to create your own miniature child-driven learning environments and share your discoveries.

Watch Mitra describe his plans here:

I can’t link to this video without also linking to some of the criticism of his work. Audrey Watters raises some questions about, among other things, the history of schooling as it is told in the video, about (neo-)colonialism and about the commercial interests. Donald Clark lists 7 reasons for doubting Mitra’s success story.

Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE)

According to Mitra you can organize a Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) for children by putting multiple children in a group, adding some broadband Internet and some encouragement and then drop in what he calls “curiosity catalysts”: large, open, difficult and interesting questions for these groups of children to answer. Self-driven learning is also becoming a current topic in professional development. See this post by Jane Hart as one example. We will explore whether Mitra’s thinking can help us in the workplace.

Basic assignment

For this assignment please do the following:

  1. Please download the Mitra SOLE toolkit from the TED website
  2. Read the toolkit
  3. Answer the following three questions by posting a comment at the bottom of this blog post:
    • What might be the key differences between child-driven learning (self-organized, curious, engaged, social, collaborative, motivated by peer-interest, fueled by adult encouragement and admiration) and the way adults learn?
    • What are the skills of a self-learning professional? How can professionals be supported in their self-directed learning?
    • What curiosity catalysts can you think of that you could ask your direct colleagues (or customers)? Think of two good questions.
  4. Find a new web-resource about self-directed learning (or self-organized learning, do-it-yourself learning, new-fashioned learning etc.) and post it as a comment on this blog post. It is “new” when nobody has posted it here before (so be quick!). It would be interesting to know why you chose this resource in particular.

Bonus assignment

There is no better way to judge how something works then to try it out. Starting from page 9 of the Mitra SOLE toolkit there is a home assignment: create a SOLE for children in your own home.

It would be wonderful if some of you could try this out with a group of children. Of course you will then send your feedback to Mitra and his team, but a comment here on the blog and/or some thoughts during the seminar are well appreciated too.

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 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 cliché, 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 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).


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.