Curation of learning

Along with ‘pivotal’, the word ‘curation’ seems to be in vogue.  And it was ‘curation’ that I got curious about this week.  What exactly is ‘the curation of learning’ – a phrase I read in a role description for an L & D expert?  I visualized some type of art gallery or a museum of carefully arranged pieces of learning – a Janet and John book, a recording of a teacher dictating biology notes, an abacus, an extract from an on-line course, and so on.  The curator would invite people to come and look at these or interact with some of them if they offered that possibility.  Does a Museum of Learning exist somewhere?  (Yes – The Museum of Teaching and Learning).

This took me to a mental wander around a gallery in such a museum – what was I learning from it?  I learned that the artefacts are instructional tools or mediums.  They are not ‘learning’.   Learning is an outcome.  It is the development of an individual’s capacity or the development of a collective capacity if we believe in ‘learning organizations’.

Remember Chris Argyris’ work on single and double loop learning?  That came up this week too.  I was reading a piece that argued that the way we have developed leaders is entirely wrong for now.  The author, Nick Petrie, said that ‘the incremental improvements that we were making in [development] programs were what Chris Argyris would call “single loop” learning (adjustments to the existing techniques), rather than “double loop” learning (changes to the assumptions and thinking upon which the programs were built).’

This point of view was reinforced by an article by Linda Gratton, who says management is getting much more complex and includes and that we need very different management development.  Managers must learn, ‘managing virtually rather than face to face; managing when the group is diverse rather than homogenous; and managing when the crucial knowledge flows are across groups rather than within.’ Capabilities she says are required for this are how to build rapid trust, coach, empathize, and inspire.  She also sees managers learning new practices – team formation, objective setting, and conflict resolution.’

Other articles I read make similar points.  Summarised, they agree we need ‘new pedagogical models and approaches’ in order to develop new capabilities as a response to digitalization – ‘defined as the diffusion and assimilation of digital technologies into all aspects of daily life – [that] is transforming industries in general and learning and development in particular.’

What this new pedagogical model looks like is less clear but seems to involve a shift from instructional design (per the exhibits in my museum of learning and single loop learning) to ‘learning experience design’ which to me implies double loop learning.  In learning experience design ‘professional development goes from being an aggregation of distinct activities, to becoming a continuous journey guided by data-driven insights.’  This seems plausible but what does it mean in practice?  And does it help with my trying to work out what the ‘curation of learning’ is?

Digitalization gives a different perspective on the word ‘curation’.  And here is where ‘learning curation’ becomes meaningful.)  And, as I quickly found out it’s big business and there’s masses of activity around digital curation of learning.

In fact, I can’t think how I missed it, but on the other hand, given the various definitions of it, I can now label myself a curator of organization design learning.  Given that ‘the three key things a good curator does: filter content, add value and provide a place to access her collections’.

For a good introduction to content curation look at Robin Good’s page.

What digital curation does is a create a personalised selection of learning stuff.  It’s chosen by you, or a learning ‘provider’ if you’re trying to teach people something, or I guess by AI that chooses for you by examining your digital trail.   (See Harold Jarche’s blog on this).

Are we near the point now that If we want to go really digital on this we could have our digital assistants help us.  How would it be if they were the curators of our learning (at least in the digital media) – providing us with real time data on what we are paying attention to and re-directing or reinforcing us to help us learn in a double loop way.

However you get your feed how will you know that it right for you and meets the need?

One way is to develop our thinking skills and on this, I recommend Stephen Brookfield’s work.  He describes four critical thinking processes, all of which could lead to learning, or identifying what we need to learn from any situation we are in, and also judging the quality and value of anything we are ‘fed’.

  • Contextual awareness and deciding what to observe and consider. This includes an awareness of what’s happening in the context of the situation, including values, cultural issues, and environmental influences.
  • Exploring and imagining alternatives. This involves thinking about and imagining other ways of looking at the situation, not just the first thing that comes to your mind. It involves exploring as many alternatives as you can think of for the given situation.
  • Assumption recognition and analysis. This involves analysing assumptions you are making about the situation as well as examining the beliefs that underlie your choices.
  • Reflective scepticism/deciding what to do. This critical thinking approach involves questioning, analysing, and reflecting on the rational for decisions.

(See also, Robert Kegan’s 5 orders of adult development).

What’s your view of curation of learning, digital or otherwise?  Let me know.

What should future leaders be learning?

I had a conversation the other day with someone who asked ‘What should our management trainees be learning now, to equip and prepare them for leading 10 years out?’ He thought that if, 10 years ago, we’d been able to predict and teach them about design thinking, systems thinking, working with augmented/artificial intelligence, robots in the workplace, behavioural science, the ethics of technology – then they would be better able to manage the leadership roles they are now in.

It’s a good question, and one, I feel, is very hard to answer as what will be useful now in terms of leading ten years from now involves crystal ball gazing and futurology which do not always yield good yardsticks, as the Lyapunov exponent that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, demonstrates.

But just to test this, I took a look at what The Economist was predicting for 2007.  They asked the question: What will be on the leader’s agenda?  Their answer: climate change, managing shifts in global power, ‘responding to a sense that, in crucial areas, progress that until recently had been taken for granted has stopped or even gone into reverse’, the internet’s transformation of business, the growing connectedness of people, and new tools to search for things.

Their predictions for 2017, ten years later, are very similar, but more pronounced: authoritarians will be ascendant, far-right parties will surge, ‘European politics will be dominated by scaremongering’, more terrorist attacks, financial shocks, and ‘Brexit negotiations will be slow, complicated and cantankerous’.  However, on the more optimistic side, ‘Technology is forging global connections whatever the backlash against migration or trade’

The Economist closes its 2017 predictions with a question: ‘The question is not whether the world will turn back towards openness, but how soon—and how much damage will be done in the meantime.’

What does this mean for future leaders? Should they be preparing for more of the same reversal of progress over the coming ten years, or for a growing return to open-ness?   As we talked this over we asked, what would give them ‘grip’ or enable them to get a grip on, a situation of either further closure and/or more open-ness, and manage it effectively?

Looking at the predictions for 2007 and 2017, it seems to me that rather than develop knowledge of  specific domain content, in order to be able to ‘get a grip’ management trainees should be developing timeless skills useful for pretty much any situation –practicing these through various methods, including scenarios, case studies, action learning, gaming and provocation sessions.

Four timeless skills I think would stand future leaders in good stead, gathered not from rigorous academic research, but from  my organizational experiences over many years, are: diplomacy, kindness, critical thinking, and curiosity.

Diplomacy:  ‘the art of advancing an idea or cause without unnecessarily inflaming passions or unleashing a catastrophe.  It involves an understanding of the many facets of human nature that can undermine agreement and stoke conflict, and a commitment to unpicking these with foresight and grace’.

Kindness  ‘the life lived in instinctive sympathetic identification with the vulnerabilities and attractions of others’ — is the life we are more inclined to live, and indeed is the one we are often living without letting ourselves know that this is what we are doing. … In one sense kindness is always hazardous because it is based on a susceptibility to others, a capacity to identify with their pleasures and sufferings. Putting oneself in someone else’s shoes, as the saying goes, can be very uncomfortable. But if the pleasures of kindness — like all the greatest human pleasures — are inherently perilous, they are nonetheless some of the most satisfying we possess.   (See a lovely poem on Kindness here).

Critical thinking: ‘that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.’

Curiosity:   the a strong desire to know or learn; having an interest in a person, thing, or experience that leads to making an inquiry.  ‘Being curious can manifest itself in the activity of asking questions, but it can also be a position from which one approaches life.  It keeps us learning, helps in decision making and can be useful in navigating arguments or confrontations. Todd Kashdan, author of Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, believes that it is from our openness – and not our closedness – that we are able to develop ourselves and others.

How safe do you think it is to predict what leaders will be dealing with in the future – would we be better helping them develop timeless skills (which?) rather than specific domain knowledge?  Let me know.

Image: Reggio Emilia approach