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Learning actually : Part II

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Learning actually is a social interactive event

This is the second part of ‘Learning Actually’ Series.
Read the first one – “Learning Actually is non linear

Picture this. You call a customer service hotline such as that of your mobile or cable TV service provider, only to hear the drone of the automated voice prompt – “press 1 for billing enquiry, press 2 for new promotions, press 3 for lifetime free subscription (yeah, right)…press 0 to talk to our customer service officer”. What would you do? If you were like 99% of the callers, you would press 0 to talk to a living breathing human.

That’s human nature. We love machines because there are people behind those machines. We love to do things together; we love to get positive social recognition. Social interactivity places the human race at the top of the evolutionary pyramid.

Now picture this.

You enter your office on a Monday morning, settle down in your cubicle, hook up your laptop, open your mail client and trigger send/receive – nothing happens and you get a send/receive error. What would you do first?

Option 1 – Troubleshoot using the help documentation of the mail client.
Option 2 – Call a customer hotline.
Option 3 – Pop your head into the next cubicle and ask your immediate neighbor – what’s going on?

Again, if you are like most of us, you will go for option 3. She might be able to tell you about the new exchange server you need to setup. She might also walk you though the steps to reconfigure your mail account.

Both examples above represent ‘just-in-time’ or on-demand, task-based information exchange through social interaction. Simplistic perhaps, but the idea holds true in a complex knowledge exchange scenario within an organization.

That’s how we learn most of the time – 80% of the learning happens informally, in different social interactive instances.

George Siemens mentioned in his ‘Connectivism’ theory –

Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.


Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.

Not only do we learn through listening to diverse opinions, all innovations too arise from such diversity, from different nodes of social networks and finally form a shape and change the world in some way or other. People organize themselves into a network based on their preferences and learn from each other, not through proven facts and figures, rather through opinions. In an organizational environment especially, where tacit knowledge is a primary success factor, the process of creating and disseminating knowledge through diverse opinions and co-related ‘just-in-time’ hypothesis is very important. The organizational differentiation factor depends on opinion-based knowledge pool creation and dissemination rate outside classrooms or even content driven e-Learning infrastructures.

Unfortunately in the case of most organizational e-Learning initiatives, when we think of online learning, we typically think of a pre-packaged courseware or instructional programs. This is not to undermine the courseware/ content-based approach. There is obviously a place for that, primarily in structured information presentation, but not in-depth learning. Ideally, structured information should be presented solely as raw or base material to help learners understand the business contexts of the cases or to disseminate the ‘explicit’ knowledge, not as the primary learning vehicle. The courseware or content based approach can be used as first step of the cognitive ladder where learners gathers the required explicit knowledge and base materials before entering the opinion driven co-creation of knowledge, where they engage in meaningful learning in shared contexts.

George Por in his post The emergence of CI, an online experiment asked – How can a group of individual intelligences become truly collective intelligence? How can they escape into a more complex and capable collective intelligence, without sacrificing their autonomy?

“Collective intelligence is a distributed capacity of communities to evolve towards higher order integration and performance through collaboration and innovation.”

If this concept is so crystal clear and obvious, then why do most organizations not embrace social interactivity in their learning initiatives? Well there are some roadblocks, both in organizational level as well as in the personal level.

First: organizations where ‘Darwinian’ culture is promoted, i.e., where the management supports hierarchy-based “divide and rule” policy. In such organizations, the fear of becoming dispensable is associated with sharing knowledge (this becomes more and more relevant when we talk about core tacit organizational knowledge). In the middle of ego and turf-battles, social interactivity is unimaginable. Where conversations are not connected and instead hindered by personal or group ‘silo-based’ agendas, emergent learning and innovation can’t take place and the complete knowledge ecosystem is useless – no matter whatever technology base you try to install.

Rigidity of training departments is another major obstacle I have encountered so far. Social interactivity is a complex phenomenon. Social learning is opinion-based and treats learning as a networked structure (rather structure-less) -based continuous process, not as a hierarchy driven event. Complexity brings uncertainty. Uncertainty undermines the teacher-as-ultimate-authority model. Training departments feel threatened, and they oppose the movement or change.

What can leaders do to improve the situation? How can the organizational knowledge ecosystem be integrated to foster innovation and productivity? Well, the question is not simple and we don’t expect the answer to be either. Let’s look at some basics.

Social feedback – the power of positive reinforcement system

Everyone wants positive social feedback both from the organizational level as well as the group/personal level. A constant social feedback system (positive /negative) creates positive psychological consequences for participants, which produces an atmosphere of shared rich common knowledge, the ability to organize teams modularly, extraordinary motivation, and high levels of trust. Organizations should encourage and facilitate the free and open sharing of knowledge as well as implement an organized or moderated ‘chaos’ to foster a dynamic, innovative and learning environment.

Shared performance metrics and learning agenda

Modularity is the key to developing social learning networks in organizations. Modularity should be based on common business objectives and learning and knowledge -sharing goals. At the same time, measures should be taken to prevent those modular groups from becoming silos. Social interactive modules should be flexible, trust-driven and inter-connected.

Support for conversational interaction between people or groups

For instance, instant messaging and conversations in collaborative virtual spaces amongst nodes. This process is both technological as well as cultural. Support should be provided for both synchronous (IM, Skype, Virtual meeting places) as well as asynchronous (forums, blogs) collaboration. When synchronous and asynchronous collaboration are combined with a formal/informal expert management system, organizations are guaranteed to reap great results. At the same time, this two-way communication will continually give birth to ‘new new’ things. Proper recognition (morally and economically) should also be provided to contributors to the knowledge pool.

It’s not an easy process. Or rather obliquely, the technology is easy, but the politics are not. Moreover, it requires change in the organizational culture, and changes in performance review patterns. But organizations can reap great benefits in agility, innovation and dynamism through social interactivity.

George Siemens said:

Realizing that complete knowledge cannot exist in the mind of one person requires a different approach to creating an overview of the situation. Diverse teams of varying viewpoints are a critical structure for completely exploring ideas. Innovation is also an additional challenge. Most of the revolutionary ideas of today at one time existed as a fringe element. An organizations ability to foster, nurture, and synthesize the impacts of varying views of information is critical to knowledge economy survival. Speed of “idea to implementation” is also improved in a systems view of learning.

And according to Jon Udell –

If individuals agree to work transparently, they (and their employers) can know more, do more, and sell more.

Written by anol

August 31st, 2005 at 9:49 am

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