Tag Archives: wicked problems

Distributed curriculum

This Tweet caught my eye today by triggering a train of thoughts on what a ‘distributed curriculum’ might involve.

Digitally Distributed Curriculum

This idea appears to position the curriculum as an outcome of interacting within networks of people, resources and technologies. I wonder if this curriculum is a restating for a formal education context, of the sort of personalised learning I previously discussed here. One of the issues here is on curricula design and whether all students have the capabilities, capacities and capital to direct the generation of their own curriculum in a coherent and sustainable manner or whether ‘fluid curricula’ models will need and be required to be fairly striated or ‘channeled’. Similarly, there is a need to develop successful practices on supporting students and staff in approaches to self-directed and self-regulated learning enabling deep engagement with ‘wicked’ subject problems.

Another aspect to the distributed curriculum may well be a social aspect of both participating in external professional and other communities as well as generating ephemeral communities of learners that ‘swarm’ around specific learning objects and artefacts as well as collectively bringing these objects/ artefacts in to engagement with the subject problem of interest.

Learning techniques – for education and life

An interesting and useful read from Harold Jarche on learning techniques framed in terms of PKM and sense-making. As with many areas of knowledge and learning, the post (and the research article cited – and summarised here) highlight the tendency towards shallow learning techniques and the avoidance of the more valuable, but harder, techniques of sense-making and critical thinking. The two key techniques here of elaborative interrogation and self-explanation seem to me to be two crucial steps in situated knowing and being able to think through the nitty-gritty pragmatic aspects of applying knowledge/ information in actual problem-solving situations. It is these approaches that should provide the situational links between education and professional practices.

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


Professional learning, informal learning and ‘wicked’ problems

This is a diagram I’ve drawn based on 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:

Learning, creativity and knowledge work


I’ve posted previously on Peter Sloep’s work on learning networks. I found this chapter to be a useful analysis of the concept of networked learning in relation to professional learning specifically (and that’s an important distinction). What the diagram attempts to summarise is that professional and knowledge-based integrated work and learning tends to take place where learning is predominately informal (as needed and highly situated) as professionals are addressing ill-defined and complex work problems. Such problems require (interdisciplinary) professional knowledge creatively applied. Valuable professional knowledge work and valuable professional learning takes place through tackling ‘wicked’ problems. 

So how might learning and development functions and professionals best support and enable learning in these wicked problems? Does professional education currently develop the creative and meta-learning capabilities required for working in and on wicked problems?

Why Learning & Development should be focused on wicked problems

Learning and development should be focused on solving wicked problems in organisation but too often, L&D appears to avoid engaging in these problems. Using Horst Rittel‘s ten criteria for wicked problems, here’s my argument for why learning and development should be about wicked problems:

  1. Wicked problems have no definitive formulation: performance issues in organisations will have many different causes – from skills deficits, process issues, equipment issues, investment issues, poor leadership, poor management, an individual, a policy, a combination of some or all of these etc. Each problem formulation and diagnosis should be unique
  2. It’s hard, maybe impossible, to measure or claim success with wicked problems: just because an intervention coincided with improvements does not necessarily mean you can demonstrate that it was the learning intervention that improved things. Just as causes are complex so is teasing out what works and why. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try or that being unable to make show the causation is a reason not to implement the intervention.
  3. strategically important learning and development rarely resolves an issue, it improves a situation: organisations perform better but never perfectly.
  4. significant learning interventions are learning events in themselves and you can’t know it all at the start, just what you’ll be learning next…..
  5. … and so there is likely to be more than a single diagnosis – you should have a number of hypotheses to test in different ways …
  6. … as capabilities, systems, processes, people, culture, strategy, etc are all interconnected and all play a part in what you are trying to do.
  7. Nothing is definitive – learning and development, like people and communities don’t conform to laws of natural sciences.
  8. As your learning and development intervention is implemented it will generate change in other aspects of the organisation so trial and error is both the key to success but is also more difficult to do.
  9. So problems do not repeat themselves – there is no “same old same old”.
  10. Learning and development professionals are responsible for the effectiveness of the learning interventions in the long and short-term.