Education, training and learning is about achieving a specific intended end goal for a group of learners; and having the learners attain the learning outcomes of a particular discipline (Bowe et al 1992).
At the core of education, training and learning lays the education philosophy of the institution, which is then embedded within the curriculum – embedded within the design of the curriculum. Once the curriculum is designed, then the teaching program can be developed, and then the individual lesson plans can be drafted.
Designing the curriculum is the starting point of any effective student learning experience. The program should then effectively enable the educator to facilitate positive and effective learning experiences. In contrast I would extend this to say, in my experience, that for every poor student learning experience, irrespective of the situation, there is an ineffective curriculum design. Further, in these situations I have experienced usually has a lack of developed or appropriate educational philosophy for the institution. This core reason for the organisation being lays within the executive leadership of the education institution. It would be of major concern to the organisation or institution and its future prosperity, if such an educational philosophy was either inappropriate, lacking or at worst, non-existent.
Educational Approaches and Learning Theories
To enter into the world of education and training, it is often challenging for an aspiring educator to become familiar with the scientific disciplines and the extensive list of learning theories. Millwood (2013) in his project Holistic Approach to Technology Enhanced Learning (HoTEL) outlines twenty five (25) differing learning theories (red colour boxes) commonly referred to in the filed of education and educational practice. It is an exhaustive summary of contemporary educational practice – an excellent summary for aspiring or developing educational practitioners. Listed are twenty-two (22) learning paradigms (blue colour boxes) across 9 scientific disciplines (bone colour boxes), and ten (10) key concepts (green colour boxes).
Figure I Millwood’s Learning Theories ‘HoTEL’ (2013)
As the chart visually highlights, there are many different approaches, all potentially useful depending upon the context, the educator or facilitator and the desired outcomes, and the learners. It would be foolish, and I believe the voice of inexperience for anyone to suggest one discipline and learning paradigm as being superior to another. They are different, and have developed as a result of different needs in different situations with different practitioners for different learners.
I have been fortunate in my educational practice career to have taught across different eras, in different environments and situations, for different desired outcomes, and to vastly different sets of learners. I have therefore had the privilege to develop a diverse range of educational practice, across many different learning theories. Whilst I have written about a number of these previously (see education and learning blogs), the particular learning paradigm I want to focus on in this blog is based on the learning paradigm of organisational learning (lower left area of Millwood’s chart).
Generic organisational learning has occurred throughout history, but perhaps most significantly since the industrial era with industrial-based companies trying to maximise their production economies of scale. A more recent significant contributor was US-born Edwards Denning’s systemic management approach, embraced by post-war Japan in the hope that such a process could assist them in their goal to rebuild their country and recover economically (Walton 1988). The underlying principle of Denning’s approach was one of constant improvement within an organisation. All staff were encouraged to provide their particular insight into the organisation’s operations; to make suggestions for change to any aspect of the organisation that they believed could be improved to make the organisation’s products and services more efficient and effective (Walton 1988,55). Each of the suggestions were then considered on their merits, with line management selecting those suggestions that could have most significant or immediate benefit to the product or service process. Many innovations occurred during this time in their production systems, providing Japan’s industry with efficiencies across all levels of organisations that had not yet been considered in US production facilities at that time (Walton 1988,18). [The irony of this is that a number of US corporations had originally rejected Denning’s systemic management approach prior to him turning to Japan as a potential adopter].
The organisational learning theme continued throughout the 20th Century with systemic management approaches of one form or another being adopted and implemented in most first world countries’ medium to large organisations. As organisations developed to become far more sophisticated, research of organisational learning developed into more discrete areas of organisations including how information flows, is processed and knowledge created. Nonaka et al proposed analysis of such organisations “in terms of its design and capability to process information …… constitutes an important approach to interpreting certain aspects of organisational activities” (1994, 338). Nonaka and Takeuchi continue the organisational learning theme examining how an organisation creates, maintains and exploits knowledge within that organisation”(2000, 5) .
In this era of organisational learning and development, the motivation is quite different. This time there was not the urgency to rebuild the nation’s economy post-war, but equally important from a corporate management point of view. To create organisational efficiencies, to continue to compete globally against market competitors within the constantly changing global economy (Hersey 2008).
As we entered the 21st Century, Senge (2006) offered a developed modern take on organisation learning in what he referred to as a learning organisations. That is, organisations that structurally and culturally developed, organically, beyond what the everyday management was directing the staff to do. Senge’s model was to create a dynamic cultural organism, that could develop, innovate and adapt as environmental circumstances changed. The environmental circumstances could include either global events, government policy, industry developments, or social or cultural trends (ie: the actual or potential clients). The key assets of a learning organisations were highlighted as: culture, physical, systems/processes, human capital, and leadership. Such a view contrasts to a more conservative corporate view.
Senge’s Learning Organisations carry forth the tradition of the Denning Management Method core of constant and never-ending improvement, something that has become synonymous with the developing economies in Asia, commencing with the Japanese rebuild post-war. Such an approach accepts that learning in never complete; that advantage is never won, and that humans should never cease to innovate. As a necessity, humans need to continue to develop themselves, in order to continue to challenge themselves, in order to continue in the space and attitude of innovation.
Senge outlines learning organisations are those that include a culture where: information is shared; learning is emphasised and valued; where mistakes or failures are encouraged for what they are (ie: a learning experience, and therefore they are not punished); where people are not only encouraged, but expected to constantly learn.
The objective is similar to previous innovative organisational approaches, to maximise the sustainability of the organisation. However, this approach acknowledges the importance of maintaining highly engaged members of staff that can then maximise the innovation within the organisation of its products and services, and its engagement with society. Senge lists five disciplines that are vital dimensions in building organisations that can truly “learn, that can continually enhance their capacity to realise their highest aspirations” (2006, 6):
systems thinking – understanding that business and human endeavours are systems, intertwined by interrelated events
personal mastery – a special level of proficiency. “Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively” (Senge 2006, 7)
mental models – ingrained assumptions, generalisations, images of the world. Our beliefs and cultural paradigms.
building shared vision; is there an owned joint vision of the organisation?
team learning – is the collective IQ of the organisation greater than the sum of the individuals?
Finally, another primary value of a learning organisation is benchmarking. Benchmarking is the practice of referencing one’s practice against another’s practice within a similar field or discipline in order to gain greater understanding or advantage for development and improvement of the practice over what they are currently achieving (Hersey 2008). Benchmarking is best practice and is an accepted management approach to attain success, whether as an organisation (eg: banking), or as an individual (eg: sportsperson or artist)
My Practice as a Learning Organisation
My approach to my practice – irrespective of whether it is my practice as an educator, mentor, musician or engineer – share many of the same characteristics Senge outlines. As previously mentioned (see blog), I have practiced across a range of countries, industries and organisations.
I am very self-reliant practitioner, with my over riding philosophical stance embracing the 10,000 hours trades philosophy of skilled craftworkers (Ericsson et al 1993). In both myself and others, I value and believe in the merit of the the development of a skill, a trade, a craft, or art – for that practitioner developing specialist knowledge and tools over many thousand’s of hours of practice, to ultimately express one self through the development of a uniquely personalised quality end product. I accept at last that this is integral to how I conduct my self in my practice and life.
I consider my practices are dynamic cultural organisms, that develop, innovate and adapt as environmental circumstances change. The environmental circumstances have been known to include global events, government decisions, industry or company policy, industry developments, social or cultural trends, and the customers/clients I am engaging with. The site may change, but my approach within the organisation or to the client does not.
The key assets of my practice are: culture (I have developed an organisational culture ethos document), physical (my nominated physical sites of practice), systems/processes (my diverse range of processes across all of my practices), human capital (the sum total of my self – my experience, my education and training received, my life and skills development), and leadership (my self as a leader – along with my core traits and approach).
My practice consciously carries forth the tradition of the Denning Management Method core of constant and never-ending improvement. Such an approach accepts that my learning in never complete; any advantage is never won, and that I as a human should never cease to innovate. As a necessity, I am of the belief that I want to continue to develop my self, in order to continue to challenge my self, in order to continue in the space and attitude of innovation.
My practice includes a culture where: information is shared amongst my practice colleagues; learning is emphasised and valued; learning experience is valued, and therefore mistakes or failures are not seen as negative events); where I encourage my self on a daily basis, but more so, accept that I am in this space as a human, to constantly learn.
My objective for my practice is to maximise the sustainability of the practice. I acknowledge the importance of maintaining my self as a highly engaged practitioner, in order to maximise the innovation within the practice of its products and services, and its engagement with my practitioner network.
Senge’s list of five disciplines (2006, 6) are all present within my practice:
systems thinking – I understand the systems of my practice, intertwined by interrelated events;
personal mastery – I constantly aim for an ever deepening level of proficiency;
mental models – I am clear as to what is, and understand my ingrained assumptions, generalisations, images of the world, my beliefs and cultural paradigms;
building shared vision – I possess a singular vision of my practice;
team learning – I believe that the collective IQ of the practice is greater than the sum of the individuals of my practice
The remaining primary value of my practice is benchmarking. Benchmarking is my practice of referencing my practice against another’s practice within the similar fields and disciplines of my practice to gain greater understanding or advantage for development and improvement of my practice over what I am currently achieving (Hersey 2008). I accept benchmarking is best practice for a practitioner.
My life philosophy is one of constant and never-ending improvement. It has been consciously so for over the past decade. Irrespective of what field or discipline I am operating within, I focus every day at some time, reflecting upon some aspect of my diverse practice referenced against other practitioners, whether peers or those who I value their cultural production, attempting to gain clarity, greater understanding, increased insight, considering possible alternative workflows I could have pursued, and decide what form of practice I will pursue the next opportunity a similar circumstance arises.
My educational practice, how I engage within the site, and with my learners, and in fact how I approach all aspects of my life – my practice, and my self – is within a Learning Organisation paradigm. I have arrived here because of my diverse and broad experience. Similarly, I would encourage all practitioners to embrace new learning paradigms to develop their educational practice to broaden their knowledge and experience. Pursue different environments and situations, different desired outcomes, and to vastly different sets of learners. If you do, I believe you too will have the privilege to develop a diverse range of educational practice, across many different learning theories. As education and training is about achieving a specific intended end goal for a group of learners; and having the learners attain the learning outcomes of a particular discipline (Bowe et al 1992), the broader one’s experience as a practitioner, the more effective one will be at designing a curriculum, a program and a lesson plan for effective student learning experience; and the better your will be a both an educator and a facilitator.
Senge, Peter M. 2006. The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organisation. 2nd ed, Business Books. London: Random House.
Senge, Peter M, A Kleiner, Charlotte Roberts, Richard Ross, George Roth and Bryan Smith. 1999. The dance of change: the challenges to sustaining momentum in a learning organization. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Senge, Peter M, Charlotte Roberts, Richard B Ross, Bryan J Smith and A Kleiner. 1994. The fifth discipline fieldbook: strategies and tools for building a learning organization. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Skills image courtesy of: Skills Accessed 18th August 2013