Tag Archives: self-organisation

Professional learning, informal learning and ‘wicked’ problems [2]

Following up on my previous post on learning and wicked problems here, the following diagram summarises a learning process in non-routines knowledge work. Again, this comes from Peter Sloep’s Chapter on Networked Professional Learning in Littlejohn, A. and Margaryan, A. (2014) Technology Enhanced Professional Learning: Processes, Practices and Tools. London: Routledge.

What I like about the process described is its iterative nature and that, ultimately, the ‘vague problem’ doesn’t really disappear through a simple solution. Rather, my reading of the process is that ‘solutions’ and their implementation generate further understanding of the vague problem, hopefully making it less vague and so initiating a new round of evaluation and analysis. But also, any intervention also generates new unexpected and vague ‘problem’s to be learned about and addressed.

Wicked problem solving


Designing open infrastructures for professional development

Last week I attended a seminar by the Supporting Sustainable e-Learning Forum at Glasgow Caledonia University with Peter Sloep from the Open University of the Netherlands.

[slideshare id=3578737&doc=100325sloep-sswlf-glasgow-100328105848-phpapp02]

The seminar and presentation used six “use cases” as the staring points for discussions on the efficacy of networked learning as viable solutions in terms of non-formal professional learning as well as collaborative sense-making and knowledge sharing.
The main discussions were, as might be expected,gravitated towards the debate of open v closed systems – although I find the debate at a broad level somewhat unhelpful as argued here. However, working through the issues to be considered for ePortfolios that can transfer from formal into non-formal professional learning as a useful tool for the individual while also providing suitable evidence for assessment provided a useful illustration of the difficulties of the practicalities of the “edgeless university” – for my take, see here. Other practical issues with the distributed network model that were discussed centred on institutional issues of IP and barriers derived from the imperatives of managerial control as well as technical barriers surrounding interoperability & standards etc.
A key issue underpinning many advantages of either the open/ distributed model and the closed model was one of trust and sources of ‘trustworthy’ knowledge.
An interesting day. While the seminar was about non-formal learning, the cross-over to capturing, understanding and enhancing informal (incidental?) learning were many.

The Supporting Sustainable e-Learning Forum has three more events planned for the rest of the year and more detail can be found at their Ning site here.

Monkeys with typewriters

I’ve received mt copy of Monkeys with Typewriters by Jemima Gibbons. The book launch event has a good write-up here.

I’ve only read the first chapter so far but find the writing style really engaging – I could have stayed up and read a whole lot more …. What I particularly appreciated was the discussion of the drivers for web 2.0/ enterprise 2.0 adoption being based in notions of the learning organisation and particularly de Geusliving company book. I think this is the key potential for web2.0 as enabling those adaptive and autopietic organisations to become a realisable possibility. I also believe that the potential for autopeosis is far greater than realised – not just for small organisations/ teams, etc… but only for some. What often gets missed from many of these discussions is the requirement for more regulated, ‘boring’ and routinised work proactices and organisations to enable the more free-form organisational formats to operate. The cafes need to be open (and supplied), IT infrastructure support, snail mail needs to work blah, blah. So this 2.0 stuff is perhaps mainly applicable for those ‘higher value’ knowledge based occupations, etc. reinforcing occupational/ social divides and creating new ones. Will being an office working a sign of lower status compared to being able to say “I work anywhere”.

Anyway, this is an interesting book – inspiring in only its first chapter (motivated me to get blogging again).

Complex projects – exploring and learning

Back on to the theme of exploration in project management, I came across an article from Ralph Stacey on strategy as order emerging from chaos – I think its a fairly old article from 1993 or so – which included an eight ‘step’ framework for managing in organisations drawing on complexity science. While the framework was based on the practices of strategy management, it resonated for me in terms of those rare, extreme exploratory projects where the aims, objectives and outcomes are unclear as are the methods and approaches that might be used – think pure research projects, trying things out in high velocity environments etc…. where project management is really all about small learning steps (ie, see here but I’m not talking about projects operating in more ‘certain’ circumstances, if the project is all about product delivery, then what follows is possibly a recipe for failure). The eight steps are:
1. Develop new perspectives on the meaning of control. Learning in groups encourages a self-organising form of control. Encourage managers to let go. This is clearly echoed in Lynda Gratton’s work on ‘hot spots‘ and in Gary Hamel‘s Future of Management – managers tend to like control and control limits learning

2. Design the use of power. Too strong an application of power will restrict open questioning and the public testing of assertions. In other words, project management should be about supporting and inspiring team members to be contrary, to avoid group think and keep options open not close them down through fear of scope creep, etc…but also to keep pushing the team to do better

3. Encourage the formation of self-organising groups. (See step 1) Which means recruiting people to the project who will be comfortable with this.

4. Provoke multiple cultures. Move people around the organisation (project roles) and introduce new blood. Can really unsettle people but can also produce new ideas and perspectives through asking all those non-expert questions. Personaly, I’ve found this to be really effective in shaking a project team out of complacency, in creative project work and when trying to generate ‘deep’ organisational change.

5. Present ambiguous challenges or half-formed issues. All about the sort of projects I’m talking about.

6. Expose the business to challenging situations. Innovation depends on chance and managers must be prepared to compete with the most challenging competitors. Making projects really challenging, not in Tom Peters‘ notion of ‘wow projects‘ but in terms of always pushing – but also embracing that 95% failure rate of change. In this situation, you can’t expect to reach your wildest aspirations, the value is all in the learning journey that takes place.

7. Give explicit attention to group learning skills. I understand this to be a concern with developing and nurturing competences in how to learn, rather than domain specific/ technical knowledge, skills and understanding – the ability to reflect on, and learn from situations as they arise, shift and change.

8. Create resource slack by the provision of additional management resource. OK, I’m less convinced on this one – yes to resource slack and having the opportunities to try, test and explore is critical, but management resource?

All very interesting, but taking project teams out of their individual and collective comfort zone may well not be a sustainable way to do business. Or, its the only way to keep organisations flexible and adaptable in which case, is the current way organisations are set-up (single organsiations, permenant staff, annual budgeting etc) in need of a rethink?