Friday, January 04, 2008

Diving in the deep to learn

I often wonder whether there is a certain type of person who is attracted to learning in communities of practice, and whether there are people who may have some adversary feelings towards being part of communities of practice. If so, it will probably have to do with learning styles and learning preferences. Ruijters and Simons wrote an article in Dutch titled: 'Ook van in het diepe springen kun je leren'. It's a very good article about the lack of language to make choices about appropriate workforms. When does an action-learning trajectory work? When does a community of practice make sense, or when does a training do the trick? I noticed that that there is indeed a lot of confusion about the differences between these (facilitated) forms of learning.

They wrote about the 'learning architecture' which is the combination of implicit and explicit learning in an organisation and all interventions aimed at stimulating learning in organizations.

'Learning' is used in many different ways, to talk about what happens in a classroom, for a training, for the result of a conversation. People learn in different ways, but preferences may change. It would be best to choose for appropriate learning interventions that match learning preferences. They mention 5:

  • Learning by copying

  • Learning by participation

  • Learning by knowledge acquisition (facts)

  • Learning by practising

  • Learning by discovery

When we pay more attention to preferences of learning at individual, team and organizational level, we can improve the effectivity of learning interventions and for instance determine which preferences can be supported by online learning. Learning profiles can be developed for people, or teams. The example is given of a management trainee. He is a fast learner and trainings often irritate him. He dislikes learning by practising. He does not like learning by reading books either, but has high preferences for learning by copying. To support his learning process, he needs challenges and sparring partners, rather than training and coaching.

It is a very useful model. With this model in mind, it is clear to see that people with a preference for learning by copying and learning by participation would thrive in communities of practice. People with a preference for learning by practising in a safe environment may not always feel at home, unless the communities offers opportunities to practise new skills or behaviours. Since communities also have different learning modalities, the model could also be used to analyze learning in a community of practice.

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