I’ve written before that the Social Age is about an envolved sociology, not simply new technology, but technology is a key part of it. For many organisations it’s the first place they turn, trying to procure a technology solution for what is essentially a social problem. Technology is not the answer, but it may facilitate the answer, and to let it do that I’m sharing the first draft of an architecture for learning technology, intended to help organisations choose not a single system, but rather to create a diverse ecosystem of technology in service of people.
I’ve split this initial map into six sections, six aspects that the organisation should try to support. The first is conversational spaces, technology that facilitates us collaborating and communicating at an everyday level, the next is technology the co-creation, the thing we do within our communities. Third is core infrastructure technology, which we still need, and fourth is storytelling, technology to enable us in shaping and sharing a narrative. Next comes technology for assessment and simulation, two aspects to do with learning and performance.
For each of these spaces we can consider levels of consequence, permanence, democratisation and formality. We need to differentiate between them all as we are looking to different behaviours in each.
Conversational spaces need to be highly democratised, under the control of the individuals that use them, not simply the control of the organisation. If the organisation tries to control them too heavily, it simply makes them formal, and therefore useless to us as individuals when there were so many other places we can have our conversations. Conversational spaces need to be low consequence because they are low reflection, we are not looking for fully formed thoughts and permanent opinions, but rather a high fluidity and space to change. Conversational spaces should be many and varied because the point is not to create the final story, but rather to communicate every minute of every day. Ideally the organisation will exercise little or no control over the spaces.
Co-creative spaces are where communities will live and carry out their sense making activities. As such they still need to be highly democratised, mainly under the control of the communities and individuals themselves, they still need to be low consequence as they are the spaces where we figure out what to do about something, and how we feel about it. Co-created spaces are not under the control of the organisation, they are not formal learning spaces, but rather the places where learning may occur if we create the right conditions for their success. As such, again they need to be low control spaces, where the organisation seeks to facilitate, not control.
There are many formal technologies which can fulfil the technical needs of a co-creative space, but also many lightweight, free, and social systems which can do so. The formality of the system will significantly impact engagement, so it’s worth choosing carefully and remaining highly fluid.
Core infrastructure systems still have a place in the Socially Dynamic organisation, they can be fully formal and highly controlled. The key thing to recognise is that the infrastructure system is not the conversational system, nor is it the co-creative system. The requirements of each are fundamentally different, which is why I say one system is unlikely to fulfil them all. Don’t get me wrong, one system may have all the features that we see, but it will lack the social permission, and social permission is everything when it comes to engagement. Put simply people are unlikely to fully engage on fully formal systems.
The fourth type of technology that we need is the storytelling. In other parts of my work you will see me describe the three levels of narrative: personal narratives, which are the story of learning and change over time from an individual perspective, co-created narratives, which we have touched on here and are the conversations that take place within our communities, and organisational narratives which, in a Socially Dynamic organisation, are written as a meta-narrative from the organisation taking into account the first two levels. All too often organisations write their own narrative and try to impose it on to people.
Storytelling technology will need to be stratified according to which level it is serving: for personal narratives it needs to be highly democratised, for co-creative narratives it still needs a great deal of freedom, for organisational narratives, it can be highly formal. It is unlikely that one technology will serve all three needs, but within the architecture it is a key part.
Assessment technology will be fully formal, the decision for the organisation is not which technology to use, but rather to address the underlying learning methodology, and decide how and when to assess at all. Lately we have seen the emergence of many game type technologies: but the mechanics of games will not create great learning, we will only create great game-based learning if it is done as part of a solid learning methodology and takes into account underlying game dynamics.
I’ve included simulation technology as a broad category as increasingly we will see simulations utilised as part of an effective learning approach. Simulations sit well within a scaffolded social learning design, especially if we use structure to surface the narratives of how decisions were made, not simply focusing on operational outcomes.
This architecture for learning technology is intended to help organisations understand that the thing about technology is not technology at all, it’s what we achieve with that technology, and key to that is understanding why people will engage and how.
No matter how high tech we put in place I have found we still need to enable the high touch to create the contact, the communication, ultimately the community of learners we seek to support. Keep this model process growing!
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Simulations appear to me to have significant potential as part of the overall architecture for learning. On the “up side” I have seen them used very effectively to make aspects of organisational life that can be opaque – to the point on invisibility – available to, for example, new generations of leaders who have real and urgent needs to see ‘around the organisational corners’. Designed well and facilitated carefully, such simulations can powerfully promote collaborative learning, cross functional understanding and the growth of partnering and negotiating capabilities. Simulations can be used to cause junctions and decision points to ‘arise’ where the most complex challenges can not be avoided, must be resolved and the most sophisticated skills and considered behaviours brought into play. They can, and should, be designed to respond to adult learner’s desire for their learning to be real, applicable and of the moment.
In medicine, as Dr Fatimah Lateef has pointed out, the advantages of interdisciplinary medical skills development can be accessed without putting patient’s lives at risk through simulations and powerful learning provided in areas such as ethical medicine and the fine detail resolution of medical dilemmas.
In negotiation skills development, where the BREXIT-related claimed shortage of senior government advisers and civil servants with strong negotiating track records comes to mind, the applicability of well crafted, but highly flexible, simulations is immediately apparent.
However, on the ‘down side’, I have to recognise and admit that the up-front time and cost budgets needed to develop and to manage large scale or scaleable simulations means that they need to be selected for and applied in circumstances that warrant the strategic investment needed.
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