Tag Archives: communities of practice

Working and learning in networks

I’m currently pulling together various thoughts on issues surrounding organisational design, networks and workplace or occupational learning. Initially, I’m drawing on:

the notion of learning networks, defined by Sloep (2008) as: “online, social network that is designed to support non-formal learning in a particular domain” to frame a discussion of the use of social technologies for workplace learning and the management of knowledge. In particular, the affordances of social technologies in enabling learning outcomes traditionally seen as vicarious by-products of work activities to be captured and made explicit as micro-learning objects (Peschl 2006; Schmidt 2005), will be explored in the context of professional learning that focuses on responding to complex and ‘wicked’ problems (Margaryan et al, 2013).

From this, I’m looking to explore


… how technology enabled learning networks act as mechanisms for personal professional competence development. How might or how do professionals combine and use self-selected digital tools to support the integration of work and learning as Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) (Pata 2009; Ralagopal, et al 2012) and approaches to Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) (Redecker 2009)?

So I *think* the argument I’m developing is that increasingly for *some* occupations, workplace learning is in practice operationalised as a ‘web of relations’ (Fenwick 2008) within and across organisational and professional boundaries and so the long-standing practices of L&D functions are increasingly redundant in this context. By extension, I’d suggest that there are various implications arising form this for much higher education provision: for example, is the privileging of knowledge content really justified, can the assumptions that students are effective learners in such a context justified, where or what may indicate knowledgeable authority in such a context?

Learning networks

I’ve been recently reading a few papers on learning networks, either as open networks or within a single organisation. What these papers had in common was a focus on networks as mechanisms to support members, especially ‘novices’ (and boy to I hate that term), to navigate through some form of agreed curriculum. This seems to be based on Wenger’s definition of communities of practice as involving a common competence. So if there is a common (agreed) competence set then developing a curriculum whether formally or informally (even intuitively) should be fairly straightforward. But my research of open networks for learning indicate something else happening: that beyond a fairly discrete core, there is not a common competence and no clear curriculum. Rather, learning networks operate as sites of ongoing and continuous negotiation and renegotiation of a bounded set of requisite competences. Networks are rather curriculum forming mechanisms where that curriculum does not appear to settle. Now my research has been focused on learning and education professionals where external and prescribed ‘bodies of knowledge’ are not universally desired (but still seen as a necessary part of being a ‘proper’ professional). So I’m wondering what the experience of others who participate in learning networks and whether you recognise the notion of a curriculum of development guiding that network?

Social learning – pervasive or choice?

@julianstodd Tweeted an older posting of his on the nature of social learning here and its importance for an organisation in terms of compliance, standardisation and ethics. A few things struck me about the post, not least, its narrow definition of social learning as being collaborative (and hence notionally equal, non-hierarchical) where learning is an emergent property of such collaboration. He also seems to suggest that social learning is a choice that organisations can choose to do or not do rather than a description of how people learn and behave in organisations, departments and teams.

So the issue of control and compliance is addressed in the case of a valve:

Take that problem with a valve: firstly, the organisation has a legal obligation to train you to change it safely. They have to discover the best way, then they have to have that way accredited and verified, then they have to train you, let you practice and sign you off as competent. Within this legal framework, there is little space for social learning, which would be more likely to ask why not try this other way?

You could include a space for more experienced engineers to contribute feedback and thoughts, although this can easily breach legal guidelines (if one of them says ‘just hit it with a hammer’).

Except we know from research that compliance to regulation is negotiated in the workplace – that social learning takes place regardless of organisational intent. Social learning is happening – people are learning the trade from ‘experts’ in interpreting, in that research, and negotiating health & safety compliance. Social learning is not something that is a choice when people work together, it happens anyway and organisations or L&D functions should not forget that. So @julianstodd’s conclusion framed in terms of a case for adoption of social learning is, to me, flawed.

However, it is good to see in the post the recognition of the darker side of social learning:

but there is a darker side to this too in the form of bullying or, in a lesser form, hustling in these spaces. Some people have strongly developed skills in putting their view across forcefully and the transition into the virtual world of social can reinforce the way they do this. It’s well known that people can tend to say things in emails or texts that they would never say in person. We tend to be less inhibited, giving greater potential for conflict or misunderstanding.

This aspects of social learning and communities of practice is often absent from debates on the concepts.

An interesting post providing a partial but useful discussion piece.


Flock: meet, learn, teach… locally

Last Friday (28 Sept) , I went to an interesting presentation at InSpace which included a presentation from Morna Simpson, CEO of Flockedu. Flockedu aims to link teachers and adult learners for face-to-face learning with a tag line of “meet, learn, teach… locally”.

The idea for the company started with a personal injury that coincided with the student fees and cuts in Higher Education. The purpose of Flockedu is to link learners, teachers and venues for learning in the community alongside signposting and linking to other online learning resources. The business model is based on taking a small fee from the income generated from the trainers also draws in supplementary income from merchandising an data mining for business intelligence.

I particularly enjoyed the development process that started by Morna leveraging her online network and organised three hackdays June – Sept 2010. Participants gained a proportion of ownership of the company – an interesting alternative ownership model. While the business model for the business is emergent it appears to meet a clear market space on leveraging technology to support the demands for social, collaborative and community learning activities, face-to-face, locally and together.

The presentation itself was included as part of the Entrepreneur in Residence (following 9 month pause for surgery -something here about bad luck and later success?).