Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fast Learning for Adult Learners

This will be a series of columns of what I am learning about "fast learning". It is fundamentally about organizational learning and individual adult learning. But it is driven by today’s challenge of "learn fast" with new tools.

Qualifier: The opinions expressed here are my own and are not reflective of the organizations I work for or belong to.

I work as a knowledge management specialist in the provincial government of Alberta, Canada in its department of agriculture and rural development. Our work fundamentally involves influencing economic development through adult education processes. There is also regulation and risk management support and advice in the financial and environment areas. But whether we are conscious of it or not, we are regularly led back to adult education processes because we are dealing with agricultural business people who are adult learners. Development requires change, change requires learning. How do we learn … fast?

Working with business people in a high-risk environment keeps one focused on keeping it simple and making sure it works. And talking about change and learning with customers also makes it easy to bring it back inside the organization. Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development can rightly claim it is one of the more innovative departments of the government of Alberta. Not because we always do thing right but we are led by our work to pay attention to the "right stuff".

Being a "corporate coach" on knowledge sharing and collaboration gives me a unique perspective on organizational behaviour. I get the corporate view. I can see the innovators at work, their early successes, the emerging new skills and the outline of processes and tools they need. It is then my job to get the early adopters to pay attention, work with me in making the processes and tools simple so the new skills can be learned fast. In an environment of demanding customers, the staff of Alberta Agriculture have no time for me if I cannot make their work easier.

I have also led a couple of volunteer organizations; a pottery guild and the Devon United church and helped a community soccer association. Volunteer organizations are great places to try out new organizational concepts. Stimulation of something different is usually welcome; failure is not as personally threatening and because the scale is small, fixes or abandonment of a bad idea is easier. So I admit that my understanding of organizational learning has been strongly influenced by watching volunteer organizations work. I hope they forgive my experiments.

All this leads to what I think is the core challenge to organizations today. How do they learn fast? A significant component of that challenge is how do their staff, their volunteers (private, public organizations also have "ghost" volunteers), and their customers learn fast?

1 comment:

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