A number of years ago I was impressed by the writing of Stephen Kemmis, in particular his 2004 article Five traditions in the study of practice. Kemmis was synthesising work by Jürgen Habermas (1987) Lifeworld and System.
What I got from the article are the following concepts. And they make sense to me from a pragmatic and real perspective of technology user adoption, and what happens when implementing technology, such as e-learning and learning management systems (LMS), into organisations.
As a social construct, organisations are a ‘melting pot’ of interrelationships, and this is very important when thinking about how learning occurs. How much learning practitioners can systematise these interrelationships to build organisational workforce capability, I am not sure.
Social constructs are organic. They change, adapt and evolve. They are influenced by happenstance, by context, by embodiment. They are influenced by the complexity of the individual.
Various parts of an organisation, such as IT, HR, information and knowledge management, are engaged with a systems approach to organisational efficiency. They strive for ‘one solution’, ‘one approach’. They look for a ‘vanilla’ state – a perfect state – one source of truth, one approach to managing and maintaining control and order in a ‘melting pot’ of people.
Now, no doubt I have done Kemmis & Habermas a disservice in this account of my 2007 reading, but this is what I get from the dichotomy described above:
If we are lucky in our careers as learning professionals, we have had the opportunity to marvel in the happenstance and magic that occurs in well-facilitated classroom learning; where people are challenged, work through complexity and get to the ‘other side’ with sometimes profound learning. They embody this experience and take it away with them. These types of experiences will manifest through the learner and into the organisation in many many different ways; small and large, obvious and subtle.
Learning practitioners today are being tasked with leveraging technology to manage our training offering, deliver content and capture assessment. For the business, technology is seductive – a way to make ‘vanilla’ the processes that touch human activity, human thinking and human experiences. Of course, I both like and work with systems that enable me to think and immerse in learning the way I like to think and immerse in learning. I do not like systems that ‘dumb down’ my experience or dictate the way I prefer to access, learn and connect with others.
As an e-learning, LMS and social media consultant, my role is to work with people from many different roles in an organisation. I understand what organisations are trying to achieve when implementing learning management systems (LMS), e-learning for compliance and so on. I do have business acumen, and many existing organisational processes are well overdue for simplification and standardisation.
I guess one of the strengths I can offer in any debate of this kind is the fundamental understanding about learning and humans that any skilled learning professional has – that learning is social as well as individual, unstructured as well as structured, embodied as well as external to self, implicit as well as explicit, and always highly contextual.
My advice form this blog post is to always refrain from being seduced by the promise of ‘systematised’ training. Look at learning technologies with eyes wide open, and remember what you know about humans and learning. Look at the promising trends of web-based, highly configurable learning systems – platforms that offer personalisation, mobility, connectivity – platforms that ‘enable.’
Additionally, create a curriculum to teach individuals to learn how to learn in your systems-based environment. The intent is right – we want to staff to thrive in systems-based environments. But these environments are not natural for many of our staff. Systems can hinder learning and innovation. So, teach staff how to access, immerse, learn, problem solve and innovate from your systems. Don’t assume your new LMS or new page turning compliance course will be seen as ‘a great leap forward’ by your staff.
Kemmis, S (2004) Five Traditions in the Study of Practice, revised from Stephen Kemmis and Robin McTaggart (2000) Participatory Action Research, Chapter 22 in Denzin andLincoln (eds), Handbook of Qualitative Research, 2nd Edition, thousand Oaks, California, Sage Publications