Individual Learning Vs. Organisational Learning LO13280
Sun, 13 Apr 97 14:31 PDT

Hello Readers

I've been reading a lot about the parallels drawn between how children
learn by experimentation and bit by bit and that if organisations want to
learn then the most obvious way to get around this is follow in the foot
steps of the child learner.

Conceptually and even rhetorically I find this very appealing but for one
little problem and that is the fact that we humans learn visa viz. the
ability of our brain to form Neurone Connections which are reinforced or
rejected be association with reference to other sensory inputs (a crude
classification would be pain and pleasure).

Furthermore some have argued (Janet Werker- University of British
Columbia) that our potential of learning (ability to form new neural
connections) is determined by the "Neuronal commitments" that we develop
as early as 8 months after birth.

To add to this is the fact that these connections are created in the
presence of "real time" feedback (which is missing in organisations & I
would argue that the speed of real time feedback cannot be achieved in the
organisational framework as we know it). This aspect of learning has been
highlighted by many authors who have written about the illusions of
learning from experience (inclusive of Peter Senge).

But that is not all; the neuronal connections we develop are
representations of reality (i.e. for us) and therefore it is coloured by
both our "Brain Dominance" (Ned Herrmann 1993) and a whole repertoire of
Mental Models (subject to our perceptual filters).

In their book "Strategic Readiness" John Redding and Ralph Catalanello put
forth the notion of the Strategic Learning Cycle
(Planning-Implementation-Reflection) and argue that learning will be
enhanced if the cycle time is reduced and iterations between each stage is
facilitated through various interventions. Similar themes are evident in
the works of Peter Senge where he purports the use of learning
laboratories and MicroWorlds to facilitate learning in term of the long
term implications (here I'm using long term w.r.t. systemic orientation)
of managerial action in light of the five disciplines.

Indeed the route to learning must be littered with experimentation however
I find it hard to digest that there can be experimentation which allows
for "real time" feedback from our sensory mechanisms. This is further
complicated when we look at the nature of learning that occurs between
children and adults.

Learning that occurs in children is haphazard not because they are
essentially creative (from a neuronal perspective creativity is the
probability of sparking off new neural connections from the existing ones:
The number of neural connections in children are much less than in adults
due to there exposure to external stimuli however one could argue that
since they have not developed a primary brain dominance they are able to
access the Whole brain) but because their learning horizon is not
conceptual in nature. Children are prone to short-termism with reference
to tangible outcomes whereas we adults (sometimes a contradiction in
terms) have a more long term perspective (and when we talk about systemic
learning we are going beyond long term to holistic, which I consider Big
League Stuff).

Even as adults if we look at "learning by doing" we may find we are able
to learn just as well as children or may be better. However this will only
last as long as we don't ask ourselves "why am I doing this" (Children
don't usually ask this question). As an experiment you may try brushing
your teeth with your wrong hand or start shaving with the other hand. I
came up with a figure of 120 for brushing and 215 for shaving (Shaving is
somewhat more dangerous) before I matched the same level of efficiency as
that of the other hand (in presence of instant feedback). Thereafter I
started to teach myself how to write with the wrong hand and after one
week of frustration I asked the dreaded question "why the hell am I doing
this and what am I going to gain from it?". 8 months later I still cannot
write legibly with my left hand.

The point is that conceptual learning is very different to Kinaesthetic
learning and all of us have their own conceptual world that affects our
learning parameters (mental models if you will). For the sake of sanity we
prefer to remain within the extremities of this framework and this is why
new and profound (change in our mental models) learning is painful for us.

I find it hard to draw parallels between child and adult learning let
alone individual and collective learning. Nevertheless I'm totally sold on
the premise that learning is the only route to survival of our species not
just our business.



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