Moving Beyond Personalized Learning to Personal Learning Ecologies

In the global learning ecosystem of 2020, we will have personal learning ecologies that span and stretch our boundaries.

This forecast from the 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning by KnowledgeWorks and the Institute for the Future evokes a powerful metaphor for learning across a lifelong continuum. If you have a learning ecology, you have more than order and continuity. You have the potential for a personalized and interconnected system of changing relationships and experiences that sustain and nourish your life.

Does your approach to learning have the qualities of an ecosystem or do you close yourself off to all but a few routine and reliable sources? No ecosystem sustains itself without renewal and evolution. Where do you encounter new ideas and challenges to learn?

Education institutions may not be as essential in these personal learning ecologies. Other organizations and networks like professional and trade associations may be more adept at creating collaborative platforms that connect us with our collective intelligence.

We may choose to have personal education advisors or learning journey mentors who can help us create, nurture and maintain our personal learning ecologies. When we select these advisors and mentors, we will look for people whose personal learning ecologies are healthy enough to sustain their aspirations and offer enough stimulation and nourishment for our own. 

Instead of relying on degrees held and certifications to demonstrate to the world what we have learned, we could let our personal data trails reveal even more about where and what we have learned along our own personalized learning journey. We could construct personal portfolios documenting our journey to establish our reputation and mastery of critical knowledge and skills.

By 2020, we could be well on our way to having personalized systems of learning that better match the complexity and vitality of the world in which we now live and work.

Please, Ask Me What I Think

After designing and facilitating an innovation prize competition and a design thinking process within one year for two very different associations, I see the same magic at work in both experiences:  asking members what they think in a fun and engaging way.

In the innovation prize competition for the American Industrial Hygiene Association, members participated in teams to come up with breakthrough solutions to two significant challenges in the industry.  They didn’t win any major prize….just the chance to have the AIHA board hear their ideas and possibly act on them. See Create Breakthrough Innovation the X Prize Way for more information on how this prize competition worked.  For ideas on other approaches, see Ignite Industry Competition with an Innovation Competition featured in Associations Now.

Likewise, members of the National Art Education Association were invited at their annual conference to help design the next generation of the association in a strategic planning studio. This was an inclusive and immersive experience to discover what members really want. We were blown away.  We collected more than 800 “comment” cards eliciting ideas about the future of the association and a couple hundred or more people also filled the walls of the studio with their ideas and images. Now these are art educators who love an opportunity and an environment to express themselves; still the outpouring of input was surprising. Until you stop to think--they were genuinely thrilled to have this direct and creative line of input into the board’s strategic planning process.

Both the innovation prize competition and the design studio took the mystery out of how to get new ideas and aspirations for the profession and association heard.  The processes were open, transparent, collaborative and fun.

They are just two examples of creative group processes that ask members what they think in ways that get answers no survey with its true, false or Likert scale can quantify.  Answers that have more spontaneity than even the best structured focus group can elicit. And let’s not even compare these results to town halls or delegate assemblies where people jockey for power and position.

So yes, ask your members what they think. Just think first about how you ask them. If what you want are  fresh perspectives and members helping you create the outcomes, try something engagingly different.


Generating New Views on the Governing Work of Boards

Governing boards should devote equal measures of their time to oversight, insight and foresight. In A New Recipe for Strategic Boards, I urge boards to make time to think about trends and emerging issues and tackle the big questions about what their organizations should become.

Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards (R. Chait, W. Ryan and B. Taylor) identifies an even more serious shortcoming in boards—a failure to engage in generative thinking. These authors say boards have ceded the leadership role to their executives and staff and retreated into an oversight role under the increased threat of failing in their fiduciary responsibilities.

These nonprofit governance experts say boards need to engage in generative governance when there is:

  • Ambiguity—there are multiple interpretations of a situation.
  • Saliency—the issue means a great deal to a great many influential people.
  • High stakes—because the issue invokes questions of core values and organizational identity.
  • Strife—the prospects for confusion and conflict are high.
  • Irreversibility—the decision is important and cannot easily be reversed.

These experts aren’t as interested as I am in foresight as a board responsibility, but I buy their argument that boards need to embrace generative governance. Dialogue and inquiry,  which they consider core practices of governance, are critical factors for success in either insight or foresight.

In generative discussions, board members generate different insights and discern different patterns by reflecting collectively on shared experiences. Discussions enable the interplay of different impressions, frames and perspectives; this then moves trustees from shared experience to shared meaning and ultimately to a commitment to act on the shared meaning.” (Chait, Ryan and Taylor)

Chait, Ryan and Taylor make a number of intriguing observations in Leadership as Governance that have drawn me into generative thinking about the work I do with boards.

Boards must create and commit the organization to a “dominant narrative”. I feel validated in my instincts and insistence that boards must take the leadership in defining their organization’s identity.

Actions inform goals; goals frequently emerge from action. Rarely does a board make something a major goal without some evidence that the issue or activities matter to the organization and its stakeholders. Goals do not manifest in strategic planning sessions. They emerge in the work of the organization and I will make this more explicit in the future.

People actually make sense by thinking about the past, not the future.  I’ve always found it a little odd that many futurists spend as much time talking about and interpreting the past as they do studying and projecting the future. Perhaps they have always known that people need to make sense of their past, which they have experienced, before they can begin to engage with the ambiguity of their future. I’ve often said futurists are like historians; only the timeframe is different. Now I understand the futurists who spend time with the past are wiser than I am about the way we humans make sense of our world.