Monday, March 10, 2014

Heutagogy, Self-Directed Learning and Complex Work

Pedagogy had always established an unequal relation between the teacher and the taught. Andragogy stepped in to rectify this and foster awareness about how adults learned. However, the premise was that there was someone doing the "teaching" so to speak. While the principles of Andragogy clearly stated what it takes to motivate adults to learn, the role of a teacher / the expert remained undisputed. Knowles (1970, p7) defined self-directed learning as: “The process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” 

Then came Heutagogy advocating principles of self-determined learning. 
“A heutagogical learning environment facilitates the development of capable learners and emphasizes both the development of learner competencies as well as development of the learner’s capability and capacity to learn" (Ashton and Newman, 2006; Hase and Kenyon, 2000).
"Heutagogy applies a holistic approach to developing learner capabilities, with learning as an active and proactive process, and learners serving as “the major agent in their own learning, which occurs as a result of personal experiences” (Hase & Kenyon, 2007, p. 112).

IMHO, a heutagogical approach is essential today. And I have attempted to discuss “WHY” I think so in the post here.

As the Creative Economy, the Knowledge Era, the Connected Age—call it what you will—sets in and its impact begins to be felt in all spheres of life—personal, professional, institutional—it is becoming imperative to take charge of one’s own learning, development and career graph. Job descriptions are giving way to or soon will give way to competency-based profiles (primarily because it is going to be difficult if not impossible to capture aspects of jobs we are not even aware of). It is going to be up to each individual to pick up skills and knowledge on the go even as they do their work.

Will past experience help? Of course! But not in the usual way we recognize, that is, replicate what we did in the past to be successful today. Past experiences can help us to make sense of the present, analyze and see patterns—but our responses must be driven by the context and reality of the present. This is where we enter the Complex and Chaotic domains of the Cynefin framework. In the Complex domain:
“Complex – relationship between cause & effect can only be perceived in retrospect. We should Probe – Sense – Respond & we can test emergent practices.”

As long as the work environment hovered between the Simple and Complicated domains, organizations and their L&D departments could take charge of the “learning”—via top-down training programs, elearning courses, and refresher training and help people apply the best practices and the good practices—pillars of what made the Industrial Era so successful. The L&D and HR had to ensure that employees received some 12 days of training per year and hope that this would make employees effective and efficient at their work and deliver business results. However, with the passing of the Industrial Era, this model has gradually failed leading to training departments being questioned on their efficacy and worth. The reality is the context has changed so dramatically that the cure of the past is no longer successful in solving the challenges of the present. Even instructionally sound programs based on the principles of Andragogy have failed to meet the needs of the hour.

With the advent of the creative economy, there is barely any hope that such training programs will work to build proficiency and capabilities that can meet the demands of the day. In the creative economy, all meaningful work is happening and will continue to transpire in the Complex domain where the “relationship between cause & effect can only be perceived in retrospect”. This calls for responses on the go and the ability to extract learning.

I have captured some of the key aspects in the diagram below:
Click on the image to see a larger version

With respect to extracting learning, Charles Jennings has written a very insightful post here: http://charles-jennings.blogspot.in/2013/10/workplace-learning-adding-embedding.html

Quoting him here:
“The model of ‘learn then work’ is replaced here with ‘work then learn, then work in an improved way’. Learning is not only embedded in the workflow, but new learning is continually extracted from experiences and exchanges with colleagues, customers and the entire value chain.” (The highlight is mine.)

What Charles J has said is similar to how response happens in the Complex domain of the Cynefin framework and leads to emergent practices – “working in an improved way”. And it can only happen in retrospect.

This ability to respond requires employees / learners who are able to “extract learning” and know “how to learn”. He further writes that: “Examples of this type of workplace learning include narrating work and sharing with colleagues – often achieved by micro-blogging on a regular (possibly daily) basis; active participation in professional social networks is another example.” This ties back to the concepts of micro-learning and learning flows discussed in the blog posts here and here.

What have work in the Complex domain, the Creative Economy, and Learning Flows got to do with Heutagogy?

A fair bit, I think. A heutagogical approach emphasizes that learners negotiate their learning and learning outcomes. This is also closely tied to the concept of capability:
Capable people are those who: know how to learn; are creative; have a high degree of self-efficacy; can apply competencies in novel as well as familiar situations; and can work well with others. In comparison with competencies which consist of knowledge and skills, capability is a holistic attribute.” (The highlight is mine.)

Today’s organizations require people to be capable, to drive their own learning and cooperate to learn together. In return, organizations (if they wish to survive, grown and retain talent) have to let go of the cultural and structural relics of the industrial era, be transparent, and support and sustain a culture of cooperation. The L&D department needs to facilitate and empower all employees to become learners – “learners who have the capability to effectively and creatively apply skills and competencies to new situations in an ever-changing, complex world”.

It is no longer very important (at least in most occasions) to be trained on specifics. If the value of what the organization is seeking to do is evident to the employees, if they are made to feel as much a part of the organization as those in the C-suite, and see how the outcomes achieved will impact them personally, they will take the onus to drive their own learning. This, however, is proving to be the toughest part with most organizations used to creating monetary value for stakeholders, and not emotional value for employees.


In the next post, I am going to delve deeper into various aspects of Heutagogy and how it could be one of the fundamental principles behind the success of courses disseminated the MOOC way—whether by institutions via platforms like EdX and Coursera or by corporates seeking to optimize learning and performance in the workplace. 
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