Why are Networks the Learning Platform of the Future

In this previous post, I imagined who might be served by a networking organization that was full of smart passionate people who seemed to be functioning together as a learning platform.  In general, networks are now being viewed as the new platform for leaning.  In this post, I want to consider possible reasons that would account for this phenomena.

The rapid pace of change, the growth of knowledge and information, the increased pressure of competition; all of this and more require us to find better ways of learning and improving performance. Knowledge and capabilities can be developed rapidly and a lack of knowledge should never be the deciding factor holding us back. My basic feeling is this.  If you can envision an opportunity, a capability to learn and a collaborative network should be ready to help you take advantage of that vision.  The way I believe this is playing out is by challenging the core models of how we learn and changing the infrastructure of learning.  As an educational psychologist, I want to understand these changing fundamentals of learning.  Why are traditional methods of education not enough?

  1. Accessing Knowledge Flows – The 1st reason is detailed by Hagel, Brown and Davison’s (2010) recent book, From Push to Pull. Competitive pressures are generally increasing because knowledge stocks, the knowledge that helps to differentiate companies from competitors, is losing value at a faster and faster pace.  This is why Hagel et al suggest that we should anticipate change and to think in terms of knowledge flows instead of knowledge stocks.  Traditional means of education created courses to pass on knowledge stocks. New forms of education will tap into networks of people to access knowledge flows to stay ahead of competitive change.
  2. From Content to Capabilities – Learning is moving from a focus on content (what you know) to capabilities (what you are able to do).  Of course, while knowing is a part of capability, it is a necessary but insufficient part.  We must set our sights on a wider perspective that shifts from knowledge to the capabilities that are also needed to get things done.  I’ll expand on this in a later theoretical post, but capabilities require a holistic performance orientation where knowledge and conceptual tools are intimately linked to tasks through contexts and purpose.
  3. From Teaching Knowledge Stocks to Enabling Mediating Conversations – The symbol of learning is changing from the degree (certifying what you know) to a personal learning network (that supports what you can do) that is acted out through multiple conversations.
    1. Example  – Envision an old style education.  A 20 year old student is listening to a lecture and accumulating “just in case knowledge”.  This is knowledge that may or may not be needed at anytime during a 40 year career.  This may have been adequate in 1800 when the Library of Congress contained all of 3000 books, but not today.
    2. Now contrast that with a technologically enabled network of capable peers, each with their own network and with access to many possible forms of knowledge.  They are learning in situ, right at the point of need, and their intention is to enable differentiated action today while working in a field that may not have even existed ten years ago.
  4. The Site of Learning is the Point of Need – It’s not that the college degree serves no purpose.  Developing intellectual maturity and understanding the basic processes and skills across a range of disciplines should help students become productive workers.  But, school is not where the majority of learning is going to occur in the future.  It will occur on demand, at one’s job, and through a network of high performing peers that together will posse an astounding diversity of capabilities ready to be drawn upon for mutual benefit.  Learning does not stop when you are 25, but continues on.  In a knowledge flow, you ,ay not even be conscious of the full extent of the learning that is taking place.
  5. Developing positive feedback loops in strong local networks.  This has been given as a reason as to  why place seems to matter even more in this “globally flat age of the internet”.  At the end of the previous point I alluded to this aspect of networks.  Because we’re focused on capabilities and a holistic way of looking at performance, tacit learning has become very important. Tacit learning refers to things like attitude, emotion, body language, and trust.  These things cannot easily be passed on without a face to face relationship, but they are very critical to performance.  Even though the internet make distance disappear for explicit communication, it takes face time to enable strong relationships and positive feedback loops that are a major benefit of high performing networks.  When exposed to high potential peers with great experience, tacit understanding and ideas that can be emulated, increased potential, motivation and performance come very naturally.  People who want their very best need  a strong network of high potential peers.

    I plan to write 3 more posts on this subject:

    1. To explain cognitive mediation as the core tools of capability and an important focus for learning.
    2. To explore what capabilities are core to business processes and will be important to the future performance and network learning.
    3. To explore potential methods for increasing these tools and capabilities and for internalizing these tools into your work practices.