Experiential learning and the power of questions in motion (Ramblings and mumblings around…)

No focused post this week, too much is brewing in my mind. All possible walks of my professional life are in utmost effervescence or have just been put to a complete stop. A whirlwind of destructive-creative energy, and many ideas are seeping out of its trail. I am just walking forward with these ideas, shaping them up as I walk on.

So what is animating me?

How to pass on learning from experiences…

A great KM4Dev conversation, actually emerging from the combination of two different trails (which you can follow directly on the Dgroup if you are a member):

The SECI model keeps on raising eyebrows (Credits: UKEssays)

The SECI model keeps on raising eyebrows (Credits: UKEssays)

This is the great debate of combination-internalization vs. socialization-externalization. Or in other words: documenting and codifying vs. sharing and learning.

It also relates to a question I asked myself a while back: What is good in a project?

Before that, however, here’s one very interesting (f not really new) comment from one of the conversation participants:

How do you incorporate learning loops (that are not reports) in the projects you are engaged in? (Beverly Wenger-Trayner)

The difficulty of the debate on what to record vs. what to share in other ways relates to the complexity of tasks at hand: best practices can be highly codified in texts, documents, videos etc.; good practices can be listed; but appropriate practices for a given complex situation can only be explored as we move forward, sharpening our questions – putting our questions in motion. There is no giving guidelines on how to deal with it.

At the other end of that double-sided conversation, was the toolkit conversation, which also hints at the codification of practices to guide better practices. And here comes another insight from another conversation participant:

The learning step comes first, then choice of  toolkit follows – yes? Many toolkits don’t distinguish WHEN to use WHICH tool in a learning spiral. (Valerie Brown)

Yes: How to organize toolkits in a way that they can guide people through either simple, complicated or complex situations (arguably chaotic situations wouldn’t get dedicated toolkits – or would the)? There is certainly an opportunity to beef up all these existing and aspiring toolkits out there – some of which Nancy White started listing here.

And my final layer on this multi-idea multi-conversation multi-mulling process relates to the comfort of people with what is fix, fixed, static and aesthetic. The attraction of beautiful calm, still nature. I was recently talking to an acquaintance of mine who’s trying to help some organisation with knowledge management and that organisation seems to be focusing on having products (some would have the databases) like a knowledge management strategy, to feel secure on that front.

Where is the thread in all of this?

All these questions and reflections are quite interesting in themselves. But there is something more to them, that brings them together:

Experiential learning is a constantly challenging journey that brings us to meet people, co-create ideas, refine our frame of mind, our theories of change, our practices sometimes. And that experiential learning is faster, wider and/or deeper as more people join that journey (social learning), and as that journey is shaped by questions, not by answers.

The diverse perspectives and experiences between the people on that journey ineluctably lets questions arise, as bubbles of possible change that challenge the aesthetic fixed world we have created. The questions we engage in with others bring reflections of where our beautiful world is actually flawed and needs further work. Experiential learning is a journey of learning, of meeting, of change.

Learning is unrest. It requires people to let go of their security, to accept that their truth of yesterday may not be the one they wish to keep today. Some sort of transformation that is deeper in social learning (see this great framework for it below), which leads to the second relation… meeting.

Meeting people – not just superficially but really, deeply – puts you in a dynamic mode that helps you peel the layers of learning loops. Combined with learning it opens avenues for change.

Changing is agreeing – and showing – that you can actually rest with what previously caused your unrest. It is the journey to understanding that the beauty does not lie in a static picture, but in the beautiful choreography of change and transfiguration that people are going through. What is beautiful is their courage, and their resilience.

There is a point, however, in stopping from time to time that process of ‘learning and questioning in motion’ to look around. Contemplating the strong questions we have been pondering, taking our breath again before the next voyage of change is ignited. And sometimes these moments of respite are just another way to question things and trigger change but from another angle, as KMers navigating between fast flow and slow space. But the bottom line is: better be in motion, as it brings you in contact with others who help deepen or fasten your reflection of change. If you understand French you will appreciate the relation of all this with this quote…

Un intellectuel assis ira toujours moins loin qu’un con qui marche. (Michel Audiard)

And so there actually is a red thread in all of this: motion and contact, as the forces behind innovation. And the first step is to open your door, so people can see and meet you and open your mind, so other minds can see and meet you through it too.

Related blog posts:


The path to wisdom is paved with effectiveness, focus, humility and empathy

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

― Confucius.

Wisdom features highly in the world of knowledge management. One of the biggest heresies it has produced, the erroneous DIKW pyramid (which I also questioned here and here), is putting wisdom at the pinnacle of a pyramidal meaning structure starting with data.

Seeking wisdom is like exploring Terra Incognita

Seeking wisdom is like exploring Terra Incognita

I want to find out what wisdom really might mean in (agile) KM. Much has been told about wisdom. Yet it is a very elusive definition.

My going in position? Wisdom is accumulated experience and expertise which allows us to activate our knowledge in a more effective way, both in terms of the intervention (the content of it) and of the process to bring it about (the process of that intervention). It is a reflection of an ingrained practice of triple loop learning which helps find a more appropriate response to a challenge we’re facing, an issue we’re grappling with or an idea we’re battling with.

In some ways, if we consider that in a field we accumulate some experience (some knowledge – as the sum of insights we have about that field), it looks as though we are exploring that field as if we were unraveling the map of that field, bit by bit, with some recognized borders and ‘unknown lands’. In the process, we are unraveling the complexity of all the interactions in that field – the horizontal connections between different items, actors and factors of that field as well as the vertical connections, the deeper understanding of the structure of things and how they work in and of themselves – and across, with adjacent fields.

Moving from unknown unknown to unconscious known... on the quest to wisdom?

Moving from unknown unknown to unconscious known… on the quest to wisdom?

As we explore that field, we progressively understand its arcane principles, its ‘buttons and levers’ which when activated produce the best results, the political economy of that field, the chain of consequences that might be set off by an initiative, or for lack of causal relations the bigger picture of that complex and fine mess. We also keep on making the ‘known unknown’ known and to turn the ‘unknown unknown’ as a ‘known unknown’ (see the graph).

This is perhaps where I think wisdom might be nested, or easier to perceive: wisdom gives us both a) shortcuts to relate to the greater over-arching principles, the sources of power and the ways to activate a field b) a finer perception of how difficult that is and what consequences are and perhaps more importantly c) another reality call to understand that really what we have to put up with is a whole lot more complex than we first thought it was and d) an appreciation of the inputs from others and interdependencies that matter in the field (we get more socially connected or at least warmer to others’ efforts).

Wisdom thus helps us get more effective, more thoughtful, more humble and more empathetic. And as Confucius says there are various ways to sharpen our wisdom. But in the end perhaps Socrates got down to the essence of it all:

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
― Socrates.

As such, this teaches us that wisdom management is a complete aberration and that what matters is to carry on trying and reflecting. Learning has no end indeed.

Related blog posts:

And while at that, here’s a selection of supposedly wise quotes from supposedly wise men.

Putting learning loops and cycles in practice

On this blog, among the (by far) most successful posts are two posts about a) learning loops and cycles and b) a stock-taking post on learning cycles. This success might not even be founded as much on the quality of the posts as on the relative interest of many people for single-, double- and triple-learning loops.
Take action, reflect and reflect and reflect (Credits: Echo9er / FlickR)

Take action, reflect and reflect and reflect (Credits: Echo9er / FlickR)

So going beyond the theory, here is an attempt at making learning loops a practical reality.
What can we do to put these loops in practice?

First off, here’s an over-simplified refresher on the learning loops:

  • Single loop learning: the quest for efficiency. Doing the same but doing it better, cutting down useless practices and speeding up;
  • Double loop learning: the quest for effectiveness. Doing different things, whatever else that gives a better result because the original thinking (theory) is not conducive to success.
  • Triple loop learning: the quest for dynamically relevant effectiveness. Doing whatever to always being able to assess whether we can identify what we need to do differently – applying double loop learning to double loop learning itself.

Various activities apply to all three loops:

  • Putting an action plan in writing – laying down the steps hoped for is the first step towards quality improvement. Documentation of intentions helps generate a vision of the result (or change) expected.
  • Documenting the process: based on the theory of action (or change), documenting what happens in the action and how the environment (people, organisations, physical environment) reacts provides the feedback that helps to improve learning loops – and decide what level of loops needs to be considered. In development work, this publication might help: Documenting change – an introduction to process documentation.
  • After action review: related to process documentation, it helps to regularly assess what was supposed to happen, what actually happened, why there was a difference and what can be done differently next time. This is effectively one’s own way of introducing feedback loops and stimulate critical thinking.
  • Seeking feedback – this is the more regular way to effectively introduce feedback loops. It’s no easy task and it is all the more effective as it follows certain ‘rules’ (I just found out there’s even a book ‘giving constructive feedback – for dummies’).
  • When seeking feedback, keeping open to the feedback and new insights, humble as to one’s own knowledge (the more we think we know the more we shut ourselves down to learning) and keeping curious to other options and solutions.
  • Identifying in which kind of context we are evolving for the action at hand – following the Cynefin framework here can be quite helpful as it places emphasis on single- (simple domain), double- (complicated and complex domains) or triple-loop learning (complex and chaotic domains). There is no direct relation between the domains and the appropriate learning loops in the framework but what I suggest here goes somewhere along its lines.

Then again, there are also some other activities that might be more specific to each learning loop.

Single loop learning in practice:

  • Having an action or process map – which explains step by step what is supposed to happen. This allows to map all the different elements that might need to go under the efficiency magnifier.
  • Look at other case studies, stories and examples for carrying out the same task – it might reveal hidden aspects that prevent further efficiency.

Double loop learning in practice:

  • Identifying the ‘theory of change that informs our actions: what is the vision that we have, what are our assumptions about the chain of elements that supposedly lead to the results we hope to achieve? What are the principles that guide us? In practice, all these aspects are very difficult to single out. A theory of change is a sort of complex process map in constant questioning.
  • Identifying all other theories put together by others to inform similar activities. Perhaps they have found cracks in their own theory of change and perhaps also very solid evidence about other ways to go about. Perhaps even carry out your own research on the most effective approaches. e.g. to inform policy, should you build an individual rapport with a policy-maker and have informal talks? Should you lobby their office? Should you provide evidence at conferences? Throw an advocacy campaign?
  • Mapping out all other possible ways to do the same task and perhaps using preps to think differently about it. This can be triggered by… lateral thinking – there are many exercises that stimulate lateral thinking. Paul Sloane has made a great job at profiling himself as a very active lateral thinking and innovation specialist. Using cards with pictures is another option: you get a picture and try to relate it to the topic. Each picture is very different and gives hints at other aspects that might have been overlooked.
  • Using metaphors, which is a more virtual way of using cards, basically.
  • Bringing different people around the table or using exercises such as DeBono’s six-thinking hat. The range of perspectives by itself brings about different suggestions for solutions. This is perhaps why so many complex interventions are nowadays addressed via multi-stakeholder processes.

Triple loop learning in practice:

  • Identifying one’s default learning mode (or style) and what triggers that learning style to kick in. There is much debate about the validity of learning styles and I share some of them – as I think we constantly co-evolve with and adapt to our direct environment – but we all tend to fall back to some preferred pathways for action. Being aware of this and challenging our comfort zones is a good way to engage in triple-loop learning;
  • Thinking about the evidence base that informs our decisions. Valerie Brown came up with a very helpful presentation about multiple knowledges explaining the evidence base of different types of identities. It was also used in the paper we wrote for IKM-Emergent on monitoring and evaluating development as a knowledge ecology: ideas for new collective practices.
  • Going through enlightening experiences such as deep meditation, sabbaticals etc. could arguably also be a way of revisiting one’s profound beliefs about truth, purpose and the learning logic that follows.

I have yet to go on such a path… In the meantime your sparks of  reflection are also more than welcome!
Related blog posts:

What is learning?

Time for new stuff!!! Ah, love the learning!

(Social) learning: how we evolve (together) by questioning our environment

(Social) learning: how we evolve (together) by questioning our environment

After over three weeks hectic weeks that kept me away from blogging, I’m happy to finally be back on the (WordPress) dashboard to share some recent work. And the biggest item on a long list of ‘to blog’ is this presentation that I just prepared about learning. I will be giving this presentation today for an all-staff meeting at IRC as an introduction to one of our ‘travel free weeks’.

Travel free weeks are given a negative name (about what we don’t do: travel – we’re all supposed to be around) for what is essentially a week of organisational learning. And learning we do and talk about at IRC. A quick search for ‘learning’ gave back 992 hits on our website – on a total of I suspect over 12000 items. This is seriously core to our business. But do we always refer back to the theory and practice of learning, at personal, organisational, collective and even societal level? That I question, and anyway for whoever wishes to work on learning, going back to the white board with the ‘where are we at’ question every so often is just a standard (good) practice. That is the key to becoming a learning organisation. Remember Einstein: “It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.

So here’s the presentation. I made it on Prezi, because it’s a new tool I wanted to (indeed) learn about, also because I think its fresh feel may put the audience in a different seat and engage them in a different way. I got triggered to use Prezi when I first heard @Joitske (Hulsebosch) tweet about it, then when I read this great blog post by Robert @Swanwick about his own experience with Prezi and finally when I saw my first Prezi about designing an academic poster, by Adam Read. But no more talk now, check the presentation:

… or online: What (the heck) is learning?

My learning curve with Prezi?

  • It’s funny how it actually feels like Prezi has been around and we do Prezi-type presentations all the time, whereas the logic of the presentation is very different to Powerpoints and it really has the advantage of focusing on one point at a time, which gives the audience a better chance to relate what you’re saying with what they’re seeing. Oh sure you can (and should) do it with Powerpoint but we all know our tendency to use as much of a white space we can with text, text and more text, especially when we’ve been trained to keep Powerpoints to an average of 10-15 slides – something we are un-learning at the moment, but it takes time to un-learn!
  • The development logic takes a while to master, not least because it involves a lot of zooming in and out to write text in small enough a display to keep it invisible when scrolling from one bit of text to another in the presentation.
  • I really like the canvas logic, the liberty and reduced linearity that you enjoy when developing and showing the presentation.
  • Framing the elements of your presentation in consistent blocks is helpful but perhaps the last thing to do in the presentation because any edit on the presentation requires you to zoom in on the element you need to edit and the overlay frame tends to be the element you pick up when you try to edit a smaller element.
  • I haven’t yet explored the possibility to embed video and audio bits and I hope it is possible or there is a (Power)point to keep using PPTs (which can do that). There is anyway as Prezi should just complement the current offer of presentation tools and find what works for you, and most importantly what because matters in the presentation, with Prezi or else, is what YOU are saying, not what’s on display.
  • I found the set of backgrounds rather limited too and hope it is easy to use new/other backgrounds.
  • Finally, for future presentations I will think further about the way I wish to use because there is a lot of learning (and effectiveness) potential there, but even with a simple – read: no-surprise – presentation like mine the surprise effect is there yet – I reckon!

Let’s see how my colleagues react to it! This, in itself, would deserve a reply blog post, don’t you think?

Related blog posts:

Learning cycle basics and more: Taking stock

It seems that, home page aside, the most popular post on this modest blog has been the one I wrote about ‘cycles, circles and ripples of learning’.

Finding light through a different reflection? Deep learning loops (Photo credits: Philippe Leroyer)

Finding light through a different reflection? Deep learning loops (photo credits: Philippe Leroyer)

Search engine queries confirm that a lot of people out there are looking for more on these dizzying learning cycles and loops.

That learning cycles were so popular was a discovery for me. I like the idea of learning cycles but never used the model much in KM training or discussions. The recent poll I organised to elect the topic of this stock-taking post confirmed the general curiosity for learning cycles. Following your wishes, here is a stock-taking post on learning cycles, but to keep it interesting and different I’m foraying into adjacent areas such as…

Kolb learning styles (source: www.businessballs.com)

Might as well begin with the beginning as David Kolb has theorised learning styles and experiential learning (1) which are at the cornerstone of learning loops and cycles. There are other authors upon which Kolb inspired his work but this is only a short visit to academic park.

The theory here distinguishes four distinct learning styles:

  • Concrete experience (related to feeling);
  • Reflective observation (watching);
  • Abstract conceptualisation (thinking);
  • Active experimentation (doing).

These learning styles are connected, in Kolb’s theory, through the following cyclical sequence:

Kolb's experiential learning cycle (graph credits: Businessballs)

Kolb contends that every person uses the four learning styles in different ways depending on their progression on a maturity path that spans acquisition (of basic abilities and cognitive structures), specialisation (towards a specific learning style) and ultimately integration (where other learning styles are also expressed / used in work and personal life). But he also contends that we cannot use two styles simultaneously so we opt for either doing or watching and then either for thinking or feeling.

At the intersection of these two dialectical sets of choices, Kolb places his theory of preferred learning styles, as shown in the table below:

Doing (Active Experimentation – AE) Watching (Reflective Observation – RO)
Feeling (Concrete Experience – CE) Accommodating (CE/AE), i.e. hands-on, intuitive, relying on others’ information, group-work focused… Diverging (CE/RO), i.e. making links between different approaches, interested in brainstorming. Emotional, group work-focused…
Thinking (Abstract Conceptualization – AC) Converging (AC/AE), i.e. with a practical focus, interested in technical problems/solutions, specialist/technological applications… Assimilating (AC/RO), i.e. logical, concise, interested in readings, lectures, analytical models…

This model has been elaborated on by Peter Honey and Alan Mumford. They relabelled the four preferred learning styles to use some labels that are more familiar to us:

  1. ‘Having an Experience’ (stage 1), and Activists (style 1): ‘here and now’, gregarious, seek challenge and immediate experience, open-minded, bored with implementation.
  2. ‘Reviewing the Experience’ (stage 2) and Reflectors (style 2): ‘stand back’, gather data, ponder and analyse, delay reaching conclusions, listen before speaking, thoughtful.
  3. ‘Concluding from the Experience’ (stage 3) and Theorists (style 3): think things through in logical steps, assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories, rationally objective, reject subjectivity and flippancy.
  4. ‘Planning the next steps’ (stage 4) and Pragmatists (style 4): seek and try out new ideas, practical, down-to-earth, enjoy problem solving and decision-making quickly, bored with long discussions.

I think this model has a lot to be argued with – any model that claims too quickly to show the truth is disputable, however useful that claim is to stimulate critical reviews and further researching limitations, gaps, edges of this theory.

More information can be found on the learning and teaching website, about learning styles: http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/experience.htm with some additional adaptations as briefly mentioned above. This resource also contain some links to critiques made on the Kolb model – in stock-taking posts I refrain from giving an opinion.

Chris Argyris / Donald Schön: theories of action, double-loop learning and organisational learning (source: Mark K. Smith – INFED)

The other heavyweights in learning cycles and styles are obviously Chris Argyris and Donald Schön, and in this extensive explanation by Mark K. Smith, we are touching the inner cords of learning loops and cycles. This is hard to summarise here but the starting point is the difference between theory and action and the fact that everyone has two theories of action: theories in use (governing our actual behaviour) and espoused theories (what we say we do). In popular terms this also relates to the saying: “do as I say (not as I do)”. Argyris argues that effectiveness comes from aligning these two theories of action.

Then comes learning (seen here as detection and correction of errors):

  • Single-loop learning comes from the fact that human beings, faced with adversity, just try to set the same governing variables in a different way – as a quest for efficiency.
  • Double loop learning is when we look at the governing variables (norms, policies, objectives) that guide our activities and our responses to events occurring. This is where effectiveness (as opposed to just efficiency) comes in.
  • In another article, another author explains that on the topic of organisational learning, Argyris is also referring to deutero learning as the awareness that (single and double-loop) learning must happen. This means identifying the learning styles and facilitating factors to understand the gap between targeted outcome and actual performance (not a very complexity-friendly theory really though).

Double-loop learning according to Argyris (graph credits: Deborah Kendell)

Argyris and Schön considered how to expand the capacity of organisations to engage in double-loop learning – as they saw this as crucial to adapt to fast-changing environments – but it is also inherently difficult because the reasoning process of individuals “inhibits exchange of relevant information”. In his study, Argyris compares two models of human behaviours and contends that almost everyone follows model 1, a model that promotes superficiality, not losing face, defensive relationships etc. as opposed to a more win-win focused model 2.

Of course a lot of this theory should also be taken with a pinch of salt and some distance with respect to its linearity and dual approach. But the bottom ideas stick around.

The author of this article also points to the fact that Argyris and Schön’s theory has been central to unearthing the role of facilitators (of learning), reflecting on and questioning the difference between the two theories of action, as opposed to individual / private learning.

All in all, this web page is probably one of the best introductions to Argyris’s work without digging out the books.

More on single, double and triple loop learning

On the topic of learning loops, the ‘Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development’ offers a short and to-the-point definition on this one-pager (PDF document):

  • Single-loop learning is understood here as following the rules – like a thermostat that only corrects temperature when it goes too low or too high.
  • Double-loop learning is described as changing the rules – where the focus is not on applying the rules but on using creativity and critical thinking to find out if the rules that you are applying are indeed most appropriate.
  • Triple-loop learning is simply referred to as learning how to learn, implying that not only should we think about applying the rules or changing them but we should think about the rules themselves. The authors also depict triple-loop learning as double-loop learning applied to double loop learning itself.

This reference has the merit of being short but thereby offers little value to apply the analogy to other contexts (if the examples provided do not make enough sense).

In the context of learning alliances (one of my hobby horses as I work with learning alliances and IRC wrote about it (2) and works a lot with this type of multi-stakeholder approach),

Double loop learning in learning alliances (graph credits: CIAT)

CIAT one of the CG centres who has pioneered learning alliances refers in the ILAC sourcebook (part 2 – tools and approaches, chapter 14 on learning alliances) to the importance of a double loop learning cycle to implement strategic actions, as depicted in the image (right here).

Then there is this interesting article ‘Transformational change in organisations’ by Mary R. Bast which focuses mainly on individuals (contrary to the organisational double-loop learning practice described in the figure above) and particularly emphasises triple-loop learning as the condition for transformational change, as opposed to incremental learning through single-loop learning and reframing through double-loop learning. This article borrows from Robert Hargrove’s Masterful coaching and explains that the essential contribution of triple-loop learning is that it paves the way for transformational change (3) – a process that essentially requires that we reassess our point of view about ourselves. Another interesting point made here is that transformational change can be hindered by single and double loop learning. This article covers, with explicit (and built-on) examples, the three types of learning loops and gives perhaps the best illustration about learning loops that I could find, even if it could have been written in a more simple manner.

Learning cycles, according to Wikipedia

Of course I shouldn’t afford not to mention what Wikipedia has to say about learning cycles… in this case not very much (nor to the point) as it goes on about a research-supported method for education looking successively at engaging, exploring, explaining, extending and evaluating… ah, when the wisdom of the crowd becomes the wastedump of the proud…

Learning and KM in the development sector, a KM4DEV discussion

And finally, although this wiki entry could be a bit more structured, it offers a number of very valuable insights into the topic of learning and touches upon the learning loops (particularly by Irene Guijt).

I hope that these references provide a bit more information about this topic of learning cycles. As usual, feel free to point to more relevant resources…

In the meantime, I’ll be working on my next stock-taking post, either about complexity theories or about facilitation tools and approaches. What say you?


One of the key references that is not mentioned here but was talked about in the previous post on learning cycles is the article (PDF) that Marleen Maarleveld and Constant Dangbégnon wrote, where they refer extensively to triple-loop learning.

In-text notes:

(1) Experiential Learning: Experience As The Source Of Learning And Development was published in 1984

(2) The book that IRC authors wrote about learning alliances in the water sector is available here.

(3) Transformational change is described as: “…empowering people to transform who they are and reinvent themselves by helping them to see how their frames of reference, thinking, and behavior produce unintended consequences… to surface and question the way they have framed their points of view about themselves, others, or their circumstances with the idea of creating a fundamental shift”

Related blog posts:

Blogging for what? For reflecting, for sharing, for learning, for synthesising, for…

When I started this blog, about a year and a half ago, I stepped into the darkness, I marched for the light, whose shape I couldn’t quite picture then. Blogging just sounded like a good practice to follow but, as my former manager Viktor Markowski (founder of Conosco) said, “to do what?” I hadn’t yet figured that part out. I was just enthusiastic starting something new, a characteristic of my resource investigator nature (1). And with that initial enthusiasm (which I reflected upon in this initial post) came the risk of quickly losing the energy and whimsically wanting to get on with other new exciting adventures. The risk was real, and indeed my blogging waned after a few clumsy posts.

Blogging for quality learning and sharing (photo credits: Envios)

In early 2009, I decided to confront my inconsistency head on and obliged to blog on a weekly basis, as I mentioned in a post about blogging I wrote in January last year.

Thinking back about the whole blogging enterprise now,I realise how much blogging has revolutionised my way of working and communicating. In a bright recent post that my mate Christian Kreutz wrote, a number of people refer to blogs as crucial tools for deeper reflections. I totally share these views. My own practice has benefitted from blogging – I think, but please offer your challenging views on this – on a variety of avenues:

  • First and foremost, blogging has been an unprecedented opportunity to clarify my thoughts and structure my ideas to be able to offer more clarity on the concepts, approaches and tools I use in my work. By explaining issues to myself and others, I have gained a lot of coherence in the way I express myself and argue.
  • Secondly, it has allowed me to engage with readers and reflect more deeply upon my own thinking, leading to a richer reflective learning. In this it reflects the Native American saying: “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may not remember, involve me and I will understand”. Of course it is not as useful as physically working together but it comes close to it.
  • Thirdly it has helped me collect, organise, synthesise and repackage key resources on the topics I care for. The stock-taking post collection I started is a central premise of this effort, but generally referring to other resources is great for readers and for oneself. By the way you can still vote for the topic of my next stock-taking post here.
  • It has also allowed me to use my own creativity to write in a tone that reflects my personality and to use some of my favourite mental models, quotes and to play with words in a way that is often not possible in my ongoing (more formalised) work.
  • Furthermore, for a goldfish nature like mine, blogging has also allowed me to remember things a lot better. Writing things down has helped me carve them in a special spot in my memory. The added benefit here is that whatever is written is in turn more easily shareable with others, which is one of the main axis upon which social bookmarking rests.
  • And last, but certainly not least, the very practice of writing and reflecting on a regular basis, taking up all the above ingredients, has probably allowed me to engage in a more structured and regular learning practice that leads to discerning patterns of a finer granularity. I am a lot more aware of what I should/can do with information – of whatever nature, through talking or reading – that comes across my path. It helps me to integrate and question this information and to think about how I learn, thereby indulging in double and triple-loop learning (more about these concepts on this blogpost).

All in all, it has been for me an extraordinary journey through my consciousness and dedication and one that gives me confidence that blogging is here to stay, for a while at least, in my practice. For 2010, I therefore hope to keep blogging, to engage even more with all of you, and to see you come up with your own blogs. If you like writing or learning, really give it a go and tell me what you think! If you already have a blog, let’s share ideas and discuss!

(1)    see Belbin’s team roles for more on this – to take with measure obviously. The official Belbin website is: http://www.belbin.com/

Cycles, circles and ripples of learning

Last Monday, I gave a one-day workshop [1] on knowledge management, learning and cooperation to help an organisation (and wannabe network) to harness opportunities and to address existing gaps, while focusing on a long term vision that inspires them.

It was a very valuable and useful experience at many levels, not least because it gave me a chance to review my own KM basics and to consider the big picture of learning again… a luxury I don’t often have, being involved in many different projects and activities (and I’m not even emphasising the constant attention spam that Twitter and other means provide).

Perhaps a specifically interesting point for me was the particular combination of learning cycles, circles and ripples (even though I didn’t mention this as such during the workshop) which may be strong drivers to successful learning initiatives and environments:

The learning cycles refer to the sense of continually engaging in iterative cycles of learning where doing is connected to observing to reflecting to reforming (taking on board new insights, ideas) and to planning again to doing again etc. (entering a new cycle).

This is simple ABC of learning and there are plenty of different learning cycles out there – just google a simple image search on learning cycle and you end up with quite a few hits.

One of the many learning cycles one can find on Google

One of the many learning cycles one can find on Google

The circles are perhaps better referred to as learning loops: single, double and triple. There was a recent discussion about these loops on the Pelican initiative mailing list and Irene Guijt mentioned a very nice example of these three learning loops in an article by Marleen Marleveld and Constant Dangbégnon [2] – freakingly dated from as far as 1998!!!

It is useful to use…

  1. Single loop learning: to analyse if we have achieved the goals we set out to achieve and potentially revise our approach to do the same better. This, to me is about being efficient.
  2. Double loop learning: to analyse the assumptions that led us to define a particular goal (and potentially revise the basis of our activities, in other words to do different things to have a better effect. This, to me, is about being effective – but perhaps as a point in time.

    Single / double / triple loop learning

    Single / double / triple loop learning

  3. Triple loop learning: to analyse how we can continually be effective by learning to learn. This concept is only half-baked I think but what seems important is that it is the precondition to being dynamically relevant, i.e. relevant all the time, by reinventing ourselves regularly to come up with the most appropriate way (possible to us) to respond to or anticipate on our environment. The interesting aspect of triple loop learning is the emphasis on transforming oneself and on the importance of questioning oneself deeply to assess what may prevent us from learning more deeply (hence from being yet more relevant).

Finally, the ripples are the different levels at which we are learning, and using the fruit of learning, since there is not much point in learning if not applying its fruits: by ourselves as individuals, with internal teams we’re working directly with, the wider organisation within which we are operating and finally the wider ripples of outsiders we work or interact with. Of course this is a simple picture and we can imagine a much more complex series of learning interactions with various groups in various activities. But the point is: learning happens at different junctions and the interaction of our ripples sharpens it.

How wide are your learning ripples?

How wide are your learning ripples?

With all these elements in hand, we get the following picture:

Cycles are concerned with the direct actions around us; circles are stretching us internally while ripples are stretching our surroundings. Therefore it is in the combination of these learning cycles, circles and ripples that learning reaches out to all its dimensions and it is in that combination that learning becomes indeed a vast and deep sea we all dive in.

On the sideline, after looking at these pictures it is difficult to think of learning as a square matter. Of the importance of circles in human societies… that would be an interesting blog post to track or write.

In the meantime, the next week will be all about circles and it sounds promising: I will be attending a meeting of the IKM-Emergent programme where we’ll be discussing progress so far and planning exciting activities for the next phase. More to come on this very soon – perhaps directly from Maastricht where we’ll be holding the workshop. For now, I’ll call this a day and use my (bi)cycle to get back home…

Additional notes

[1] Although I’m not proud of the design of my presentations (I don’t like Powerpoint, even if I recognise its usefulness and the fact that it’s possible to create amazing presentations with it), but still find hereby the main presentation I gave in a quick and dirty way.

[2] Check section 2.2.2 in http://www.iwe.wur.nl/NR/rdonlyres/9B516255-D70C-4A86-855B-40E57BDBAC59/49433/Maarleveld.pdf.

Related blog posts:

Overlapping ripples: learning together

Overlapping ripples: learning together