Thursday, February 26, 2015

Let's improve our learning language as learning professionals

If the Sami eskimos have 180 words for snow - how come we as learning professionals have only one word for learning? OK, we have learning and development (L&D) so we have two words. I think we are way too sloppy in talking about learning. Improving our language- being more precise- would help advance the practice. I understand why the Dutch have only one word for snow, because we had only one day of snow this year (see picture) and rather thinnish..  but why do we keep on talking about learning without being precise what we are talking about?

Why this idea about sloppy language? I am currently in the Exploring Social Learning MOOC by Curatr and it is great. It is the first MOOC which keeps me engaged because of the content and the people (and the leadership board?). There are many interesting articles and videos to explore, including the twitter chats. The MOOC really makes me think more deeply about what I understand by social learning and how I translate it into practice. For instance it made me think about the importance of individual thinking and individual experience in social learning. I observe how sloppy we use the term 'learning'. It is not to blame the organizers, I am also guilty myself. I feel somehow that over de last years my use of words has grown sloppier because of my personal online network. Just like my English has deteriorated when I lived in Ghana because you start to speak Ghanaian English (which has its charms ofcourse :).

The objection by learning professionals may be that there are almost 180 forms of learning - informal learning, social learning, workplace learning, formal learning, non-formal learning, e-learning, multimedia learning, online learning, bench learning, mobile learning, collective learning, invisible learning, networked learning, a live long learning. brain learning, whole brain learning etc. However, this is often about the form of supporting learning processes, and not about the learning process itself. We say e-learning but basically we talk about e-teaching.

Some observations about sloppy language (not from the MOOC but also in general) and please react if I'm wrong!

Learning processes and learning interventions
Is all learning social? This was for instance a question we dealt with. This question confused me, because it may be about the learning process, as well as the intervention. The difference is that a learning process takes place in a learner's head or within a group and a learning interventions is undertaken by learning professionals to stimulate learning processes. It is almost like intervention is a dirty word like teaching or lecturing. Interventions can be assignments, but also facilitation of workshops and communities. Even doing a social network analysis and identifying thought leaders is an intervention. Often people talk about learning and it is unclear to me what we mean. When we talk about formal learning - I think we don't talk about learning but more about the formal learning interventions.

Social learning = not learning with social media
People often equate 'Social learning with Learning using Social media' which is a very narrow definition. Social learning's definition from wikipedia is learning that takes place at a wider scale than individual or group learning, up to a societal scale, through social interaction between peers. It may or may not lead to a change in attitudes and behaviour. Well we can debate about the exact definition but it can definitely take place face-to-face too. You get weird conversations if two people exchange about social learning from two different angles.

Social learning is not the same as a group process and interactive methods
I notice many people also use the term social learning when they talk about group processes and interaction. If we simplify social learning to interaction within a group - it is better to use the word group learning. Social learning is a theory about how people are influenced by social norms and learn how to act from their social-ecological systems. At times I also use social learning without explaining what my definition is because it is not easy to explain. An understanding of social learning will lead to different interventions with more attention to for instance, building social capital.

Single, double and triple loop learning
Is it old-fashioned to use single, double and triple loop learning? The terms are first coined by Argyris and Schon. Here's a nice explanation in one page. Single loop is learning within the current frame of work for instance, how to use a new software program. Double loop is about changing the way you think, your frame of mind. Triple loop is about learning to learn. We had a nice discussion about critical thinking, but when we talk about single loop learning - critical thinking may not be necessary at all. The paper states "key breakthroughs in helping people understand the dynamics of learning are the concepts of single loop, double-loop and triple-loop learning." I agree but somehow we moved to 70-20-10? Is single, double and triple loop not practical enough?

I often hear - "I want to buy an e-learning". Somehow we should forget the term e-learning (I try to avoid it at least) because it has become synonymous with page turner modules and courses for individual use. I see e-learning as any process supported by technology but don't think I will every be able to change the definition.

70-20-10 versus directed/self-directed learning 
The usefulness of 70-20-10 model is that it brings attention to the 70% informal learning processes, learning on the job. However, people are talking sometimes about 'moving from the 10 to the 70'. It has become the norm to support the 70. And even if directed, instructional learning is moved online it is seen as part of the 70 whereas in my opinion it will still be part of the 10 because it is still a formal learning intervention. The discussion in my opinion should be more about self-directed learning processes within the organization versus directed learning interventions and compliance training. There is a nice blogpost about the importance of formal learning interventions by Ben Betts which you can read here. Especially the last part is important where he argues that putting efforts in formal learning interventions may speed up the informal learning processes lateron.

More sloppiness?

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