There’s a problem with organisational learning: sometimes it faces inwards when it should face out. ‘Facing in‘ is when we tell stories that have meaning just to us. ‘Facing out‘ is when we tell stories that have meaning to others. Sometimes we face in too much: sometimes we think we are facing out, but in fact we’re still looking in, because we don’t understand what’s important to others. Effective stories, learning design that changes behaviours, that has impact, has to face out.
The foundation of learning design is to understand the context: the everyday reality of the learner. Not what we think it is, but rather what is actually is, and to understand that we need to gather their stories, to engage in a conversation. I hate it when i’m working on a programme and someone says “with this population, what you have to understand is that they won’t respond to this particular thing“. We treat people as though they are in homogenous sub groups, as if we can generalise disengagement around failings within that population, whilst in fact failures in communication are always equally our fault for not phrasing messages well enough, for not understanding their everyday reality and telling an outward facing story.
Inward stories focus on issues that are significant for the organisation, significant to support existing process, significant to justify our current position. Outward facing stories have meaning to customers, to learners, to employees, to individuals. Outward stories reflect their reality, even when it’s uncomfortable to ours. That’s why outward facing stories are more powerful, because at the heart of communication is commonality, building a bond of trust with the individual, and we can only do that by understanding their everyday reality and telling a story that has meaning to them.
Ok, so the division between ‘inward‘ and ‘outward‘ facing is arbitrary, but the principle is sound: we should always examine what we are writing. What stance are we taking when explaining the context for a piece of learning, for a learning experience. Is it a stance that focuses on ‘what’s important for the organisation‘, or ‘what’s important to me‘? I am always going to be slightly more interested in the latter.
If we keep in mind the notion of ‘inward‘ and ‘outward‘ facing stories, if we try to ensure that we face outwards whenever possible, then our learning stories will resonate more closely with the everyday reality of the learner and be more powerful, transformative, as a result.