Category Archives: Meta-Learning

Learning is a lot more than schooling

Quickly, now, “What word or words pop into your head if I say Learning?”

This was the barrier that kept me from starting the Real Learning Revolution a few nights back. The L-word. Schools brainwashed us so thoroughly that everyone’s immediate association is learning = schooling.

That’s got to stop, for schooling is an increasingly obsolete exercise in rote learning and the world is getting way too complicated to rely on schools and school models (think instructors, courses, schedules, tests, lectures) as the pinnacle learning.

 

Pssst!: Grades are meaningless outside of the schooling framework. You grubbed for grades, maybe took chances cheating, stayed up half the night, and heavens knows what else in high school and college. Yet grades are totally irrelevant in real life. C students are no happier or wealthier or successful than A students or F students. Can you imagine any other human enterprise getting away with such a bogus measurement system?

Most of us have a sinking feeling when we hear the word “schooling.” In our guts, we know there are better, less demeaning, more personalized ways to learn things.

Even smart people have blinders on. Everybody agrees that learning is important. That’s one of the mantras. But it’s sort of like school… Didn’t work that well. Was coercive, too. Most courses are Fascist. And they turn people off to the most important variable in their lives: their ability to learn, adapt, improve, and prosper.

There’s good learning and there’s poor learning. A lot of school involves poor learning. Obsolete requirements. Antique pedagogy. Would that the world were populated with Montesoris.

How can we break through the stereotype of schooling so we may recognize social, informal, experiential learning for the powerhouse it is.?

I’ve tried writing about performance improvement without the L-word and it was tedious.

Meta-Learning, 2001

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2001

Everyone has the capacity to learn but most people can do a much better job of it. Learning is a skill one can improve. Learning how to learn is a key to its mastery.

Learning is the primary determinant of personal and professional success in our ever-changing knowledge age. People and organizations that strive to succeed had better get good at it. Our goal is to help them.

Meta-Learning

Clark Quinn mentioned The Meta-Learning Lab during #lrnchat today and it brought back a rush of memories. 14 years ago, Clark and I, along with Claudia Welss and Claudia L’Amoreaux, founded the Meta-Learning Lab.  We were ahead of our time.

Our foundation beliefs were that…

  • Everyone has the capacity to learn but most people can do a much better job of it. Learning is a skill one can improve. Learning how to learn is a key to its mastery.
  • Learning is the primary determinant of personal and professional success in our ever-changing knowledge age. People and organizations that strive to succeed had better get good at it. Our goal is to help them.
  •  

    These foundations help me understand what’s going on to this day:

    “The best learning happens in real life with real problems and real people and not in classrooms.” Charles Handy

    “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”H.G. Wells

    “The world we have made as a result of the level of the thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level (of consciousness) at which we have created them. . .We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humankind is to survive.”Albert Einstein

    “Never underestimate the power of a small but committed group of people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

    “We learn by conversing with ourselves, with others, and with the world around us.”Laurie Thomas & Sheila Harrie-Augstein

    “It is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover.”Poincaré

    My metaphor for Meta-Learning was “going up to the balcony” to observe what was taking place below. (I’d just returned from a trip to Guatemala where I looked down from the colonial style plaza at the teeming crowd below and realized I was watching a tableau of learning in action.)

    What I witnessed remains an essential part of my thinking about how learning takes place.

    balcon
    From the Meta-Learning Lab site: Learning is so integral to human nature that it’s often overlooked. We have to rise above the day-to-day to recognize its presence.
    balcon2

    Walk with me up the stairs to the balcony.

    Rise above everyday rules, conventions, and sacred cows. Let’s find a vantage point that enables us to see what’s really going on.

    Look at the people in the plaza below. We see elaborate social exchanges where roles and status and self-image come into play. Some learning is planned; other learning just happens. Some learners are active, others merely receptive. Some are gaining information, others pick up new skills, and yet others are developing something deeper, beliefs. Teachers learn. Learners teach.

    The activity on the plaza stimulates some but distracts others. Some are adept at learning, others not. From a distance, we see patterns. We are looking at meta-learning.


    It’s humbling to realize that I am still on the same quest 14 years later. The Aha! Project is built on the same principles, the touchstones Clark, the two Claudias, and I came up with at my house in Berkeley at the turn of the century.

Falling behind

fastenough

72% of eighteen Fortune 100 CLOs told me their people are not growing fast enough to keep up with the needs of the business. 

Granted, it’s impossible to predict the future needs of the business in this volatile world, it’s still troubling that most big-company CLOs don’t feel what they’re doing is adequate to prepare the workforce for the future. That’s the job, right?

If what you’re doing isn’t working, you need to do something else. Internet Time Alliance advises CLOs to shift learning out of the classroom and into the workplace, embrace pull learning, get managers on board, focus on business performance, and support continuous learning. It’s more than informal or social learning. I call the package Enterprise Learning.

Faced with the enormity of shifting the organization’s culture to pull, social, sharing, open, beta, fault-tolerant, collaborative, and reflective, many CLOs are dabbling with change rather than taking it on whole hog.

This reminds me of two stories.

Intel’s Craig Barrett said “We’re racing along the highway at 150 MPH and we know there’s a brick wall up ahead but we don’t know where.”

Napoleon told his generals to plant trees bordering each major road out of France to provide shade for marching troops. “But Emperor, it will take decades for the trees to grow to maturity.” Napoleon’s reply: “Better start today.”

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Be a humanist

An intimate group of Fortune 50 CLOs invited me to talk with them about how to make the most of informal learning. Jane, Charles, Clark, Harold and I chatted at length. We came up with twenty-four suggestions which I’ll soon walk the CLOs through.

One piece of advice stood out for me as the crux of it all.

bumanist

That’s my personal view. I haven’t asked my The Internet Time Alliance buddies.

The Tale of Two Cultures

clo_articleThis column appears in the current issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine.

In 1959, British scientist/novelist C.P. Snow wrote an essay describing the “two cultures,  whose thesis was that ‘the intellectual life of the whole of western society’ was split into two cultures — namely the sciences and the humanities — and that this was a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems. Snow contended that scientists did not understand the humanities and humanists did not understand science. As the world grew more complex, the two groups grew further apart.” (Wikipedia)

Half a century later, the world grows more complex everyday and the two cultures have grow further apart. It’s worth a revisit because the growing divide will shake the training industry to its roots. I am going to use the concept to describe two different sorts of knowledge and the different way we learn them. #1 is intuitive knowledge and #2 is logical knowledge. They are different as night and day.

Intuitive knowledge 

Intuitive knowledge is what Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman describes in Thinking Fast and Slow as System 1. It’s the province of the emotional brain. Intuitive knowledge works with patterns; it knows no words. In other words, it is tacit. Since the emotional brain is much older and works faster than the logical brain, intuitive knowledge is the first to come to mind; the rational brain uses logic to weigh whether or not an intuitive response is valid or must be tempered. Intuitive knowledge is also known as muscle memory.

Intuitive knowledge is complex and hence unpredictable, inductive, volatile, and emergent. It’s the realm of imagination. It deals with people’s interpretations. It lives in the minds of the people who pull it together.

Examples of intuitive knowledge: how to dance and to sell. Training departments can’t do much with the increasingly important Intuitive skills. Intuitive things are learned by doing: experientially. People “get” the skills of dealing with complexity: critical thinking, prioritizing, working with people, design thinking, and so forth — by doing them.

“I do things I do not know how to do in order to learn how to do them.” Picasso

Experience can be supplemented with stories (someone else’s experience), simulations (fake experience), trial and error (the school of hard knocks), and mimicry (copied experience).

Rational knowledge

Rational knowledge is the opposite of Intuitive knowledge. It’s the province of the rational brain. It works with logic. It is explicit and can be explained with words.

Rational knowledge is straightforward (or complicated, which is several simples mushed together.) It’s Newtonian clockwork, an equal and opposite reaction for every action. It is formulaic, yes or no, and reductionist. It deals with facts. It’s true no matter who is looking. Training departments help people learn the Rational. Workshops, programmed instruction, and Kahn Academy can teach Rational Knowledge. Example of rational knowledge: programming PERL, the states and their capitals, multiplication.

The Explicit and the Tacit

As the world becomes more complex, people need to rely more on the interpretive power of Intuitive knowledge. So what does this have to do with a CLO? (The editor here gets on my case if I don’t relate topics to the needs of chief learning officers.) Well, here’s the punch line: people learn Rational knowledge and absorb Intuitive knowledge by different means.

The basic difference is that you get to know Rational Knowledge. Intuitive Knowledge, on the other hand, transforms your identity. For example, I can know a lot about plumbing but until I have Intuitive Knowledge, I can’t call myself a plumber. It’s learning to know vs. learning to be.

While different parts of the brain deal with Intuitive and Rational knowledge, these are not the old (and discredited) left/right brain theories. This is more about the conscious and subconscious minds.

Dave Snowden, a oracular figure in interpreting complexity for business ends, says the greatest danger is confusing a complex situation for a merely complicated one.

If you are concerned only with helping people learn rational knowledge, you’re abandoning a vital facet of learning. Facts are impotent until coupled with feelings. Feelings without facts are mute. A successful learning organization is bi-cultural; it melds the intuitive with the rational

Bi-culturalism melds two originally distinct cultures into a holistic co-existence.

Ask yourself: is your learning  bi-cultural?

Unlearning

Half a dozen years of journals and notebooks are migrating from my shelves to recycling. I need the space — and I don’t have much use for yesterday’s thinking.

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I had to save a few memorable entries. Here’s The Great Divide (from the age of material to the age of relationships).

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How people learn…
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Basics of working smarter…
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Synopsis of The Halo Effect
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I thumbed through the journals as I took them from the shelves. As I dropped each volume into the stack, I tried to let go of its ideas. I want to make room for the next wave or thoughts worth jotting down.

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Remembering

brainRemembering is vital. In fact, remembering is as important as learning itself.

There’s no point in learning something if you forget it before you can put it to use. Yet research finds that people forget the majority of what they learn in workshops and classrooms. Typically, only 15% of what’s covered in a workshop ever shows up on the job!

Many L&D departments act as if their work is over once the learner walks out the door. I hold them accountable to the point that performance changes.

Here’s 37 minutes on remembering. Luckily, you can fast-forward over the parts that don’t interest you.

This is an excerpt from a webinar I presented on behalf of Raptivity on April 30, 2013.

Slides

The Tale of Two Cultures

Effectiveness, Chief Learning Officer magazine, June 2013. This is the article as submitted; the printed version may vary.

Most columnists in CLO magazine advocate something they’re sure of. This column is different: it’s about an issue I’m not at all sure of but I think it important and would enjoy getting your opinion.  

In 1959, British scientist/novelist C.P. Snow wrote an essay describing the “two cultures,  whose thesis was that ‘the intellectual life of the whole of western society’ was split into two cultures — namely the sciences and the humanities — and that this was a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems. Snow contended that scientists did not understand the humanities and humanists did not understand science. As the world grew more complex, the two groups grew further apart.” (Wikipedia)

Half a century later, the world grows more complex everyday and the two cultures have grow further apart. It’s worth a revisit because the growing divide will shake the training industry to its roots. I am going to use the concept to describe two different sorts of knowledge and the different way we learn them. #1 is intuitive knowledge and #2 is logical knowledge. They are different as night and day.

Intuitive knowledge

Intuitive knowledge is what Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman describes in Thinking Fast and Slow as System 1. It’s the province of the emotional brain. Intuitive knowledge works with patterns; it knows no words. In other words, it is tacit. Since the emotional brain is much older and works faster than the logical brain, intuitive knowledge is the first to come to mind; the rational brain uses logic to weigh whether or not an intuitive response is valid or must be tempered. Intuitive knowledge is also known as muscle memory.

Intuitive knowledge is complex and hence unpredictable, inductive, volatile, and emergent. It’s the realm of imagination. It deals with people’s interpretations. It lives in the minds of the people who pull it together.

Examples of intuitive knowledge: how to dance and to sell. Training departments can’t do much with the increasingly important Intuitive skills. Intuitive things are learned by doing: experientially. People “get” the skills of dealing with complexity: critical thinking, prioritizing, working with people, design thinking, and so forth — by doing them.

“I do things I do not know how to do by doing them.” Picasso

Experience can be supplemented with stories (someone else’s experience), simulations (fake experience), trial and error (the school of hard knocks), and mimicry (copied experience).

Rational knowledge

Rational knowledge is the opposite of Intuitive knowledge. It’s the province of the rational brain. It works with logic. It is explicit and can be explained with words.

Rational knowledge is straightforward (or complicated, which is several simples mushed together.) It’s Newtonian clockwork, an equal and opposite reaction for every action. It is formulaic, yes or no, and reductionist. It deals with facts. It’s true no matter who is looking. Training departments help people learn the Rational. Workshops, programmed instruction, and Kahn Academy can teach Rational Knowledge. Example of rational knowledge: programming PERL, the states and their capitals, multiplication.

The Explicit and the Tacit

As the world becomes more complex, people need to rely more on the interpretive power of Intuitive knowledge. So what does this have to do with a CLO? (The editor here gets on my case if I don’t relate topics to the needs of chief learning officers.) Well, here’s the punch line: people learn Rational knowledge and absorb Intuitive knowledge by different means.

The basic difference is that you get to know Rational Knowledge. Intuitive Knowledge, on the other hand, transforms your identity. For example, I can know a lot about plumbing but until I have Intuitive Knowledge, I can’t call myself a plumber. It’s learning to know vs. learning to be.

While different parts of the brain deal with Intuitive and Rational knowledge, these are not the old (and discredited) left/right brain theories. This is more about the conscious and subconscious minds.

Dave Snowden, a oracular figure in interpreting complexity for business ends, says the greatest danger is confusing a complex situation for a merely complicated one.

If you are concerned only with helping people learn rational knowledge, you’re abandoning a vital facet of learning. Facts are impotent until coupled with feelings. Feelings without facts are mute. A successful learning organization is bi-cultural; it melds the intuitive with the rational

Bi-culturalism melds two originally distinct cultures into a holistic co-existence.

Ask yourself: is your learning  bi-cultural?