I’m speaking at two large learning conferences this week, each with a unique focus, but both exploring aspects of what learning really means in 2017, and, probably more importantly, what we do about it. Some of this is old news: everything in our ecosystem has changed, from the technology of access, to the democratisation of creativity and communication, and the rebalancing of power between formal and social spaces. We know learning has changed: the nature of knowledge itself has changed, and certainly the validation of authenticity has changed. The question is ‘how will organisations adapt to the new reality’, and not ‘how can we retain old levels of power and control’.
I sketched out these four points, on aspects of the evolution of learning, during a keynote this morning: learning is increasingly ‘collaborative’, ‘democratised’, ‘contextualised’, and ‘subversive’.
We still need formal learning, but alongside and around it, we should explore collaborative Social Learning: accessing tacit, tribal knowledge, connecting up the capability of the community, gaining momentum through rapid prototyping and experimentation. Learning continuously, not just on special occasions. This type of tribal learning is valued: it’s trusted, it’s deemed authentic.
The democratisation of learning recognises that increased social collaboration, social filtering and moderation, features of amplification, and the freedom of authentic stories, has meant that everyone has a voice at the table, not just those in formal power. Not just those who own the formal learning space. Democratised learning is about a permission to engage, but remembering that permission can be granted, but can also be claimed. We can engage in learning beyond the learning that we are granted access to.
Subversion is a good thing: subverting those things that persist without changing in an ever changing world. Agility is as much about knowing what to stop doing, as it is about doing new things. Opening up spaces for sanctioned subversion, learning to dis-engineer process and systems, and to deconstruct formal towers of power, can be extremely valuable for any organisation.
Finally, the contextualisation of learning is vital: truly meaningful learning is made relevant to me, doing what i need to do, today. It’s contextualised to time, place, and ecosystem. Contextualisation can build broad capability, rather than simple conformity, and it’s worth considering the difference between those two things.
We need organisations that have broad capability: it won’t be held within formal learning alone. It will come from engaged, curious, determined, authentic, and enabled individuals. Agency at scale. Our challenge is not to think about learning: it’s to unblock it.