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By Jeff Cobb
I like to revisit periodically the concept of “leading learning” to reflect on what it means. Our current context seems like a particularly important one for doing this.
A significant part of leadership, it seems to me, is to help people make their way into the future successfully. We can’t, of course, predict the future, but we can see the “accelerating present,” as Rohit Bhargava, long-term friend of Leading Learning, likes to put it. (Listen to Rohit here.)
Three aspects of the accelerating present jump out at me currently:
The need for more sustainable and accessible forms of connecting and convening
This need has been part of the accelerating present for quite a while. The emergence of COVID-19 has just made it glaringly apparent. Irrespective of dangerous viruses (which experts have been predicting for years would emerge), there has always been a disconnect between the need to address climate issues and the amount of waste created by face-to-face events. Just as important, we know many people simply can’t and don’t attend face-to-face events for a range of reasons. As a learning format, they are inaccessible to many, if not most, of the people we purport to serve.
Virtual conferences – which many are now scrambling to get their arms around – are one possible solution, if done well, but my hope is that in the shift toward virtual we also shift toward less of an emphasis on learning as an event and start realizing the full potential for learning as a process that appropriate technology platforms – like, for example, online community platforms – can make possible.
The need to meaningfully address disruption and displacement in employment
Artificial intelligence is just the latest of many changes that have impacted the nature of work over the course of recent decades. We’ve known for years that people change jobs more often than ever, that the requirements for specific jobs can shift frequently, and that entire professions can be reshaped – if not eliminated – rapidly by outsourcing, offshoring, robotics, and other forces.
Anticipating the learning – and unlearning – needed to navigate these changes is arguably the most important aspect of leading learning. And clarity is arguably the greatest service we can provide our learners, which is one reason I’ve been a big advocate of developing pathways for learners to follow (like, for example, NIGP has done).
But pathways, by their nature, are about what is known. So, at best, they are only a partial solution. We must also address …
The need to navigate “wicked” learning environments
The concept of “wicked” learning environments comes from psychologist Robin Hogarth. As opposed to “kind” environments in which clear patterns emerge and feedback from experience reliably contributes to improved performance, wicked environments don’t provide automatic or reliable feedback, making it difficult to learn and improve.
Even in relatively straight forward jobs – say, transcription or fire fighting – the pace of technological change alone often puts people into unexpectedly wicked environments. And, of course, many professions – most of the medical profession, for example – have always had major wicked aspects to them.
Traditional education and training tend to be quite limited in their ability to address wickedness. What’s needed is a different mindset – a true learning mindset – and an ability to leverage often much messier approaches like social and self-directed learning. In other words, we must prepare and support our learners in learning effectively without us.
And that, perhaps, is the ultimate test of leadership.
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