Professional Networks as Learning Platforms: A Idea for Lifelong Learning

Two related ideas, one on learning in educational settings and one for learning in business.

1. Learning in educational settings should only be considered successful if you both learn how to learn and if you are provided with the resources to learn into the future.  Most post secondary education is organized around courses that have a beginning and an end with a bounded set of knowledge, but this does not square with the idea of lifelong learning and with the learning demands modern society places upon us.  Society is still set up so that first you learn to do and then you are expected to go forth and do, but we are understanding more and more how doing and learning are inexplicability bounded together with one another.  It seems to me that courses should end not with an examination, but with a path forward that points out what you don’t yet know and an introduction to a society where that learning can take place.  A degree should not give you a bounded set of knowledge, but with an introduction to the flexible outlines of a path and the means to pursue that path.

2. Knowledge is more distributed than we have ever acknowledged and knowledge networks are a key in knowledge development.  Business once developed around the idea of a cooperative advantage that comes from locking up and exploiting resources including people and knowledge.  Knowledge’s half life continues to stink daily and I’m not sure that the super smart people really ever existed beyond the hype.  Today’s  business imperative is learning and to do that you must be tapped into broad knowledge and idea flows that only exist in networks.  It’s the idea that we are all smarter together than anyone of us individually and we can actualize this intelligence through networks.  We are not talking mobs and mob mentality, but we are talking networks where the nodes are smart people full of knowledge, ideas and experience.

These ideas are related in this way; if we want our students to have a next generation education, it will require that we put them on a path for lifelong learning, not through courses that never stop, but through learning that is embedded in everyday activities.  That takes a different type of resource then we find in the university system.  The closest thing we have to that resource are professional networks that are set up to function as learning platforms.

A horizon summary

I think It boils it down to 2 areas where I am knowledgeable, have an interest, where there is opportunity to apply that interest, and where the technology exists to allow reasonable implementation: (1) measurement and (2) lifelong / just-in-time learning.

Measurement – It has one purpose, to generate data, but when combined with appropriate theory, data can provide invaluable supports to decision-making, communications and experimental practice improvement efforts.  People act either because they believe their actions will lead to desired outcomes or because they are following a tradition.  All action should be backed-up and validated by data, but it is often not because managers cannot articulate a theory linking action to outcome, because they don’t understand how to design relevant and efficient measures, because they don’t understand the knowledge that measures can generate, or because they don’t understand how important data is to communication / reporting.  Education is needed to help managers articulate operational theories, designing appropriate measures and integrate them into everyday activities.  I recommend integrating measures into existing reporting / communicating structures for efficiency and aligning these structures with processes and with organizational strategy.

Learning – Existing learning structures are not sufficient to facilitate individual lifelong learning, organizational learning or in learning that is directly related to contextual needsAs I have written before, we need social innovations in how organizations learning.  What is also needed is pedagogy, technology and institutional structures designed for diverse interdisciplinary on-demand knowledge networks.  Social networks are growing (Linkedin is one example.).  Missing from learning opportunities in these networks are the mission structures and technical capabilities of dedicated learning organizations to participate in ad-hoc networks with the pedagogy and monetization strategies to make these networks efficient and effective as learning nodes in the day to day activities of individuals and project teams

Scanning Horizon: What Institutional and Pedagogical Forms are Needed for Lifelong Learning

I would make it mandatory for executives to keep on learning throughout their careers . . ..  Dan Ariely (2009) in Technology Review

Lifelong learning has been a nebulous concept.  There are many different institutions and pedagogical forms for traditional k-12 and university education, but what exactly are the institutions and pedagogical forms for continuous lifelong learning beyond this tradition.  By what institutional move would Professor Ariely use to make learning mandatory for executives.

I believe that career / personal professional development should mean the integration of many forms of learning into a personal network of learning environments.  College courses, professional publications (oriented to practitioners), communities of practice, social media networks, coaching, mentoring, performance support,  etc. . .. All of these forms can be potentially important!  While most of these forms of learning currently exist, we lack the institutional structures to integrate them into a coherent whole.

Another aspect that is missing from lifelong learning is learning that is strongly contextualized.  I have previously written about the contextual requirements of practice-based learning.  There is very little of this type of learning / instruction available.  What might it look like.  One possibility is to imagine learning goals that are an integrated part of strategic planning.  Another is to imagine learning objectives and resources that are integrated and integral to project planning and project milestones.

Strong robust networks of peers, mentor and every type of learning relationship are also need as a part of lifelong learning.  I have also previously written on this topic.