Learning: Broad Perspective on Capability

Today i am sharing another broad sweep through Learning, drawing together some of the more recent ideas i have shared. In this case i am trying to show a ‘start to finish’ train of thought, and the simple narrative is this: we probably need a range of design approaches to learning, based upon a fairly broad paradigm of outcomes. Essentially we most likely need some very specific capability (to do known things, in safe ways), coupled with a very general type of capability (to figure out new things, in unknown ways). One learning approach is unlikely to fulfil both needs, not least because they are paradoxical to each other.

Initially just focus on the left and right sides: what is our intent, for what outcome. I’ve previously explored this in terms of ‘Specific Capability’ and ‘General Capability’. A simple way to consider this is Starbucks: getting people to make the same cup of coffee in Heathrow Airport and Changi Airport requires a very specific and scalable capability, supported by both systems of control and technology. But to create a new experience of coffee drinking (e.g. innovation or evolution of a system) most likely requires creative thinking and both a more general and connective type of capability.

Specific capability will tend to be held in known domains (vertical structures of knowledge and of Organisations themselves) and in specific contexts, whilst general capability is most likely to be held within fluid domains of knowledge and agnostic of context.

[To relate this to my broader work, if you are following that, ‘Specific Capability’ and ‘Fixed Domains’ relate more to what i call the ‘Legacy’ or ‘Domain Based’ Organisation in ‘The Socially Dynamic Organisation’ book – their Intent is codified into structures of learning, knowledge, power and control. The General capability, and dynamic knowledge, relates more to the idea of the Socially Dynamic Organisation itself – my hypothesis is that we need more of the latter – in parallel with, or even replacing, the Domain Org]

In the centre part of the framework i’ve essentially bolted in the core Social Learning work – framed as the degree of structure, as well as the type of knowledge, and both the space that learning takes place within, and the mechanisms by which it is supported.

I could have phrased this differently, but in essence Social Learning as a term simply describes a subset of learning formats and approaches, as well as the methodology for sense making and the types of knowledge engaged with. I am showing a bias by indicating that there should generally be aspects of Social Learning in almost any context – but i balance that by saying that there should typically also be more formal and structured assets. Both things together give clarity and ambiguity (which we need), safety and scale (which we tend to need) and both general and specific capability – which we also need. But both things together also give us a headache through ‘Divergence’ and ‘Emergence’ – two terms that cover the messy nature of more social and collaborative models.

Divergence means learning is more individual and knowledge more contextual, and hence harder to measure except through qualitative judgement and effectiveness. Emergence may relate to innovative ideas beyond known spaces that can actively conflict with the existing systems (of power, knowledge etc – good in a start up – anathema in established Orgs).

There are probably three key elements to focus on here:

  1. Start with ‘Intent’, not solution
  2. Strategic, not tactical, consideration of Capability – what do you need, when.
  3. Diversify the middle – but recognise the need for comfort in divergence – and resource accordingly

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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