Monday, 14 March 2011

Is the future of Learning either/or?

I have been enjoying reading "The New Learning Architect" by Clive Shepherd. I am not through it yet as I try to keep the pace of the #lrntect book chat on the book. The main reason I really enjoy the book is that it takes a very humble approach to different types of learning (such as formal learning, informal learning, Top-down, Bottom-up). Often when I follow and participate in discussions on these topics I get the feeling that you have to be either/or. Either you believe fully in formal learning and a top-down approach or you believe only in informal learning and a bottom up approach.

As I said in a tweet in the book chat I don't believe in black or white. Often the best solutions can be found in the grey zone. This goes for most things, politics, sports, religion, learning, you name it (except for music since the music I listen to is basically the only music that is wort listening to. All other music styles are just crap :-) ). I simply find it hard to fully believe in people being to extreme in their views on any subject.
Of course, I understand that sometimes people take a certain stand just to get a discussion going. I know I do that quite often. But I think the discussions sometimes becomes to much of a boxing match where one side tries to knock the other side down. I prefer discussions that are more focusing on finding a common approach that "everyone" can share, but maybe that's just me.

In The New Learning Architect Shepherd tries to explain the pros' and cons' of all the different approaches and this makes it very interesting to read.
In my view the greatest learning environment offers me as a learner different approaches, some formal, some informal, some top-down and some bottom-up. This to me is an environment that supports all learners in the best possible way. It gives me as a learner the opportunity to explore and learn by myself in some cases and to let someone else train me in other cases.

So the questions are:
Am I thinking like this just because I am a chicken Swede?
Don't I dare to take a stance?
Or is a mix the best solution?

What is your view?
Thanks for reading,


  1. Hi Mattias,

    I'm not a chicken Swede, nor a chicken Brit, but I am going to agree with you.

    Of course, the best solution is often a mixture although as Clive outlines in his book, this can't always be the case.

    Take for example my industry; would we really want Nuclear process technicians learning the ropes of their trade from an informal chat at the ever-present water cooler (just how many water coolers *are' there are out there in L&D land?!)

    Of course not, we want them to learn their trade through structured, governed, QA'd formal programmes. Are we naive enough to think that during and after this formal process that there are no informal conversations going on - of course we aren't in fact they are are encouraged, because at that point the 'top-down' process has occurred.

    And let's be honest here, how on Earth are we going to stop the 'bottom-up' activities taking place? Simple answer, we're not!

    It's all about (as you quite rightly say) providing an environment that supports all learners in the best possible way.... of course when that environment isn't provided... well that's another matter!

  2. Hi Mattias

    As a Canadian (sorry*), I have to agree with you. There's room for all types of learning and our job, as "learning architects" is to help our organizations see what's possible (more than a course) and to help match the type of learning with the need. If we think about the conscious/competence matrix:, then we might see that some folks need more guidance than others and there is a time and place for formal learning. But, since the model is Maslow and born in the 1940's might be considered out of date, now.

    *for those that don't get the inside joke - we Canadians say sorry. A lot.

  3. Well said Mattias. I get very tired of the false dichotomies presented by people on so many arguments, when often everyone is partially right.

    And I don't think the internet helps in all this.

    Clive's approach has (rightly) always been to point out both sides of an argument. Unfortunately on the internet things are not so reasoned. Increasingly we live in virtual echo chambers that reinforce positions, strenthening a them-and-us position.

    Personally I find that once I start a proper debate (ie one where I meet someone with different views which I then listen to) I find
    myself having to adjust my view point. That is why I frequently follow people I disagree with on Twitter - or Donald Clark, who of course disagrees with everyone :) - it makes you think.

    So, the future of learning is not either/or, and neither is anything else.

  4. Hi Craig,

    Thanks for the support.

    Even though my industry has far less of the kind of life or death knowledge as yours I still feel we have some knowledge that can't be left to chance.

    About the water cooler discussions, that must be an American thing, right? I have never engaged in such a discussion. In Sweden it would probably translate to coffee machine discussions, we Swedes love our coffee.

    You also raise an interesting thing regarding informal discussions following on a formal training. One of the greatest things attending a formal training is to meet people working in other places than you. Either in other companies or in other parts of your own company. I can honestly say that this has been the main way for me to build a network within my company. And these meetings would have been quite hard to arrange without having a training as an alibi ;-).

    Thanks for the comment, it's much appreciated.

  5. Holly and Don,

    Thanks for your support as well. It's always nice to know that you are not alone with your thoughts.

    I agree with you Don that Internet is part in creating these polarized discussions. And no matter how much I love it, Twitter is probably not the best tool for thought through and deeper discussions.

    And thanks for the link Holly. I had actually forgotten about the four levels of competence. Glad you reminded me because there are some interesting things there. For example:

    "If unconscious competence is the top level, then how on earth can I teach things I'm unconsciously competent at?"

    This made me think of a Math teacher I had in fourth grade. He was a real Math wizard. What he didn't know about math wasn't worth knowing. So he was definitely unconsciously competent. Could he teach? NO. Because he simply couldn't understand why we found it difficult and how he should explain it to us to make us understand.

    Thanks again Holly and Don (and by the way, we Swedes are famous for saying thanks all the time ;-) )