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Am I allergic to learning measurement?

October 21, 2011








This spring, I seem to have developed allergies for the first time in my life. They weren’t severe, thankfully, but they were a true annonyance.  Itchy ears, stuffy nose, expensive but seemingly effective Aerius pills, you know what I mean.

Now in my third mooc, #change11, I find myself developing an allergy of a different kind: a nauseous, eye-rolling, headachy feeling whenever someone talks about formalizing and measuring social or informal learning. It triggers some primal response from me that looks like Kermit, all flailing arms and squealing, “Why does it even matter how I learned to perform as long as I can do the job well ?!” Whether it was a certain number of Tweets or blog posts? A conversation of a particular duration? Self-study and reflection? A certain number of days in a classroom? A desk aid or manual of a particular length?

Do you really want me to spend my limited time and energy trying to tease that out on some kind of system that you can quantify on a checklist, print on a report and decide whether it’s enough or not? I’m starting to see this mindset of formalizing the informal as a cop-out for not making time to understand performance.  If we reinvested into performance support the time, energy and dollars we are trying to shove into learning management systems, learning reports and smiley sheets, we might have a better understanding of the standards we are trying to achieve and the gaps between current and desired performance.  Even then, training will only close part of the gap, if any. The rest has to do with incentives, attitudes, working conditions and other factors that training will never be able to address.  Jane Hart and her associates say this much better than I can.

By contrast, I don’t even remember now how I found this delightful video a few days ago of Kenyan farmer, Zack Matere, in Growing Knowledge:

It doesn’t really matter which newsletter or contact it came from, whether it was required or suggested reading posted on a wooden or virtual bulletin board.  What matters is that I made the time to consume it, connect it with prior knowledge and get something out of it that changes my performance (such as figuring out how to add video to this post).

I now feel more committed to blogging in the same way that Zack feels about social, networked farming: “I felt proud because something that wasn’t there before was suddenly there.”

Right on, Zack, that was just the pill I needed.


From → Smarter worker

  1. “Information is powerful, but it is how we use it that will define us”. Wow, this is the most beautiful and best video I have seen in a long time. I lived for 16 months in South Africa (traveled in Namibia and Botswana as well) and this video touches me in a very special way. A simple wooden notice board, works perfect…..:-)
    I am weary of measuring learning, definitely at schools. I read somewhere (I forgot where and exactly how it was said) but it was something like, “if we would not test kids all the time, they would not be afraid of failure”. In the workplace, it is not about what you have studied, what you know, but what you can DO with all that information. If it is not much, then, what use is it?
    Thank you for the wonderful video and the message it so clearly gives.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, Irene. I’m also happy to hear you got to experience RSA firsthand. I have wonderful friends from there who are now living in the South Pacific.

    A wooden notice board is lovely and reminds me of something I saw in the news last month about a small wooden box with a glass door that someone had put out on a country road in a ‘give one, take one’ lending library kind of way. Have Googled like mad but can’t find the link now, sorry.

    Love the idea of allowing for failure by not testing all the time. Reminds me of Freakonomics chapter on teachers in the US who helped their students cheat on standard exams. What a waste of energy!

  3. Thanks for this post, how right you are!

    Learning “has to do with incentives, attitudes, working conditions and other factors that training will never be able to address” and especially will not be captured in quantified numbers of any sort.

    • Thanks, Wolfgang. I completed my professional design certification through this organization and one of the biggest ‘aha’ moments I had was from their description of eight factors that affect performance (see performance here.) Of the eight, the only one training can impact is knowledge and skills. The others are up to the individual or organization to address. Few clients really get that. They want to blame training for everything (or expect it to solve everything) rather than taking ownership for the other factors within their control.

  4. Interesting idea about this allergy to measurement. I agree, in that those measurement criteria are almost always developed by people not attending the learning. This is a constant challenge I face as I work with instructional design.

    However, with this said, you probably have some personal idea of what works for you, even a vague notion that in itself is sufficient for you to put your time and energy into it. With this said, how do you envision maintaining interest and time and value in your MOOC participation?


    • Hi, Jeff. I hear you on the instructional design side. The organization I currently work with is just starting to experiment beyond level 1 smiley sheets and evaluation as a whole is not my forte, though I am keen to learn more about it.

      Thanks for your great question. This is my third kick at moocing (I consider myself to have participated ‘fully’ in CCK11 and lurked in PLENK2010). I started into them as a fairly easy going self-paced learner who was well aware of her limitations in time and energy. I also don’t believe in multi-tasking or working overtime, which gives me a keen sense of what I can reasonably accomplish in a typical hour or day. I do some of this mooc at work and this is the first one in which I have done some from home, out of sheer interest not out of panic to keep up.

      Here’s my simple equation: my time + my level of effort = my access to insights. That’s just a different way of saying that what I get out of ‘being’ in a mooc is directly proportional to what I put into it. More than any previous mooc, I am experimenting with blogging, FB and Twitter and continuing to feel out which have the biggest payoff in terms of useful connections to people and knowledge as well as meaniningful interaction with my fellow participants and facilitators. Hope that helps? Keen to know your thoughts…

      • I like your equation!
        I never really agreed with the “what you put in is what you get out,” partly as I think that opportunities for a-ha moments and transformative experiences do not necessarily increase with more time spent, and as I am sensitive to these experiences (and they are in my area of research, and thus interest), I am constantly wondering if there is a better or more effective way to explore these connections within MOOCs. I have not been able to make much progress in this regard, though have also not actively focused on it before as I am beginning to now.
        With this said, I look forward to hearing more about your experience this MOOC around.

        • Thanks, Jeffrey. I’m having one of those weeks in which I have been away from the webosphere and feeling ‘behind’ so will catch up in a different way than usual tomorrow and see what that reveals about my participation.

          Perhaps it’s like a slot machine…it feels like more exposure to the mooc content will up my chances of aha moments but the payoff is actually random and thus enticing/addictive? And yet it’s not exactly random because I will gravitate towards certain contributors as I become familiar with their reflections or come to ‘know’ them.

          Must ponder further and brew up another blog post soon! Cheers!

  5. Elizabeth Kenney permalink

    I loved the video – taking what you learn and sharing it to make things better for your community. A real contribution, motivated by excitement in learning something new and wanting to share it. The result – initiative. Organic, genuine initiative.

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