Where do you go when you need to learn/know something? Take a course? Google it? Go to the library? Approach a co-worker? The answer to this question provides much insight into how people are coping with high information levels and high knowledge needs…and how corporations and higher education need to structure their training.
Habits die hard, but my approach to meeting my information needs has really changed in the last several years. I take several formal courses each year, but I usually find my need for knowledge is satisfied in more informal ways. Depending on what I need to learn, here’s the process:
- Check the software help (if it’s a program or task relating to software)
- Google it
- Ask someone (usually listservs and discussion boards – sometimes talk to an actual person)
- Buy a book
- Take a course or workshop
Most training in workplaces is geared to courses and workshops…yet that is the last place I go for help. The only time I’ll take a course is if I have a severe knowledge deficiency. Generally, other avenues meet my needs.
How should learning environments be structured? Some thoughts (apply to both physical and digital environments):
- A space for gurus and beginners to connect (provide mentorship)
- A space for self-expression (blog)
- A space for debate and dialogue (discussion forum/listserv)
- A space to search for archived knowledge
- A space to learn in a structured manner (tutorials)
The environment in which these spaces are created becomes a community. The community provides the trust, connections, and serendipity to meet knowledge needs and foster innovation that allows for knowledge creation. Knowledge management is only partially about capturing and sharing knowledge. An effective learning environment also creates knowledge.
I would love to see college courses structured to account for this manner of knowledge acquisition. When learning a completely new task, some structure of content is needed. As the learner grows in skill/knowledge, the structure should give way to increased support via forums of exploration and learner self-evaluation (i.e. what do I need to know? Where can I go to find it?). Year One of a new program should somewhat resemble courses (i.e. provide structured exposure to content)…but subsequent years should resemble the way in which knowledge will be acquired once in the workplace. As I’ve stated before: “Small communities of practice, loosely joined, are the future of effective, lifelong learning…”
The creation of a better learning environment isn’t really a difficult task. The tools exist (most with open source versions), the need is evident…the only thing needed is realization of the changing nature of learner needs…and the implementation of a community-focused, feature-rich learning environment (notice I didn’t say LMS…:)).