Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, March 27, 2009

Learning Flexibility: Why Adaptation Is A Key Resource In New Education Paradigms

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New education paradigms suggest you get rid of all pre-packaged, fixed approaches in learning, and develop your skills to adapt to as many different needs and situations as possible. Learning to be flexible has indeed become a key resource.

Photo credit: Aleksandr Ugorenkov

"[...] give up the idea that competence must exist within the person and expand our view that whenever possible it should be built into the situation - Gloria Gery"

Back in 2004, Jay Cross already championed a different learning approach. He observed that while in the old days you just had to play a fixed role and follow a precise path, in 21th Century you "perform without a script. Everything's impromptu".

That's what you need to realize. Your skills, what you need to do, is not to specialize in something, and follow the same modus operandi for the rest of your life. The real competence you want to learn is instead to harmonize yourself with different contexts, just as a fluid adapts its shape to the container it's poured.


Improv Education

by Jay Cross


All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts.

William Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

The first wave of e-learning brochures invariably touted the benefits of focusing on the learner. Schools and classes had always been organized for the convenience of the faculty-one size fits all. In the e-era, learners received personalized instruction - just what they needed, just when they needed it. It was "learner-centric." But there's a problem with this approach.

Walk into the sales department, the warehouse, the call center or the executive suite, talk with the people there, and you know what you'll discover? The members of the organization are known as "workers." They are blue-collar workers, knowledge workers, hourly workers, commission-only workers and contractors doing work-for-hire. Nobody calls them "learners."


Old Education Paradigm: Play a Fixed Role


The rhetoric about learners lulled us into thinking that the job was to prepare individual learners. In the real world, superior performance more often results from the efforts of coordinated teams of workers who work well with customers.

As Abraham Maslow famously said, "Give a kid a hammer, and every problem looks like a nail." In our case, it's, "Call them learners instead of workers, and every solution looks like blended learning."

Executives don't see it this way at all. Have you ever read a proposal for a major project that didn't list executive support as a prerequisite to success? Want to know what will grab the attention of any executive? Execution. Getting the job done. Performance.

Now, to the confusion of executives and CLOs alike, the very nature of performance is changing.

In the old days, corporations hired people to play roles. Job descriptions contained stage directions. Training taught workers their lines. The costume was a blue blazer, or perhaps a gray flannel suit. The cast was composed of repertory actors, performing the same show with the same colleagues, one performance after another.

An actor often stayed with the same show for an entire career, receiving a gold watch and a pension following the final curtain call. Those days are long gone.


New Education Paradigm: Adapt Your Competences


Today's workers perform without a script. Everything's impromptu. Stage cues come from the audience in real time. Costumes? The dress code may be pajamas if you work from home. Rewards go to innovators who deviate from the expected. Success is measured by the take at the box office instead of seniority or past performances.

Training was appropriate when actors memorized their lines. Today, it's OK to read from cue cards - you can't know everything. Good props help make a show great. As Gloria Gery pointed out long ago, it's time to

"give up the idea that competence must exist within the person and expand our view that whenever possible it should be built into the situation."

Instructional design purists say, "Information is not instruction." So what? If information helps me become a better performer, just tell me. Don't insist that I take an entire course. If I can add more value with a better connection to the 'Net, a subscription to a reference service or a direct line to the local expert, then give it to me. Give me a way to do my job better - I don't care whether or not you call it instruction.


The Improv Example


The Improv home page reports that the most popular form of improv today

"is 'spot' improv, in which performers get suggestions from their audience and use them to create short, entertaining scenes. No matter where or how it's performed, the essential ingredient in any improvisational performance is that the audience and the actors are working together to create theatre."

When workers are actors, and customers the audience, CLOs must be more than drama coaches. They must prepare cast members to be agile, spontaneous and innovative. They must coax the audience into playing its part. CLOs must focus on optimizing the process of workers and customers performing together.

The play's the thing. The show must go on. After all, life is not a dress rehearsal.

Originally written by Jay Cross and first published on Chief Learning Officer Magazine on September 1, 2004 as "Improv Education".

About the author


Jay Cross is a champion of informal learning, Web 2.0, and systems thinking. He served as CEO of eLearning Forum for its first five years and has keynoted major conferences in the U.S. and Europe. He is the author of Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways that Inspire Innovation and Performance. Jay Cross currently helps teams apply informal / Web 2.0 learning approaches to foster collaboration and accelerate performance. He is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School.

Photo credits:
Old Education Paradigm: Play a Fixed Role - PaweĊ‚ Pacholec
New Education Paradigm: Adapt Your Competences - Dmitry Bairachnyi

Jay Cross -
Reference: Chief Learning Officer [ Read more ]
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posted by Daniele Bazzano on Friday, March 27 2009, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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