Creating Learning Environments LO30637

From: Mark W. McElroy (
Date: 10/03/03

Replying to LO30625 --

Don and At:

This question of learning as an emergent versus determined phenomenon has
interested me for years. As a card carrying complexity theorist, I fall
largely on the emergence side of the issue. Organizations are complex
adpative systems (CASs) and learning, itself, is an emergent individual
and social process through which we produce new knowledge.

That said, I think Don's point is a good one, especially in an
organizational setting. Life in organizations is rarely a completely
emergent affair; most people inside of them act in accordance with
instructions from above (i.e., from managers), even as they act, as well,
in emergent ways. Learning, too, is subject to this dynamic.

Further, my own research tells me that learning, if anything, is
overmanaged and even blocked in most organizations. If we start with a
view of how learning unfolds in its naturally emergent form, we can see
that things rarely happen that way in business. Instead, learning is
prescribed and regimented via training programs and the like. Emergent
learning, in turn, is dampened as incentives to learn run afoul of
official learning agendas that conflict with them.

My conclusion over three years ago was that creating learning environments
in organizations would be best achieved by managing the environment, per
se, and not the behaviors. Why? Because the behaviors are already in
there, so to speak. To do this I devised a methdology that I call the
'policy synchronization method' (PSM). The idea here is that
learning-related policies and programs constitute the key elements of the
learning environment in organizations, and that unless they are
synchronized with the predispositions of people to learn in their own
endemic ways, emergent learning will be repressed and the organzation will
suffer for it.

Thus, the PSM calls for trial and error in the introduction and
enforcement of key policies and programs in several specific areas defined
by the method. You can learn more about these areas and the method behind
it by visiting my website at

In terms of Don's comment, use of the PSM relies on this "both-and choice"
he speaks of. The 'manager' makes a policy or program intervention and
then withdraws; the system then displays its emergent behaviors; the
manager evaluates such behaviors in terms of the intervention he/she just
made, and then either makes an adjusting intervention, a new intervention,
or no intervention. Because of the Promethean nature of this process, I
refer to the target system as a Promethean CAS, or PCAS. Thus,
organizations are actually PCASs, a variant of CASs which involve the
periodic intervention and influence of managers who set the conditions in
CASs (organizational ones, in particular).



Mark W. McElroy
President, KMCI, Inc. []
CEO, Macroinnovation Associates, LLC []
(802) 436-2250


"Mark W. McElroy" <>

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