Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Learning Goals

In talking with Jay Cross about the recent Learn Trends session and through experience in the #lrnchat, I've come to realize that there are easier personal disconnects for me with informal, social learning experiences and my personal learning goals.

Let me provide some context …

I'm an Infovore (sometimes called an Information Addict). As such, I have to be careful about not oversubscribing or falling prey to the myth of keeping up. I have various techniques that I use as part of my Information Radar where I specifically control the flow and try to improve filtering.

I've worked a bit with Stedman Graham and a phrase he uses really sticks with me:

We all have 24 hours in a day. What makes us different is how we choose to spend it.

When you combine these two thoughts, I am conscious about making smart use of my time (my learning time). I try to make sure that the time I spend is directed towards my personal learning goals. This aligns with the concept of having a To Learn List.

So, going back to the discussion that Jay and I were having around Learn Trends - we seem to have a difference in base philosophy about Learning Goals.

Are we directed in our specific learning goals – I want to learn more about X that will help me solve Y?

Or are we open to learning about just about anything within the overall topic?

I'm sure there's language about this kind of difference in learning styles (?) somewhere. But just so I can refer to it in this post, let's call these:

  • Directed Learning Goals – specific focus
  • Flow Learning Goals – nonspecific, exploratory

Each has it's place an purpose. There's not a right or wrong here. But I believe that it's important to be aware of this from both a learning design, learning style and learning comfort standpoint.

Learning Goals, Expectation and Comfort

Okay, so let me be candid. I generally seek out almost exclusively directed learning goal opportunities. In fact, take a look at my Top Down Strategy. It's a road map for turning almost everything into a directed learning goal. Do you actually have directed learning goals when you are reading the Sunday paper or visiting a museum? For me, it's okay if I don't, but I somewhat am aware of that. Yes, I know that's probably not the healthiest, but I still do read the Sunday paper and I recently spent a lot of time in DC at the wonderful museums.

Now, when you take someone like me who's fairly far on the directed learning goal side of things and you put me into a learning event where it's primarily dialog and aimed at people who have more of a flow learning goal slant, I start to feel uncomfortable.

I find myself trying to translate from the flow learning experience into a directed learning experience. I'm trying to figure out how it relates to my directed learning goals. I become frustrated if I can't connect it back to some of my directed learning goals. The bottom line is somewhat …

That's great, but how am I going to use this?

As long as someone is clear at the start of a learning experience that they plan to let things flow, then I guess I don't have much of a complaint. But …

I will wonder if it was a good use of time, even though I probably will have learned a lot.

Informal Learning and Directed Learning Goals

I believe that this same issue plays out more broadly for learning organizations around informal learning.

In Social Learning Measurement, I discuss various ways we can go about measuring the outcomes from social learning. My general suggestion was that we should be measuring the outcomes (business impacts or intermediate impacts). I generally moved away from talking about measuring specific learning outcomes. And it's going to be hard to deal with things like Online CEU Credits where those are based on time equivalents.

Unlike formal learning, informal learning is generally not going to ensure that specific knowledge will be transferred. Instead, people will learn what they need in order to accomplish the ultimate objectives. We aren't sure what they will learn.

You would think that someone like me, with a strong directed learning goals slant, would be uncomfortable with social learning solutions. Well it really depends.

I rather like it when we can create systems that focus on the real business outcomes (see Data Driven) and allow the mechanisms to be figured out within it. Social learning (informal learning) within the context of directed learning goals feels very comfortable to me.

I think there's something very important here to help make informal learning comfortable to people like me. You are still defining a purpose or direction for the learning. We may not agree on how we will get there or the specific topics or even the form. But we define what we believe we will be able to accomplish as an outcome.

As a specific example, one of the sessions at the Learn Trends April Session, was - "Making informal learning concrete". Jay got me to be a time cop – i.e., keep the conversation moving. I learned something out of the experience. Jay and I should have established what the goals were for the session. I was thinking of concrete as a sidewalk. Jay was thinking of it inside a big truck, still wet and getting continually mixed. I have no idea what people in the session expected – and Jay and I didn't do much to set expectations. We could have likely made the session more comfortable for people with my slant by doing a better job setting a bit of context.

I am very curious to hear thoughts around this. I hope you will comment.

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