Collaborative Inquiry: Collaboration as a Method to Increase Research Capabilities

Catherine Lombardozzi has blogged about Collaborative Inquiry, a topic I’ve been skirting for  a while with terms like: learning networks, un-conference, collective intelligence, distributed decision making, distributed cognition or connectivism.  I think this basic idea is a natural part of web 2.0 thinking that is collaborative in its core nature. I also think it is a way to tap into the knowledge flows associated with Hagel’s Power of Pull thinking and is also just a good way to address knowledge areas that are in flux as opposed to stable and well established.  Less and less of our practices are stable today and this is a natural way to gain knowledge and direction.

To extend this idea I’ve been thinking about why you would want to choose a collaborative research structure over a more traditional set up, and I’ve put my ideas into this concept map.  It’s not a finished product; just beginning thoughts.

A Comparison of Individual and Collaborative Research

Individual Collaborative Research Comparision - Why would you choose collaborative research methodology

#PLENK2010 Networks as Joint Social Spaces: A Foundation for Pedagogy

I. The Pragmatic Philosophy Part

According to Wittgenstein and Bakhtin, words are instruments of meaning, but that meaning is only realized in the context of their use, not from any kind of essence.  (See my previous post for direct quotes and a fuller treatment)  I believe this radical pragmatic concept also applies to logos – understood here as language, conversation, proposition, principle, reason, analogy, etc. . . , and I would include knowledge.  That is, knowledge is only fully understood and becomes meaningful in the context of its use and in its position between speakers.

II. The Biological View

Organisms interact and adapt to their environments through structural coupling (Recurrent interactions leading to a congruence between systems.), with other organisms through social coupling, and with other humans through linguistic coupling in a process of co-ontogenic (co-developmental) coupling (Maturana & Varela). Taking place in social network spaces, it explains our psychic experience as:

. . . the semiotic expression of the contact between the organism and the outside environment.  That is why the inner psyche is not analyzable as a thing but can only be understood and interpreted as a sign. (Volosinov as quoted in Shotter)

Furthermore, this sign is not in the head of an individual, but in the network that is the social space for creating joint expression and experience.  Our psyche is not in us, but is distributed throughout our cultural historical background and in our shared social spaces.

In this way, we are just like words, we develop (ontogeny) and are defined through our associations with others.

Because, who we ‘are’ between ‘us’, determines who and what we are to ‘our world’, (and who) and what ‘our world’ is to us. . . . And who we are to each other is up to us to care about. That is why it matters. (Shotter p. 206)

III. A similar critique of Education

Learning does not have a meaning that can be measured by a certification or a test of its essence, but it can have a use and it can take on meaning through the process of joint action.  Consider this description taken from Steven Johnson’s  Where Good Ideas Come From

  • A new idea is a new network of neurons firing in the brain.
  • But most such ideas are only partial.  They become complete when we work on them jointly with others.
  • The process of linguistic coupling extends and completes our new neuronal networks and joins them with other new neuronal networks.  These semiotic actions, when at their best, can seem mysterious or even divine in their function.

For something seems to be at work in the activities between people.  The activities are not just repetitive, they grow, they develop, they are creative, they make history; . . .  A ‘double divinity’ seems to be hidden in our joint actions; a ‘creator’ and a ‘judges’ that resides in the sensus communes, that is, ‘in’ its shared ways of ‘seeing sense’ and ‘making sense’. (Shotter, p.205)

IV. So – With a Full Understanding of the Importance of Networks and Community;

What Would Education Look Like?

I’ll answer this question by looking at some vision of education in my next post.

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.

Is it a “Personal” or a “Social Networked” Learning Environment? #PLENK2010

This post is a response to readings (week 1) in the MOOC, PLENK 2010.

The book Power of Pull is my favorite exposition of a theory of networked learning, because it accounts very well for an action orientation and a social embeddedness as it portrays the learning process.  The course readings echo this idea. like when the Educause piece says:

The (network and the collection of resources) becomes a PLE when the integration of resources starts to include the work and voices of others as readily as a student’s own critical reflection and scholarly work.

It is stated again in Stephen Downs’ piece when he quotes Graham Attwell:

‘New forms of learning are based on trying things and action, rather than on more abstract knowledge. ‘Learning becomes as much social as cognitive, as much concrete as abstract, and becomes intertwined with judgment and exploration.’

Graham’s quote is great because it also emphasizes a move from the learning of abstract content to action based learning, that is also social, contextualized and problem centered.  (Alec Couros’ book chapter Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open and Social Learning points to Knowles’ concept of Andragogy, Vygotskian Social Constructionism and Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory for a sound theoretical background for this type of learning.)

So again, my question is; is this a “personal” or a “social networked” learning environment? I think the continued use of the term “personal” in someways reflects an over-individualized view of learning that now, in the context of networked learning, can be seen as more inadequate than ever.  I also think it is more than just terminology.  Many aspects of networked or “pull” learning tend to be counter intuitive. In order to really appreciate this new paradigm I think many people, especially in the business world, will need to suspend their common-sense ideas about what it means to learn.  I think I’ll attempt another post on this theme.

Network Learning: an Initial Summary

A new Model of Learning: from the Classroom to the Network

Learning has always been multifaceted, but where the old concrete model of learning activity was exemplified by the classroom, a new concrete model of learning activity will be exemplified by a network. It’s not a change in what learning is, but more of a change in the why, where, how, and when learning happens.

Why New Ideas for Learning are Needed.

  1. The pace of market change and creative destruction is increasingly requiring innovation and adaptive responses just for business survival.  John Hagel points beyond product and process innovation ot the need for institutional innovation is we are to counter the movement of innovation to Asia.  The complex understanding and responses needed requires greater access not just to to innovative ideas, but also the social spaces that contain both knowledge flows and the diverse capabilities needed to actualize those ideas.  Businesses need to move beyond the traditional boundaries of the firm.
  2. Human development, once thought to be relative unchanging after age 25, now highlight the ability for all kinds of growth in mental complexity and ability throughout one’s active adult life.  In response, new theories of performance are now available to support development and increase performance throughout one’s career.

In order to achieve complex adaptive change in activity, we must further our own development, improve the tools we have available, and make sure we are applying them and attending to the correct object or focus. This entails

  • Human development – The ability to grow to meet new challenges
  • Tool development – psychological and technical tools matched to our complex adaptive challenges
  • all with concrete opportunities for application and feedback

The next section explain some background behind this categorization.

Where will Learning Occur

Traditionally the classroom was led by an expert who was guided by a set curriculum and a transfer metaphor of learning.  In contrast, the network contains a diverse array of individuals interacting with learning as an emergent phenomenon.  This is not to say that experts, classrooms and the transfer metaphor will disappear, and learning, as a psychological and behavioral phenomenon, will not change.  It’s just that the most valuable and ongoing form of learning will emerge through network participation and will emphasize it’s natural connection with relationships and activity instead of focusing exclusively on knowledge content.  It will bypass the problem of learning transfer through learning in situ, in a just in time manner.  Instead of teachers, we will depend on a variety of people who’s role will be more like a guide, facilitator or collaborator.

Network learning has a built in efficacy benefit in that it’s so closely tied to activity and action in which the learning subject is engaged.  In a recent Charlie Rose episode Daniel Wolpert mentioned that the only purpose for a brain is to enable complex adaptive behavior through the motor systems and that the motor cortex and muscle system is the end-path for all of our sensory systems.  To think of content and knowledge as separated from activity is to ignore the way the brain is inherently organized.  Just in time network learning is tied closely to enabling action, which is more in line with the natural organization of brain systems.  If for no other reason, this type of learning is productive because it replaces the huge amount of knowledge that is committed to memory just in case it might be needed in the future with targeted knowledge that leads directly to action.

While learning is just in-time, building robust and diverse networks is the preparation we need. When you need resources is not the time for network building.  The network building that taps us into vibrant engaging relationships and social spaces should be an ongoing activity.  The support needed for this are learning institutions, but not like institutions of the past.  Not the institutions that horde experts, but ones that foster these vibrant and engaging social spaces and excel at building business relevant social networks.  This does not succeed by some network magic. Networks need to be filled with passionate and talented people.  You need to be hooked in with the smartest people on the block, just as they need to be hooked in with talented and passionate you.

What will be the focus of Network Learning

I believe that learning as a psychological and social phenomena is not substantially changing, only the focus of learning will be on the activities and challenges we face.  I will rely on an older model of Vygotsky and Leonte’v to explain a model of the architecture of human activity.  Vygotsky gave three poles that combined to drive human activity: a subject, a mediator (tool) and an object, all leading to an outcome.   This table gives examples for a carpenter and a loan officer.

8-29-10 post table

Therefore the focus of learning is on:
  • the development of the subject’s identity and capabilities (achieving one’s developmental potential)
  • the development of tools (especially mental tools like frameworks, theories, concepts, etc. . .)
  • making sure we are focused on the right objects with the right tools
  • People who can guide us and give us nudges in the right direction, in a timely fashion while on a self quest to complete this mission.

What Ideas are Emerging to Meet these Needs

  1. The idea of “pull” (Hagel Brown & Davison, 2010) encourage us to get involved in relevant networks and tap into the knowledge flows existing there.
  2. Richard Florida points out the importance of vibrant and engaging social spaces as a key driver of innovation related to business growth.
  3. Developing psychological based performance supports systems such as interventions to develop individual psychological capital (Luthans, 2008) or developing the psychological means for personal and organizational change (Kegan, 2010).
  4. Opportunities for collaborative practice -based research (eg. localized unconferences) to maximize development and learning within or around one’s specialities.
  5. Opportunities for creating and maintaining mentoring as well as other diverse types of relationships within one’s local environment.
  6. Networks that are institutionalized to allow you to pursue and developmental goals and identities while conducting business.  I say institutionalized to mean that the infrastructure may need to be created and supported.  Like Hagel’s “Pull”, we rely on serendipity for opportunity, but we plan to make serendipity more likely to happen.

This is not the end of my “theorizing” but a good summation from which to begin a more active research process.

More posts on Network Learning (in reverse chronological order):

A Research Compilation on Inter-firm Networks

The Shape of the Future of Learning: Seeding New Institutions

From Push to Pull: It Will Change What Education Means

Architecture for Learning: The Importance of the Built Environment

Why are Networks the Learning Platform of the Future

A Lifelong High Level Learning Platform: Some Initial Thoughts

Professional Networks as Learning Platforms: A Idea for Lifelong Learning

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.

    A Lifelong High Level Learning Platform: Some Initial Thoughts

    A friend was involved with a professional network, GPSEG (The Greater Philadelphia Senior Executives Group) in the Philadelphia area.   It is a group for professional networking.  There are approximately 1100 individuals registered with the group.  Membership can connect with other members for coffee meetings and there are many sub-groupings and meetings organized by locale or by industry.  Many people use the group to network for jobs, but they are encouraged to (and many do) remain with the group and continue to network after finding employment.

    When describing his activities with the group, the words “learning platform” kept coming to mind as a primary goal and function of his activity.  I don’t really know much about the group and hope to learn more in the future, but just the idea began sparking my imagination.  One of the greatest educational needs for the future is for institutions that can support and actualize adult lifelong learning in ways that is functional for their everyday learning needs. The term “knowledge age” may not be sufficient to the task, but let’s at least say that learning is an imperative for everyone these days.  Prepackaged courses and curriculum will not cut it.  Networked learning is all the rage, but networks have to start and end with people.  It is important that any network be technologically enabled, but it can’t be dominated by IT thinking.  I believe it needs to have a local component and a face to face component that is primary.

    This group is billed as senior executives, and I think this is a very good foundation, but I will put on my educational hat and speculate about who else could potential be served a group like this.

    High Potentials – A recent Harvard Business Ideacast (Keep Your Top Talent from Defecting) reviewed the work of Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt who authored the article How to Keep Your Top Talent in HBR (subscription required).  What struck me was their figure that 70% of today’s high performers lack critical attributes essential to their success in future roles.  What a need for education, but its got to be realtime and relevant learning in real contexts.  You can’t have the training department design a course or curriculum to fix this problem.  The learning needs are too diverse and unpredictable. Development is also spoken of in this article as an engaging and motivating force for this group.  Management may not want to expose their top talent to individuals in other organizations, but these authors say that top talent already knows their value and their place in market forces very well.

    Entrepreneurs – Most cities have an entrepreneurs development and support organization.  In Cleveland it’s call Jump Start.  This type of organization could serve as a great screener of people who may not have a job history as a senior executive, but would have such potential.  For projects supported by these organizations, a learning platform is exactly the type of support entrepreneurs need as they and their companies grow and develop.  Jumpstart has advisors and networking, but I bet it does not alway function as a true learning platform like I’m envisioning.

    Academics – I don’t know exactly how this would shake out, but academics and the higher education business model needs to get out of class and out of the insular world of researching order to work and interact with this type of group.  Academic models need to change and it can only happen with experience and experimentation.

    I’m sure there more possibilities I should consider, but I’ll leave it there for now and allow more time for my thoughts to develop.

    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 Networks Model for Evidence-based Management and Knowledge Transfer

    Couple of interesting reads this morning (Bandura 2006 and Guest 2007) that are relevant to the topics of learning, performance support, knowledge transfer and evidence-based management (EBM).  The bottom-line:

    (From Bandura) Knowledge transfer in many situations can be seen as a form of learning that proceeds through ongoing modeling with feedback and increasing approximation, not by an explanation of abstract information.

    (From Guest) Practitioners do not generally change their practices as a result of abstract knowledge, but from the example of others in their organization or field.  (e.g. bankers looking to other bankers or retailers looking to other retailers)

    Furthermore – Guest laments the current state of EBM.  Changing it requires attention to the communication process (communicator, message, medium and receiver) and the building of bridges (both traditional and non-traditional) between research and practice.  Guest is pestamistic about the readiness of the management field to address EBM.  I would disagree and suggest the following based on Guest’s communication process analogy:

    • Communicator – The concept of EBM is not an outcome, it is the bridge that can close the gap between researchers and practitioners. However, the communicator must stand on this bridge, not on either shore.
    • Message – Standing on the EBM bridge, the most important aspect of research is validity.  It is a view of validity that begins with the whole of the concept (not the narrow view of traditional research validity).  Research is not valid until the consequence of it use in practice can be demonstrated.  See a previous post on validity here although I may need to do additional work on the validity concept.
    • Medium – In the light of Bandura, the real medium of concern, in fact, are the people in the practitioner’s network.
    • Receiver – We need to build up the scope and diversity of practitioner’s networks and the ability of these network to act as learning models for evidence-based practices.

    Learning Needs Social Innovation, not just Technical Innovation

    Reading about e-learning and social media, I get the feeling that people are trying to solve learning issues with technical applications.  While I believe that technology is a key enabler, learning is social at its core.  That means social innovation should come first.  Social media can be a great enabler, if its application is designed to facilitate interaction where social change has already taken place or at least where the ground is fertile for social change.

    Here’s an example:

    An individualistic idea of schooling led to a university model where people went to school to get knowledge into their heads and then went out into the world to practice and use that knowledge.  But not only is learning not anywhere near finished when you leave school, to be successful in practice many people need to learn everyday.  In short, the learning is never done!

    Yes, we need knowledge from schools, but even more important we need a learning network.  This was my take-away from last falls connectivism course (CCK08).  Providing students with a network of knowers is more important than providing them with knowledge.  While many professors may maintain contact with graduates, what is needed is more.  It’s the expectation that graduates will leave school with a strong learning and practice network that includes strong bond to ties graduates back to their original contexts of learning and to ties schools to rich fields of practice and practitioners.  It’s a two way street.  Now in this type of context, social media can be a real enabler because it is focused on facilitating dynamic social innovation.