Pull (Distributed Learning) as it Relates to Zuboff’s Distributed Capitalism #PLENK2010

In my last post I alluded to some counter-intuitive ways that I think learning is becoming different.  This post addresses that issue in someways by drawing on this McKinsey article.

Most people’s idea of learning comes from their experience sitting in classrooms reading from textbooks, memorizing spelling lists or completing practice math problems.  This is a far cry from what social networked or “pull” learning is all about.  Because they have this mind set, many aspects of “pull” learning can seem counter-intuitive.  In order to understand people will need three things.

  • New experiences involving pull learning,
  • The willingness to give up old ideas of learning and
  • A new narrative explaining pull learning.

Shoshana Zuboff has helped devise a new narrative through his commentary on a closely related theme he has named distributed capitalism.  (In many ways “pull” learning draws on ideas that are close to distributed cognition and social cultural constructivism)  Shoshana (like Hagel, Haque, Florida and others) has proclaimed that we are in the midst of a economic structural reset creating new demand patterns and stressing old ways and resources and this mirrors the new ways we are thinking about learning.  This is the way he explains this shift:

When a majority of people want things that remain priced at a premium under the old institutional regime—a condition I call the “premium puzzle”—the ground becomes extremely fertile for wholly new classes of competitors that can fulfill the new demands at an affordable price.  . . . today, we are moving from an era of mass consumption to one focused on the individual.

Shoshana lists five essential ways that distributed capitalism is different:


. . . Instead of “What do we have and how can we sell it to you?” good business practices start by asking “Who are you?” “What do you need?” and “How can we help?” This inverted thinking makes it possible to identify the assets that represent real value for each individual. Cash flow and profitability are derived from those assets.


Once valuable assets have been identified, they must be rescued from old, costly industry structures that keep them from serving individual needs in a cost effective manner.


. . . (Bypass) existing institutional structures—human, physical, organizational, technological, or financial—and connecting individuals directly to the assets they seek. . . . bypass the unnecessary costs, outdated assumptions, and value-destroying practices of legacy systems.


Allow customers to reconfigure . . . assets according to their own values, interests, convenience, and pleasure.


. . . offer consumers the digital tools, platforms, and social relationships that support them in living their lives as they choose.

Just as Shoshana suggests that CEOs should “question the old logic and vocabulary of competitive strategy”, so should we ask those supporting learning to question the old methods, pedagogy and vocabulary that may very well remain stubbornly in place across the spectrum of learning opportunities.

He goes on to suggest that we look at the following 6 areas:

  1. Focus our attention on learning that is “affordable to few but desired by many”.
  2. Build trust across learning platforms
  3. Eliminate fixed costs wherever possible
  4. Replace organizational systems and structures with flexible low-cost networks
  5. Access hidden assets especially those on the edge or even outside of organizational boundaries.  You do not need to control all the assets that are needed to meet customer expectations.
  6. Constantly probe the end users desires and needs as a strategic commitment.

(Note – Shoshana list 7 items, but I think his #5 and 6 are better stated together.)

Most of all, Shoshana notes that distributed forms currently exist in digitalized internet spaces, but need to be matured and extended to face to face situations, which he terms the next test for distributed capitalism.

Can distributed capitalism go further? What happens when it confronts forms of physical assets and social support that cannot be reduced to information—arenas where face-to-face experience is essential? This is when distributed capitalism, which until now has manifested itself almost entirely in the digital world, will begin to mature as it takes aim at core economic functions with a second wave of more complex mutations that combine virtual and real-world assets.

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