Applied learning in the workplace: learning islands and roadmaps
By: Cas Olivier; Cas Olivier can be contacted on
The workplace of the 21st century is characterised by global competition, cultural diversity, as well as technological and management processes that require workers to think critically and creatively, solve problems and communicate effectively. It is imperative that learners are exposed to learning programmes that enable them to fit into a variety of settings.
Traditional learning is a linear learning process, i.e. input, output, input, output, etc. In practice this ended up in lecturing sessions and learning from textbooks and manuals for the next test, and then starting the process all over until an exam is passed. This type of learning always takes place without being coupled to a specific context. The learning happens, so to say, in a vacuum. It leaves the learner with numerous suitcases filled with knowledge tagged with a “piece of paper” called a certificate, diploma or qualification. When they open these suitcases in the workplace, they discover to their surprise that it is not that easy to put into context and apply it.
2. Linear learning
The reason being that the learning took place in a linear way whilst the world outside is based on systems. In fact is common knowledge that nothing in the world happens in a linear way. Everything fits into a system. False expectations are created to promote the idea the once learners have learned in a linear way, they will fit in the real world.
With traditional learning, learners are always playing with a loaded dice. Irrespective of how hard they try to be creative, they always end up in pre-set thinking patterns and paradigms. Learning based on mastering and mastering and mastering to the extreme, does not free the mind. It keeps the mind in predetermined thinking patterns. It is focused on the same problems that many learners before them had solved in precisely the same contexts and ways, using the same methods and aiming at the same solutions. This leaves little or no space for creativity, especially because it is so problem-focused instead of creating room for alternative ways of thinking and developing fresh methods on seeking new solutions
Linear ways of thinking provides comfort zones for many providers and learners, but eventually learners have to face real life where no comfort zones in this regard exist. This is when they are like fish out of water. They have the knowledge, skills and values to swim, but the context won’t allow it.
The brain is certainly capable of thinking and learning in other ways than to just absorb and reconfigure information. Outcomes-based learning allows for innovative thinking, for seeing the world from different perspectives, while using both sides of the brain. With this approach learners can achieve self-realisation and self-actualisation as individuals, as members of a group, as leaders and as followers. It focuses on addressing the creative capacities and all the other dimensions of the human brain. This will limit education and training institutions in delivering carbon copied replicas of syllabi in the mindsets of learners. Creative thinkers are not carbon copies, they extent their thinking by incorporating not only the obvious factors, but also the so-called “unrelated” factors, into their thinking processes.
E learning is but one alternative method of providing linear learning interventions. E-learning packages consists of pockets or containers filled with information or learning content that learners have to master and to be tested on, passed and get another piece of paper. The advantage however is that the content is neatly packaged in bite sized and digestible chunks, beautified, simplified, understandable and easily accessible.
3. Outcomes-based learning: islands and roadmaps
Outcomes-based learning on the other hand paves the way for thinking efficiently, focusing the mind to seek possible answers to possible new (not existing) questions. Outcomes-based learning establishes an environment in which creative thinking can flourish to its full extent.
Outcomes-based learning deals directly with key performance areas or job standards. Achievement of outcomes in this way is fully congruent with the way the real world works. This means that the learning can in no way be linear.
In organisational learning common speak is that of “production islands”. If the above is true, then surely there must be something like a “learning island”. A learning island can be defined as any learning intervention adding value to the learning process and enabling the learner to achieve the learning outcome. To get a clear picture of how this learning looks like one can visualise a clusters of “islands” around and outcome. Some islands are bigger than other and others are smaller, but they are equally important. They all need to be visited to achieve competence. Each time a learner departs from a learning island, value was added and they are closer towards achieving the outcome.
The following are examples of learning islands:
> To prepare for the learning to come.
> An interaction with other people to gather or verify information and understanding.
> A demonstration either real or e.g. a video.
> A lecturing session.
> Doing real tasks.
> Assessing the tasks of an outcome.
> Finalising or concluding a task.
With outcomes-based learning, the learning takes place within a specific context. Mastering knowledge does not become an object in itself, but it is secured during the learning process to become competencies or tools to achieve outcomes. In this way it develops the capacity of learners to perceive problems or intended outcomes in a pro-active fashion. Learners have to approach the content needed to achieve an outcome in a holistic, integrated and system-based way, when they focus on more than one subject at a time. Prepare, perform, interact, conclude and assess do not take place in a vacuum. They take place within the context of the outcome.
Whatever happens within the context of:
> Conclude and
> Assessments will provide the learner, the facilitator, the assessor and the employer of evidence of learners’ achievements of the critical outcomes.
Knowledge, skills and values are bonded together into an end product by means of these five integrated learning steps. These learning steps are integrated since learners need not follow them in the described linear order, e.g. learners may:
Do an assessment of what is perceived as an intended outcome, and then start to communicate (interact) the concepts with co-learners, before they
Start doing some preparation on their own, etc.
Start performing trial-run activities to become aware of the complexity of the outcome, which is a kind of action research;
Interact with others and then start doing detailed preparation, etc.
Interact with others and then
Start “visualising” a new outcome and the steps to get there.
There is no right or wrong step to start with, as long as it is done in an integrated way. Preparation sometimes needs to be a distinct step or phase, sometimes more intertwined with the performances and sometimes occurring simultaneously with the performances of other learning steps. Does the above sound familiar to what is happening in the real word?
E-leaning on the other hand is based on subject content and mastering thereof in a linear packaged way.
To visit various learning islands, learners need a guide of a kind. Such a guide is a “learning Roadmap”.
The Learning Roadmap consists of directions to achieve a qualification/learnership or skills programmes. A Learning Roadmap is populated with various layers of “information”, i.e. information of the qualification and/or unit standards as per NQF, content as in e-learning, and information that will enable learners to prepare, interact, perform tasks, do assessments and conclude activities. All of the above is provided to learners on a CD.
The Learning Roadmap works just like a real roadmap. You hide in an accessible place and only take it out once it is needed. Al that the learner needs is a computer with a CD drive.
The Learning Roadmap enables learners to divert from a patch of knowledge onto a creative problem solving, learning island and back again to search for some more supportive information. As learners learn and develop the Learning Roadmap will enable and empower them to leave learning evidences of their achievements of specific outcomes, embedded knowledge, skills and critical outcomes. The can be stored in a software or hardware portfolio. The Learning Roadmap also assists the learner in organising their portfolios in appropriate and practical ways. In this “guided” way the idea of building a portfolio doesn’t intimidate learners.
As Roadmap Learning is directly aligned with the way learning takes place in the workplace it is congruent with the way the real world works. This, by implication validates the learning.
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