On personal learning and the learning organisation

I quite liked this short blog post from Ton Zijlstra (thanks, Olaf) about owning your own learning path. In particular, I liked: “In terms of owning your learning path this means that you don’t have to wait for the educational system to change, or for organizations to start behaving differently. You can own your learning path, within the educational system, and within traditional organizations. As long as you don’t let ‘them’ unilaterally set your goals”.

This is the essence behind my own personal learning path. I have undertaken a number of university-based courses, among others, for the purpose of my personal learning, irrespective of whether I have had the support of an employer. Much of the learning has also been at my personal financial cost. And, in nearly all cases, the learning takes place in my personal time, especially the thinking time!

Interestingly, much of what I have learned in courses, at conferences, and through personal networks, is applicable to the workplace. The capacity from such learning to improve organisational performance is huge. Unfortunately, some managers fail to recognise the strengths and opportunities from such learning, let alone the learning from what is already happening around them in the contemporary business world.

My favourite anti-learning quote was made by a senior manager in an organisation I have worked in: “We’ve been doing it this way for the past ten years and we are successful. There’s no need to do anything differently now”. Yes, well I’m sure the dinosaurs had the same sentiments. It is not an attitude that I personally subscribe to.

I am still looking to contribute, participate, and work for a real learning organisation. Is there a learning organisation out there, and not just something one reads about?


7 responses to “On personal learning and the learning organisation

  1. Hi Brad,
    Another anti-learning quote that I heard a university teacher say (of all people!) is:
    “Learning is not supposed to be fun, it is supposed to hurt a lot!” I pity his students.

    As to learning organization. I would like to say I work in one, but don’t really think so. I do think we have a company of learners (we’re 12ppl), but that is not quite the same thing.


  2. Ton,

    Yes, another anti-learning quote is from an old employer of mine: in response to me sitting at my desk thinking about how to tackle a work related problem, a senior manager strode past and said that I should be doing something. I said, “I’m thinking”, to which he responded, “You’re not paid to think!”


  3. Brian Sherwood Jones

    If ‘learning path’ is too much like plain English, there is ‘ontological trajectory’. I know it is grossly pretentious, but it’s cute.

  4. Hi Brad,

    I found your blog through Ton’s del.icio.us feed.
    This is my very first comment regarding blogs.

    I think such organisations only exist by the grace of your direct superior. And the leeway he gives you in your own learning. I think a lot of managers do realize the need do allign the goals of employees with the organisation (if only to keep them happy)

    But if you turn it around: there are a lot of people that do not want to “learn” (in a double loop sense).
    I think this is a much greater threat to change.

    As for Ton’s anti-learning qoute (sorry Ton :-), double loop learning “is” pain. You need feedback to adjust your value’s. “no pain – no gain” (of course I concur, that one is in danger of mixing goals and tools. Pain for pain would be quite sadistic (but sometimes nice 🙂

    I think there is no “configuration” for a learning organisation (are we mixing up the tools and goals?)
    Rather, an organisation should be flexible “enough”. Therefore it should be able to learn (metaflexibility). Varying states of flexibility need varying states of metaflexibility.

    I am enjoying the conversation from a stragic and organisational dynamics point of view. I hope the comment is in accordance to web 2.0 netiquette (if not, I need some feedback)


  5. Ernst,

    I am not sure if “pain” is the right word for double-loop learning or otherwise. I suppose it may reflect what the feedback was!

    I think you make a good point on flexibility and how that relates to organisational dynamics and learning.

  6. Brad,

    point taken (I sometimes use to strong a language). for instance: I am following a course in coaching right now. While I like the content of the course, most of the “learning” is pretty tough. The learning process requires me (and others) to thoroughly reflect on my actions. This can be a very distressing thing.
    Same with the trackday I participated in this weekend. In order to beat my dad (who seems to be 1sec faster, regardless of my time), I must be prepared to taste some tarmac (this process is actually single loop, come to think of it).
    Most learning requires some “pain”

    I concur on the dinosaur observation, though.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! (this is cool!)

  7. Ernst I think you may be equating ‘hard’ to ‘pain’. Learning being difficult, requiring you to step out of your comfort zone, is ok. But that does not have to be painfull. Challenges can be fun as well as hard.

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