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.

Doing Development in the Workforce: the Integration of Talent, Organization and Economic Development

I believe that workplace and adult learning is the intellectual location where society can focus in making the largest functional gains for society development and economic progress.  It’s not that K-16 and graduate education are not important, it’s just that tradition learning institutions have received the bulk of study, while workplace learning has been relatively ignored.  First, I’m perceiving that the terms and definitions of workplace learning are not clear or well defined.  Training, talent development, human resource management, knowledge management, organizational learning, organizational development, etc. . .; individually these areas tend to be ill-defined and together contain many overlapping and duplicate commitments.  Understanding what’s going on requires looking more at the goals of specific actions rather than understanding the terms that are given.

For me, this is the beginning a research project to try to better understand this general area as a personal development project for 2010.  Initial ideas and biases that I’m bringing to this project will constitute initial posts.

Development – I’m going to focus on development as an over-riding term to understand this area, which I will define as the cognitive, intellectual, moral or social aspects of people and their contexts as they come to perceive, understand, and act in ways that change or expand the scope or complexity of their function in specific contexts over time.  Note the highlighted people and their contexts above.  Action or behavior is a function of people and their contexts and it’s generally useless to try to separate where the effects of people start and the effects of contexts end.  The development any organism is always directed toward it’s environment and, functionally, the organizism is the development of the environment is just as critical as the development of the organism. The function of a person is structurally linked to the environment.  Developing talent in any organization must also be accompanied by development in the organization.  If one person is to develop by increasing the complexity in which they are able to function, than the organization (i.e. other people) must also develop to handle that increasing complexity.  For instance, there is no principled disjunction between talent development and organizational development; they must proceed hand-in-hand.  This is clearly supported by Barab and Plucker (2002) who draw on ecological psychology, situated cognition, distributed cognition, activity theory, and legitimate peripheral participation to support this idea.  From a common sense perspective you can understand that when an employee who is able to respond to his environment with more adapted complex ways, the organization must also respond to and understand this new level of complexity too.  Since an organization is structured by its relationships (Maturana & Verela, 1992), changing the relationships changes the organization.  Individual learning must also be accompanied by team learning and any individual than learns must be responsible for passing this along to his team and to the organization.  Individual development, team development and organizational development must be one integrated process.

Next up I hope to explore the phrase “All doing is knowing and all knowing is doing” (Maturana & Verela, 1992, p. 27)


Barab, S.A. & Plucker, J.A., (2002).  Smart People or Smart Contexts? Cognition, Ability, Talent Development in an Age of Situated Approaches to Knowing and Learning, Educational Psychologists, 37(3), 165-182.

Maturana, H.R. & Varela, F.J. (1992). The Tree of Knowledge: THe Biological Roots of Human Understanding, Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications Inc.

Philweb, The Human Being: Definitions: Developmental Psychology; http://www.phillwebb.net/topics/human/HumanDef.htm