I’m nearing the close of my second month here at Inktank. It feels like its been much longer than that – I guess startup life really does move fast huh!
I’ve been very busy. I’m getting up to speed with our technology, I organized an internal technical boot camp, I’ve almost finished our first two courses, I’m working on analysis for some more in depth courses (troubleshooting!) as well as internal learning needs. I’m trying to meet more people in the Austin startup community – which is just a great warm welcoming place to be honest! And there is also the operational side of things, where do we put classes, how do we measure, how do we announce, how do we market, which authoring tools to use, etc etc.
You know if I’m blogging I’m starting to get angsty about something. The last time I wrote, I talked about the challenges with developing training for audiences that are converging – the dev and the ops audiences. But I started thinking about it more, and maybe the analysis isn’t the the source of my angst. Maybe the angst is that the offering being planned won’t close the gaps identified because it’s an old-world solution.
Why training classes?
Or, why the same old training classes we’ve all grown to have a love – hate relationship with? You know, you go to class and only 2 hours is something you can use. So you end up annoying the instructor by asking questions that are over his head so you aren’t bored to death, or you get caught up on emails and updating your project plans.
Don’t get me wrong. I think training classes are important, especially if you are trying to get people up to speed on an emerging technology. For example, in the Learning GPS paradigm, training classes – with a real-life guide that can answer questions and hands-on practice – are that direct route to get someone up to speed. But what if the direct route is too slow? I mean, everyone knows to stay off I35 or MoPac in Austin at certain times of the day, same with the turnpike and route 1 in Boston. So if the direct route is going to take too long (can’t get time away to go to class, class isn’t offered, it’s too expensive…) can we still help our learners get up to speed in a timely manner? What are the alternate routes? Can we build those? Or are we only able to guide people to a faster path?
Jane Hart of the Center for Learning and Performance Technologies posted about John Seely Brown’s keynote at the DML (digital media and learning) conference this year. His keynote was about cultivating entrepreneurial learners. Jane has links and videos of the keynote in her blog post.
As someone responsible for building learning environments for very technical adults, this presentation was just amazing. One of the points made is that learning has to change because we have entered the digital, networked area. So we have these amazing new technologies to connect us and allow everyone to create content, but the tools aren’t the important thing. He asked:
How do we take these technologies and invent new types of institutional forums, new types of social practices, and in fact, new types of skills, to be able to leverage the capabilities of the technology? The technology is the easy part. The hard part is, what are the social practices around this, and also the institutional structures?
I feel strongly that this is not just true of teaching kids, but also of teaching adults. And the adults who are building, managing, and implementing all of these new technical tools really need to learn faster than almost anyone on the planet right now. They need the new social practices that will enable them to learn at light speed. The technology community is rapidly moving away from ways of doing things that are embedded into our cultures. It’s time to look at all of our “best practices” and updated them. This includes the way we teach and train.
How do you keep people up to speed if there is a constant hidden flow of tacit knowledge?
This quote resonated strongly with me as well:
In a world of constant change, constant flux, learning has much to do with creating the new, as learning the old, but in creating the new, much of what is created is basically tacit… So the role of tacit knowledge, of picking up the tacit, has been increasingly important and virtually none of our theories of transfer of learning, or of schooling, really direct the notion of how you cope with the tacit knowledge that kind of flows hidden beneath us all the time
This is exactly the situation technology workers find themselves in today. Not everything is documented, but many of us can understand and pick up new knowledge based on what we already know.
Entrepreneurial learners and builders and thinkers
That’s according to John Seely Brown. He also said “if you don’t feel comfortable tinkering, you are going to be in an amazing state of anxiety.”
That is a description of our entire field – no matter if you are dev or ops or something in between. And the times we live in right now require us to have that entrepreneurial attitude towards learning. But how do those of us tasked with making sure that learning happens create an environment that guides people to where they have the time and a safe place to tinker?
I’m convinced it takes rethinking how to build learning and training “assets”. We all need to start thinking more about developing a Learning GPS that will guide learners to the environments that enable them to play, build, and learn.
Wow this is getting long. I have some concrete ideas of how to move forward- and plans. What I’m struggling with is how much of the old ways do we need to blend in as we move to new ways of doing things? How do you get buy in from people who may be afraid to let go of the old ways of doing things?
Are any of you doing this sort of work? Or if you are a learner what do you wish your officially mandated learning environment at work looked like?