I was given two opportunities recently to facilitate sessions focused on the design of learning environments. At KMWorld I lead a small workshop learning experiences on the design of learning systems. A few weeks later I lead a professional development session for an industry analysis start-up. Although the client industries varied greatly, from aerospace to pharmaceuticals to industry analysis, the process yielded some common lessons learned.
Here is the premise: managers, and the businesses they work for, spend little time designing work experiences like on-boarding, meetings, learning, innovation, expense reporting or the annual review process. This doesn’t imply that thought doesn’t go into these experiences, but that thinking of these processes as experiences that require design is uncommon. In most cases, output trumps outcome. Most organizations need to move from the perception of work as ripples in a general flow to creating a context of discrete experiences that can be designed to achieve the mutual aims of the individual and the organization..
A question of balance
To begin, I asked participants to explore what experience they balance for in their current approach to learning: the concepts, tasks, chores, expectations and other elements that nudge and tug as one is trying to, in this case, learn. It was very interesting that the two groups took a very different approaches to answering this question. The workshop group adopted a very strategic view. They looked at the goals of the organization that could be considered co-equal to learning. These included:
The organization’s mission
Improving efficiency, increasing speed and eliminating duplication
Knowledge transfer and knowledge retention
Transparency of status and process
In contrast, the analyst’s lists presumed learning and looked at the obstacles to knowledge transfer. In other words, they believed learning took place all the time, but they had to account for conflicting demands on their time that often precluded the codification and exchange of knowledge. Here is their list:
What is clear from both lists is that learning, although perhaps assumed by the analysts, was not explicitly designed into their work experience. Even where knowledge management investments existed, the design was much more industrial than holistic. Both teams focused on specific knowledge transfer deemed critical to the business at the tactical level, not on knowledge transfer for individual improvement, to capacity building, except where the tactical and the strategic might serve each other.