October 1, 2014 Leave a comment
“The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”- Alvin Toffler
I was reminded recently of Toffler’s quote by a reader of one of my previous posts and it, as it had done previously struck a chord with me, both at an individual and organisational level, particularly given the subject matter that I have been toying with over the last few posts I have made, that of Interfaced Learning. While I think Toffler is to a large extent right, what I think we are beginning to see, with more and more how to videos, learning snippets, user-created content, or as Ryan Tracey suggested to me, technologically enabled distributed learning is that his quote maybe does not go even far enough.
I say this because when we look at a definition of learning say the act of acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing, existing knowledge, behaviours, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. I would suggest as I have elsewhere that this is, at least in a significant number of cases not what is going on with a lot of Interfaced Learning. What is in fact happening is we are acquiring a new skill or knowledge, utilising that skill or knowledge and then either actively or passively disacquiring it. For me whether we are actually learning something, in a traditional sense of learning is really up for debate. Of course Toffler may in fact have quite a loose definition of learning in mind when he says this which works quite nicely if that is the case, however I think, while probably inherent in the thinking behind the quote, it is the ability to utilise the skills and knowledge acquired that is particularly interesting, particularly for organisations.
This is because, as I have spoken about previously, there are a number of areas where organisations are even now actively encouraging staff not to retain certain types of information and to simply access them when necessary. An example of this is policy and procedure documents, where, rather than have staff print out these documents or attempt to commit the information contained in them to memory, the organisation’s preference is for the staff member to check the document (held in some form of online repository) to ensure that they have the correct and most up to date information on had. Inherent in this concept then is of course the idea that the staff member will disacquire the information (I hesitate to use the word unlearn here because I don’t think there is any intentional learning going on here simply the acquisition of information), so that when they have to undertake that task again they will again check the information repository.
In the same vein a significant number of employers are now providing their staff with just in time style learning snippets; small, task specific e-learning modules, delivered through a range of devices to the staff who can access them prior to undertaking a task to refresh their memory on how the task is supposed to be completed. This process even in this form again encourages and reinforces the Acquire – Utilise – Disacquire mindset of Interfaced Learning. It is true that at least in most cases the staff in question have already received more formal or traditional training in the task, however due to the infrequency of the task or other factors a quick refresher is useful in assisting them to complete the task successfully. Let us think about it for a moment though. How far away are we from not providing specific training in the task in question and simply providing generic skills training over which and interfaced Learning program can be layered to provide the specific skills need to achieve the task at hand at the time they are needed.
On of the complaints often raised against traditional training is that of retention of learning. As we are all aware if a staff member attends a course or does an online program and then does not have cause to utilise the skills and knowledge they learnt then they will quickly forget them. This of course then creates a range of situations when however many months down the track from their initial learning of the skill the staff member is called upon to use it. Perhaps it may be more efficient and cost-effective to ensure that staff members have the underlying skills and knowledge to allow them to rapidly Acquire – Utilise – Disacquire skills through some form of Interfaced Learning, than to try to ensure that they retain the skills and knowledge over and extended period of time.