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Monday, October 27, 2008

Develop Work Skills

Stuart Henshall had asked on Twitter about ideas for posts. I sent him a reply and asked for his thoughts on my post New Work. He took me up on it and created quite an interesting reply. It sparked quite a few thoughts for me.
The element that really resonated with me is the adhoc nature / the real-time learning that we do today. I also sense that it’s in no way the same for everyone. Eg some can ask questions and harness a network. Others can hit Google up and find things you never could. Then others are already tracking and writing about it and you can just talk or write to them.
This is absolutely true that people have greatly different abilities in different areas. There are also several studies of knowledge worker practices that suggest that a lot of what is effective is quite personal. That said, I think there is a tendency to lean on the skills that we are good at and not use other approaches when they are called for. If you are really good at searching on Google, then you may not leverage your network even when it's very much called for.
When someone is seeking to learn about anything (learning task) it’s usually more efficient again to go outside the organization. The employee goes to Google, dives into Wikipedia and other open source efforts. Wherever these communities of experts are active and committed to sharing, things happen. It often doesn’t happen inside the corporate information system and even if it was captured somewhere, few organizations have a way to extract it. That’s a problem for both learning and the corporate experts. This learning only adds to competitive advantage when assimilated. Assimilation of new information is a huge problem in most organizations. Let’s face it organizations that learn faster win. Those that learn faster at lower cost win even more. Those that enable the acceleration of learning outside and around the organization get even better leverage on learning.
Great points. It's always interesting to hear the perspective of someone with a background in Knowledge Management discussing these things. They immediately go from individual learning to organizational learning. How can the organization capture the knowledge, learning, etc.? Certainly helping to make it a natural part of work-flow to capture information in a way that helps the individual and the organization is the key. Social bookmarking, searching browsing trails, capture of communications as clues to expertise. Even with that I wonder if you can really be successful trying to get these artifacts to do more than signal learning in some area occurred within the organization. Further, it feels strange that we say that most of the information / expertise is going to come from outside the organization - yet we are trying to capture back into the organization?
All of the above personalize the learning experience. I’m always bothered by eLearning. Smacks of tick boxes on computerized tests to me. I don’t think the new work is about tests. ... It is more about agility and flexibility. If we want to teach new work we should embed more in complexity theory. Rather than content which we are swamped in, what we lack today is interpretive insight and meaning.
I have no idea what Stuart means when he says we should teach new work via "complexity theory" - but the comment that creating more content may not be the answer - ever. Of course, much of what learning professionals see as their roll is to create content.

That said - I really wonder how you teach the new work. To me, it IS partly content. But a lot of it is creating experiences and opportunities that are part of work. Sitting beside the worker is ideal - but scaling that can be a problem. So, maybe it's work buddies. Find someone who is good at using outside expertise in the form of people and have that person help you build that skill.
I think my question to Tony is - Are you sure that it is formal learning programs that are required. Or should the organization be more effective at facilitating questions that force the organization to learn?
Stuart - no I'm not sure - but I see this gap in skills and I don't see organizations doing what they need to do to close that gap. I believe formal learning can be used for part of this - and certainly I've done that myself. But, when it comes to really learning this and applying it - formal doesn't work.

I honestly am not sure I get Stuart's suggestion that facilitating questions is the key. I am a big believer in asking better questions. And there are some key questions that organizations need to be asking here. But, we need more than questions, we need acceptance of responsibility and action.
He asks if our work skills are keeping up. As he suggests I must be as I did get this post off Twitter and visited his blog. So we probably are alright.
This is the crux of the problem for me right now. I believe the skills gap is big and growing. I also think a lot of people are ignoring it. This will hurt them greatly as knowledge workers going forward and hurt their organizations who will have marginal learner workers.


John said...

I am not sure that facilitating questions is the key, either. It is part of what we need to do, however.

When we use the term Workplace Learning and Performance (WLP) to describe our profession, we often forget the "performance" part. Sure we need to facilitate questions as part of facilitating learning, but we also need to facilitate action. I think that's were your comments on the skills gap come in.

I love to learn for learning's sake. It can be downright fun. But in most real organizations learning is a step or a part of the process of moving the organization toward some sort of action. As a WLP professional I want to help the organizations and their people ask questions, get answers and take action to help reach their goals.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Tony.

Thanks for this interesting discussive post.

I wonder how much the stress of present day change causes a lot of people to switch off change. I work with a lot of different people in my job. I am aware, for instance, that in the field of elearning, many people listen and read about things. But (to me) it's as if they didn't hear or see any of the things that I heard and read.

I mean, whole concepts, even explicitly dealt with, seem to go in one ear and out the other with some. It often reminds me of a demonstration I took part in with a colleague who was demonstrating just how different people's perceptions can be.

Asking people to write a short summary of what they (all) saw in a (same) picture shows amazing, almost unbelievable, diversity of perception.

Another area similarly related is in the field of communication, where many different components of a simple speech delivered by one person can convey different connotations. Even if the textual content remains exactly the same - dress, skin colour, vocal accent, vocal stress, body language etc - all convey componentry that colours the text content when the speech is received and this differs, more so, from person to person receiving it.

So it is with knowledge when it's passed on, by whatever means. Derrida believed that the only true way to convey meaning from one person to the next was through direct speech. I have a different take on that, for I feel that speech can still be mis-or-re-interpreted for a raft of different reasons.

When it comes to learning, the diversity can be as wide. Present day examination (standards) techniques tend to accept in a narrow band of interpretation/regurgitation and so this diversity is often looked on as ineffective learning. In fact, I believe that a lot of it can be put down to diverse interpretation.

Yet there is hope, Tony.

The human mind is a wonderful basket of light. At times, when the mind seems to be at it's dullest, there comes a spark that shows that 'there's life Jim, but not as we know it'.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

Suz said...

I thought I would take a stab at complexity. The wikipedia info on "Complex systems" doesn't really explain it well in terms of learning. However, there is an excellent paper on the topic in The Handbook of Online Teaching and Learning. Basically, the model consists of many free agents who have different agendas and positively/negatively reinforce behaviors within the system until a set of organically formed, bottom up guidelines that work for the system form. The assumption is that the guidelines will benefit the health of the system because they are formed by free agents who have a stake in maintaining a healthy system. As agents are introduced or removed from the system, the positive/negative inputs change. Also, the conditions in which the system was formed may change. The organization adapts through reinforcement to maintain its stability with each major or minor scenario. Norms are formed by the community of participants though feedback may be another way to say it.

Having said that, I may be a little rusty. I am an academic at heart, and I love this kind of stuff. The paper mentioned above is a brief mind bender that I adored reading and thinking about.

Does anyone know what universities have think tanks where I can be a happy academic? I am considering going back to school and research.