I’ve been an autodidact all my life. My learning programs have had little to do with what I was fed in school or in the approved training programs of the various places I’ve worked. In fact, when I was with the Department of Indian Affairs, I tried to initiate a new learning program to foster leadership. I advocated giving every employee their $800 a year training allotment and allowing them to spend it on whatever learning program they wanted. If employees chose to take the government sanctioned filing training, that’s fine. If people wanted to spend the money on a 13 week cabinet making course, no problem. As long as the money was spoent on a learning program, it was fair game.
Naturally, you can imagine that the powers that be in the federal government were a little nervous about the notion of public servants spending taxpayer’s dollars on cabinet making classes, but my point was a bigger one. It is in learning about something we are passionate for that we develop the capacity to make connections to the world of work. We become better thinkers when we can connect the experience of learning to the rest of our lives. Despite the fact that the Government of Canada has a pretty good management development centre, it’s a tragedy that the vast majority of career public servants to go through life with the the only learning taking place in labs where they study contract management or learn how to write replies to letters sent to their Ministers. In that respect, I think that we are not serving our public servants, or those that work in our corporations, within our society. Connect learning to real passion and you have employees who suddenly discover that there is something that they care about. Triggering that reaction leads to them finding other ways to bring an autodidactic approach to the workplace.
And this is the time for that. We are living in an era that I fantatsized about 25 years ago when I first saw the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Even as a 10 year old boy I knew right away that the Hitchhiker’s Guide was the thing I wanted. A little handheld device that contained all of the knowledge known about the galaxy. Twenty five years later, I’m hooked up on the web to a fat pipe, I can carry a PDA and learn just about anything i want to. I can even take a course at MIT.
All of this is to illustrate that we live in an era where networks can serve autodidacts beautifully. Not just data networks either, but social networks, communities of practice and learning exchanges. We suddenly have the capacity, each one of us, to live in a world of rapid change, adjusting our learning styles to suit the needs of our lives:
Change is racing along so fast that the old learn-in-advance methods are no longer sufficient. While network infrastructure is evolving exponentially, we humans have been poking along. Because of the slow pace of evolution, most human wetware is running obsolete code or struggling with a beta edition. Weï¿½ve got to reinvent ourselves and get back on the fast track.In a world where we donï¿½t know whatï¿½s coming next, what constitutes good learning? Weï¿½re in whitewater now, and smooth-water sailing rules no longer apply. In whitewater, successful learning means moving the boat downstream without being dumped, preferably with style. In life, successful learning means prospering with people and in networks that matter, preferably enjoying the relationships and knowledge.
Learning is that which enables you to participate successfully in life, at work and in the groups that matter to you. Learners go with the flow. Taking advantage of the double meaning of ï¿½network,ï¿½ to learn is to optimize oneï¿½s networks.
The concept that learning is making good connections frees us to think about learning without the chimera of boring classrooms, irrelevant content and ineffective schooling. Instead, the network model lets us take a dispassionate look at our systems while examining nodes and connections, seeking interoperability, boosting the signal-to-noise ratio, building robust topologies, balancing the load and focusing on process improvement.
Does looking at learning as networking take humans out of the picture? Quite the opposite.
Most learning is informal; a network approach makes it easier, more productive and more memorable to meet, share and collaborate. Emotional intelligence promotes interoperability with others. Expert locators connect you to the person with the right answer. Imagine focusing the hive mind that emerges in massive multiplayer games on business. Smart systems will prescribe the apt way to demonstrate a procedure, help make a decision or provide a service, or transform an individualï¿½s self-image. Networks will serve us instead of the other way around.
It’s a tragedy that we still rely on classrooms full of bureaucrats doing paperwork as the paragon of corporate learning.