My EdD Supervisor is Emeitus Paul Hager, an educational philosopher who keeps it ‘real’ for me when it comes to the inter-relationship between learning and technology. I recently read a number of Paul’s papers about learning in the workplace. Paul and colleagues have described the evolution of learning theories in the context of workplace learning, and I have summarised their points (probably rather clumsily) in the table you see below. I’ve presented this table to a couple of clients during learning strategy discussions. I use it to help clients uncover how learning is thought about, talked about, treated and lived in their organisation. I use it to uncover the organisation’s learning philosophy, vision or guiding principles. In these discussions, as in my doctoral research, I have noticed the following:
- Many organisations don’t have a shared learning philosophy, vision or guiding principles from which to make design or resource decisions.
- Many organisations don’t use learning principles to underpin how they will achieve corporate goals or people and performance initiatives.
- Typical learning technologies (LMS, e-learning courseware) has served to reinforce theoretical aspects associated with psychology (column 1).
Organisational learning theories are evolving as the chaos and complexity associated with culture and climate are being acknowledged. Add social media to the mix, and we can see the dichotomy between the ‘order’ that organisations want and the ‘complexity’ that most of us are working within.
The chaos and complexity associated with today’s business climate is often under-represented in our learning design and systems.
I’m not necessarily suggesting that one learning theory ‘camp’ is right. However, we should acknowledge that the learning theory we each subscribe both influences and drives our learning design and technology choices. My early teaching and learning practice was very prescribed. However, I have learnt no matter how prescribed I am, I cannot really predict learning transfer or learning ROI. Learning is far too messy for that.
How does my postmodern approach learning theory preference inform my practice?
- It keeps me humble
- It influences my perception of my level of influence on others
- It stops me from trying to attain perfection in learning design
- It stops me getting all hung up about measurement (I prefer to gauge success by hearing stories from the field)
- It helps me to prioritise the ‘social’ and ‘point-of need’ learning design over 20 minute self-directed e-learning
- It helps me to prioritise less expensive, web-based ‘disposable‘ system options over enterprise learning management systems
- It helps me to prioritise understanding client culture, climate and workflow (context) before I offer solution options
- It helps me to think about solution options that are broader than the development and implementation of a piece of content
If I was asked to choose just one thing to strive for in learning design/learning architecture, it would be to support staff through chaos and complexity by having them become comfortable with how to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty. Support through the thoughtful design of social media, social networks and/or performance support tools would enable staff to ‘unlearn’ and ‘relearn’ emerging information and skills. To create such designs, I would need to deeply understand the micro-climate and workflow of different business units, even individuals.
What is the learning theory you espouse? Please feel free to comment and share.