This is a mid level #WorkingOutLoud post, as i rework some early ideas around ‘Choreography in Learning’ into a second iteration. The material here probably typifies my approach: chase interesting ideas through research and prototype, and don’t be afraid to edit heavily as you do so! I think in my first iteration i had the right idea, but the wrong execution: the work i share here i have just used in a live programme and it seemed to have great traction, so i am sharing it as this second stage of thinking.
Amidst broad talk about how the Social Age favours ‘experience’ over ‘utility’, i have been keen to consider what this looks like in practice: how will a Socially Dynamic Organisation choreograph learning, indeed as well as the broader experiences of joining and performing. NOTE that you may see parallels between this post on Choreography, and the last two posts around ‘Learning, Rehearsal, and Performance’: whilst i have not yet attempted to unify this work, there are clear parallels. The ways we learn to Choreograph the experience of Social Learning relates directly to the separation of Learning and Rehearsal spaces, and of course Performance itself is choreographed.
At heart, the work is about this: great performance is to a degree reliant on both formula and creativity. For example, music has a mathematical and circular structure which gives it coherence, but the ‘flavour’ comes through expression in performance. Similarly a rock concert has a structure of performance (the support acts, the bar, the explosive start, the encore, the lighting, the audience reaction etc) as well as the creative expression of performance. Similarly, many of the things we do day to day, from ordering a Starbucks, to buying new clothes, is expressed through careful choreography, from the set dressing to the ritualistic exchanges. And finally many aspects of Organisational life rely on extremely detailed and systemic choreography: your interview, your performance review, your reward etc.
A couple of years ago in Singapore i spent some time with a choreographer, exploring the visual language of choreography: the notation used to script dance performance, which is a language spoken in three dimensions. Musical notation does the same for songs. But what is the notation of Choreography for learning?
In my own work i use a number of tools, one of which is a timeline of emotional energy: learning is about disturbance, sense making, rehearsal, prototype, and performance, so we should pay active attention to the choreography of these, and respective levels of emotional energy at each stage. You cannot be constantly in a state of disturbance, or excitement, or reflection. So over the duration of a programme, we should map what we are trying to achieve.
Other tools can consider underlying narratives: again, to share a sense of this from my own work, my books are all wrapped in maps, carry luggage tags, and thank you letters. Through visual imagery and ritual, i try to unify the individual pieces into coherent experience.
In this work i have avoided discussion of Design Thinking (very much in vogue), but you may detect parallels through to that work too. Essentially it is about the mindset, skill, and art, of performance, which will include both diagnostic ability (what are the parts of a great performance), and creative expression (storytelling – to ensure that the complete piece is coherent).
Another term i need to address is ‘Coherence’ itself: i use it to describe the joined up nature of experience. It is perfectly possible to have a range of individually excellent things happen, but for the holistic experience to be incoherent. Coherence is a meta-effect, built upon excellence in the parts, and interconnection through the whole. For example, to choreograph a learning experience we would need to look at everything from the initial email of invitation, through the dynamics of signup and setup on technology, through the formal knowledge delivery, through exploration and assessment, and into the choreography of how the learner is welcomed back into their team and invited to share their learning at the end.
Individual parts of this are easy to get right, but the holistic whole is difficult, often because aspects of it exist beyond our control: you may be able to draft a welcome email, but you have no control over the password reset function on the LMS. Which indicates one of the core challenges of Choreography in search of excellence: it’s a cross functional and interconnected feature in an often vertically separated and Domain based world. To excel you will have to learn (individually and Organisationally) to connect in new ways, with a strongly outward facing focus, to focus on experience, not fragmented utility.
And the other truth of Choreography is that the smallest thing can let you down (or on a more positive note, the smallest thing can make you great!).
Tomorrow i will unpack this diagram, which represents a framework through which to consider Choreography in learning.