Holistic Approach to Learning

I´ve recently read the post by Frédéric Domon at the ecollaborative blog site. He describes in a very precise manner the origin and the consequences of the 70-20-10 approach to the design of learning strategies and budget allocation.

The concept is not new to me, but something caught my attention in this particular post. As Frédéric puts it: “Rather than think of these three forms of antagonistic professionalism, rather than leave the informal to other aspects of the company, the model should be thought of as the cornerstone of organizational development. As the Princeton group advises, imagine a holistic approach integrating both formal and informal. An approach that enables strong development of that 70% of experience learning, that takes advantage of the relational 20% and that designs using the yardstick of the 90% informal and 10% formal training.”

The word holistic here is not a metaphor. It means that learning professionals must consider the full experience and the learning environment to design and adjust their strategies. As a consequence, it is necessary to consider not only the 70-20-10 paradigm, but also the culture of the organization, the past experiences with learning resources, the available technologies, established KPIs for learning, the predominant leadership style, and so forth.

I´ll give an example to illustrate my point. Recently, we visited a big construction company who is facing a major problem on workforce education. Their need is not to build knowledge management nor to introduce some sophisticated new tool, their problem is plain and simple: they need to recruit around 4000 new professionals, such as masons and foremen in 6 months and there is simply no availability of those professionals in the region they are building their new operation.

Plus, in Brazil there have been some serious problems in big infrastructure constructions, including riots, because of work conditions and lack of systemic coordination of such constructions. Learning is only one of the challenges being faced by such companies.

Going back to my client, we´ve made a proposal that included utilization of the good professionals they have internally to start a learning program that had a very important informal component (since there is no time to format and deliver formal programs). The reaction was surprising. The HR person seemed not to understand what we were talking about and we had to present the proposal two more times. We had presented a totally unusual approach to learning! The culture and the environment in that company could not fully understand what we were talking about, and so our proposal was refused.

Sometime later, me and my fellow consultant sat down to chat about it. We had read on the paper about the problems the company was facing which were, in part, caused by their poor response to this kind of problem. But hey! We had also lacked a good holistic understanding of their learning environment! Mea culpa. We too had come with a readymade pill! We can´t just go and introduce the 70-20-10 model into the construction business of an old Brazilian company!

So that is my point: the great challenge of this model is not only to build learning strategies around this idea, with which I totally agree by the way, but having the sensibility to understand the conditions under which a certain system can absorb this idea.

When I read Domon´s post it immediately brought me back to my clients table, and the face he had when we presented our sophisticated thoughts. We are hoping to find open minded organizations and have good conversations to solve the problems we have in this country around education and learning. The model might be something we keep under the table.


10+N things I learned at CIRS

The CIRS Conference was held from on march 10th to 13th. It was a Social networks conference held during #CICI 2010, the International Innovative Cities Conference at Curitiba (State of Parana) Brazil and I decided to post about it in English. But what should I post? There were so many interesting conversations within and outside the lectures!

Here I compiled some of my personal learning.  Not everything is indexed by authors. In my mind everything has mingled and transformed, just like it happens on networks.

Here it goes!

desperate nodes dispute energy plugs

1. A network is not its nodes but its patterns. A network is pure movement so it is not possible to know what could modify or influence it. Even mapping a network is only an attempt to photograph a territory that is constantly modified. Mapping networks is archeology, as said by Clara Pelaez.

2. Being in social networks is to inhabit the unknown. Due to the abundance and irregularity of connections it is not possible to know how an information or idea will flow, where it will end up, and how it will be transformed, reinterpreted or buried.  Understanding this, Twitter is changing its configuration and enabling users to engage their applications into it. The network resists imprisonment and businesses need to gain plasticity to profit from it.

3. Living in networks and cooperating are human attributes that have been fundamentally modified by the available tools. The easiness of connection radically diminished transaction costs of cooperating in networks and enabled many initiatives that would not exist if companies were required to manage them, so tells us Clay Shirky. The firm is simply not a viable model for most human desires and projects due to its increasing transaction costs.  Coordinating network action is much cheaper.

Moreover organizations distort the network pattern and make it difficult for self-organization to happen, just as buildings make it difficult to see the landscape. (I live in São Paulo and could never draw the real landscape!) This idea was already in the CIRS opening ceremony performed by Augusto deFranco.

4. What gives life to networks are the emotions behind the speech of each member. There is much discussion on information running on the network but not on emotion. The network is a place of storytelling, says Pierre Levy.  It is a place inhabited by real people and real desires. Maybe that’s why brands have a certain difficulty to appear legitimately in networks. Brands are not people.

5. The entry into a network has to be voluntary. Those who don’t enter voluntarily don’t really connect, share knowledge much less motivation. Involuntary entrants usually won’t be live nodes. Network is expression.

Cacau Garnieri talks about the real experience of Peabirus and its network organizational model at the Open Space Dialogue.

6. “Small is powerful” when you are connected, says Clay Shirky. Forget big networks. Even within a larger network there is a small one that inspires, energizes and makes it happen. The anxiety of a large organization to have such a large network does not make sense in this context. The network is not born from a central desire but from the capillary desires and the connections established between them.

7. Leadership in a network is volatile, it evaporates as the task it helps coordinate is finished. The choice is either to engage in other desires or projects present on the network or be replaced. The big difference is that this not a bad at all. Living in a network is letting go of the status, the movement is constant and if you are not the leader of the moment you may want to read a book, go to the beach or simply continue living in the network.

8. The great network frontier is not given by tools but by the cultural environment. A network creates a common system of meaning that changes and renewals as information flows. There are beliefs, values and customs in each network. Clay Shirky tells us that there is a singular bargain for each network: an implicit set of rules of operation and, most important, a purpose or “why” the network was created. Culture creates agreements and obstructions that show what is off bounds. These boundaries, however, are liquid. The network is a moving territory.

9. “Tagging knowledge gives a kind of access to the subjectivity of others who know, who post, who tag.” “There is an emotional energy connecting the discursive process”. These and other phrases and interpretations are tagged under #2010CICI (mostly in portuguese). This tag came to be among the top 10 of Twitter during the Conference and shows that the discussion of semantics as crucial web crawler continues. Pierre Levy gave us a taste of it, although he made it clear that he is not talking about the same as Tim Berners-Lee. “The image of a coordinated semantic system mathematically processed, where we can find all the concepts and the transformations they might go through…” Well, those who have the curiosity to explore his website will see where he´s going with collective intelligence at this point. It´s worth it!

Pierre Levy inspired by I-Ching

10. Without personal knowledge management there’s no collective knowledge management. Nowadays a huge challenge, as also pointed out by Pierre Levy, is keeping personal focus when learning and producing knowledge on the web.  Personal knowledge management is the basis of collective intelligence because it initiates the cycle of expliciting knowledge and feeding our conversations. When we talk we use words and concepts, we make deals and progressively create common metadata that becomes the collective knowledge management.

11. …N. We learn about networks in networks. I heard it from a friend named Luis Bouabci who is deeply involved in the study of social networks. We were leaving the event when we started a conversation. We sat on the steps and watched the workers dismantle an immense panel with the title of the conference to open up the overall view of Curitiba in front of us.

More interesting than the theory is the practice of networks where everything is being built online. There are so many possible variations that the theory would not and does not account to explain. Explanations don´t replace life. One must live networks.