Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Agents of Change--Identifying and Mentoring Learners Who Will Change the World

Following up from the last post, there are some very sobering questions that we need to ask which are:

"How many learners who could become effective and much needed agents of change in our societies are falling between the cracks of our present education systems? How many are becoming discouraged and disconnected with their education because the education system requires that they fit a centuries old norm that does not nurture innovation, creativity, or higher end critical thinking skills?

Our responses to such learners has been any of the following:

  • Isolate them and put them together with their own kind in a special class or even a special school.
  • Just keep giving them what we are giving the rest of the class but give them alot more of it to keep them busy.
  • We really don't have to spend alot of time on them because we know that they will always do well at school. We need to spend more time with those students who are struggling and those who are average. Teaching to the lowest common denominator with respect to achievement will give us something to boast about when we undergo school performance reviews and our superiors see how much our test scores have gone up.
  • Send him or her to the principal's office because he or she is always interrupting the class with crazy ideas. He or she have become a real discipline problem because he or she is always bothering other students around him or her and even tries to correct me on what I am teaching. Personally, I think that he or she has "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder" and should be on "meds".

Do any of the above responses sound familiar to you? We need to look at education in a new light. We need to recognize that we need to be able to identify those learners who could make a credible difference in solving the many complex real world problems that we face as societies and encourage the development of their skillsets.

So, if it is important that we not lose such learners, what is stopping us from doing something about it?

Problems That We Have Inherited

  1. Assembly Line Model of Education: This mindset basically treats learners as a "tabula rasa" or blank slates on an assembly line which move from grade to grade with each educator along the assembly line insisting on conformity to the rules and inculcating these learning objects with the required content and skillsets prescribed by a government document, crafted by those in power within a given society. From an economic standpoint there are only two goals that must be met which is the production of efficient, conforming workers and life long consumers. This is for the masses and any learning object that does not conform to the standard comes under the oversight of the quality control department for remediation. It is a good system if all we want to do is create learners who all think alike without a creative or innovative thought among them.
  2. The Egalitarian Myth: Egalitarianism is a principle that says that people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. The concept, in itself, is worthwhile but the problem arises when certain education activists within societies try to apply that to the level of achievement that learners merit. Within a society that has self-entitlement as a mindset, the idea that all learners merit being at a high level with those in the upper achievement spectrum and if they are not, then the reason is poor teaching, poor education policies. poor access to education support systems..etc. The reality that is rejected is the possibility that perhaps the learner himself or herself have not personally acquired the skills necessary to merit being at the higher level. This aberration of this principle clearly rejects the idea of personal responsibility for one's own educational achievement. Out of this myth, we have such debates about whether failing marks should even be assigned to learners despite the fact that this is what they merit, debates about changing what is taught by softening the requirements so that more and more can make their way into the upper achievement levels. (Author's note--I detest both of these ideas and see them as compromises in which we will all pay for in the end).
  3. The Marks Only Syndrome: In our societies the overemphasis on marks alone really brings into question of what we want learners to value in life. Do we want them to work solely for the purpose of acquiring higher marks to gain entrance into higher education or do we want them to learn how to think and learn to love learning itself?
  4. Emotional Reasoning vs. Critical Reasoning: In an age of social media, one of the unfortunate by-products is that we ask the question:" How do you feel about one issue or another?" before we ask the question: "What do you think about one issue or another?", if we ask that question at all. The problem that arises is that we ask young learners in particular to take a stand on an issue such as "bullying" without equipping them with the critical thinking skills needed in order to examine verifiable evidence on both sides of the issue. What you receive then is a stream of emotional language making up opinions without critically examining the root of it. If pushed, many young learners can get beyond phrases such as:"Its not fair". This leaves young learners open to manipulation by others hoping to have them adopt an their point of view uncritically.
How Can We Overcome These Barriers
In order for a transformation to take place a change in mindset is required and a recognition that the present educational mindset is counter-productive to turning out effective agents of change.
 Another requirement is that we stop segregating learners who demonstrate the qualities that would make them potential agents of change and instead mentor them in how to learn in an online world within the social context they find themselves in. Although some would say that we should do this for every learner, the fact is that the skillsets are not present in every learner. One of the most difficult barriers to overcome is the attitude of self-entitlement which is absolutely necessary to overcome in order for the future change agents to consider the needs of all people over their own.

Next--Taking these ideas a step further---helping learners make useful connections with networks

Friday, June 10, 2016

Transforming the Mentoring Relationship Paradigm for the 21st Century

In order for E-Learners to be in sync with the exponential increase in knowledge and information across the disciplines that impact our lives, both professionally and personally, we need to revisit the concept of the mentor relationship which has been in place since the Industrial Revolution. From that point forward the needs of industry dictated the nature and purpose for mentoring. The focus was on teaching workers new skills to produce products that could compete in the market place. For the industrial economy, it had many benefits such as:

  • The same work force that was mentored to fulfill their job related tasks would also be the consumers for these products which meant that capital that was invested in training could in part be recovered through the spending of workers on the products produced. To encourage this part of the market, employee incentives such as product discounts, profit sharing...etc were put in place to ensure employee loyalty to their company brand.
  • With mass production came specialization in which the concept of the division of labour came into play. This was advantageous for the business since mentoring could be even more finely focused and if a particular employee's performance did not meet company standards, then an intern could be quickly mentored to fill the position, limiting disruption to the production line.

The rise of the Internet and the sharing of the growing reservoirs of knowledge and information changed the dynamics of competition in that company competition went from local to global very quickly. Protecting your share of the market that you had recently been able to establish and maintain became more difficult with competitors from across the world able to make inroads into your domain and even establish satellite office and production facilities where there had been none previously.


Another phenomena that arrived as a result to this global reach through the Internet was the need to put less emphasis on the acquiring of information alone but also to mentor employees in the skillsets of learning to learn in this new frontier. This included not only how to do effective data searches but also the skill to be able to evaluate information, authenticate information, and draw together or synthesize information best suited to inspire solutions to complex real world problems. The use and evaluation of the growing technology tools also required that mentoring would allow employees to develop competencies in using such tools. Clearly, the original mentoring paradigm was too narrowly focused to meet the needs of a 21st century globally connected economy.

With the advent of the 21st century, another term that came into the spotlight is the concept of "Coaching". For some businesses this was a step forward away from the original paradigm but for others it was just a new term with the same narrow focus as the industrial economy concept of mentoring.

Transforming to a New Mentoring Relationship for Agents of Change

Paradoxically, the guidance that we need to transform mentoring relationships from their present status, we can take from the Middle Ages and their concepts of textile guilds, apprenticeship and the journeyman. One of the costs that we paid with the age of mass production was that although we now had the ability to create large quantities of a single product for the market, we sacrificed the personal attention and pride in the quality of the product that was produced. Although industry would object and state that there were departments of quality control put in place but the criteria stressed less on the quality of workmanship and more on functionality. To compound the problem, the concept of product "planned obsolescence" was introduced to maintain the customer's dependence on the business and ensure brand loyalty. This in itself spoke to the company's confidence in a cynical manner, in the workmanship of its product line.


 The 21st century also introduced the idea that in order for a company to effectively compete in a globally connected collaborative economy, innovation either in an incremental form or in a disruptive whole change form needed to become part of a company's modus operandi. In order for this to be accomplished the concept of encouraging employees to become "agents of change" and "innovative thinkers" was necessary but the problem was that the type of training or mentoring relationships that were in existence all were tied to the industrial economy model.


Coming back to the Middle Ages model of the mentoring relationship between the master and his or her apprentice, the very human qualities of pride for the quality of what is being produced, attention to detail, concern for developing the skillsets of the apprentice, collaboration with others having complementary skillsets needed for the task at hand and assurance of a line of continuity for high standards in the final example of the journeyman(journey-person in modern sensitivities) are all qualities that a machine can not replicate to the degree a human being can. Presently, such products are available only to a few when the reality should be that this should be the norm for all people.

The Mentoring Relationship in the 21st Century and Beyond

With the advances in robotics and other artificially intelligent machines, we need to re-configure the tasks that we will expect machines to do and the tasks that we will want the new "agents of change" in our societies to do. In this age of vast increases in cross disciplinary knowledge and information, fostering the creativity and higher level thinking skills for the powerful purposes of solving complex real world problems in agents of change are paramount. This should be the priority of the types of mentoring relationships we develop for those who make use of the great potential of E-Learning. The role of technology is that they allow us to extend our thinking but they are still just tools, a means to a human defined end.

The obstacles to achieving this first rests with the formal education sector because from this sector comes employees who are prepared for the new roles of the 21st century or they are prepared for a world that no longer exists. Transformation of high education from its dated assembly line industrial mindset must be breached or we will see a continual stream of both students and future teachers stuck in neutral to the detriment of us all. 
The learning culture of business organizations need to escape organizational inertia and truly think about the point that in order to truly engage employees in this new age of learning, that their personal learning within the organization needs to be valued, nurtured and above all, mentored effectively.

This leaves us with this provocative question. It is a question that you need to ask as the decision makers in your business organization or in the halls of academia in the formal higher education sector:

"Does your learning culture reflect 21stcentury realities with the new emphasis on the importance of mentoring and learning or does the following picture portray your present status?"

Next...The identification and mentoring of agents of change

Monday, June 6, 2016

Transforming Learning Cultures Through Dynamic E-Learning--Part III-Transforming Roles

In making a transformation in the learning culture in a business organization, the question that inevitably comes up is:

"What happens to the roles that already exist within the business organization that already have responsibilities for the oversight of employee learning?

That question is a reasonable question to ask on many levels. In order to answer such a question, it is important to identify the roles that already exist, the responsibilities attributed to those roles, the changing needs of the organization and the degree of fit that the changing needs have with the greater global economy and its needs.

The Chief Learning Officer (CLO)

In most business organizations, the leader who plans and directs the learning of employees is the CLO. In many ways, the responsibilities of the CLO parallel those of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the business organization To truly understand the extent of the responsibilities, it is worth noting that many of the Fortune 50 companies employ CLO's. Examples of such companies would be Citigroup, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan, HP, Goldman Sachs, G.E. and Hess. This is certainly not an all inclusive list and with the growth of the importance of learning in an information and knowledge age, the importance of investing in the learning culture of a business organization is becoming a high priority for companies seeking to grow in a globally connected networked economy.

 Some notable CLO's would include such people as:

  • Tom Evans (PWC) who was in charge of development for 39,000 employees and was CLO of the year in 2014.
  • Amy Hayes (Facebook) who was the Global Head of Learning and Development for 9,500 employees.
  • Tamar Elkeles (Qualcomm 2010) who was in charge of learning and development for 23,000 employees.
The responsibilities of the CLO might be described as follows:

 So, the question that needs to be asked is:

"How and to what degree would the role of the CLO change given the exponential changes in knowledge, technology and pedagogy?"

Although, upon looking at his or her present responsibilities you might simply say "stay the course", it is not that simple because the needs of society that are being shaped by the exponential changes in knowledge, technology and pedagogy also shape the need for new skillsets. Performing these responsibilities now require a higher level of collaboration with such people as:
  • Instructional Designer
  • Learning Principles Expert ( a new position)
  • Trainer/ Mentor 
Unlike the present status of the CLO, with the enormity of the changes that can impact the learning culture of a business organization, the leadership at this level becomes a shared leadership. Rather than the organizational structure at this level being hierarchical, it is horizontal in its design. This is similar to the organizational structure once practiced by Japanese companies such as Toyota.

The Instructional Designer needs to take direction from the Learning Principles Expert who is a person who keeps up to date with the drive to teach people how to learn in an online environment. This person is the leader in the latest Neuro-Cognitive research that describes how people learn in an online world. With this input, the Instructional Designer, employing design system thinking, creates irresistibly engaging learning experiences for employees.

The Trainer/ Mentor is no longer "the sage on the stage" but is now the "guide on the side". Although, in regards to the use of "blended E-Learning", the trainer acts as the guide on the side, this is a starting point for the transformation of the learning experiences and not the endpoint. In a world that places a high emphasis on the importance of collaboration and networking beyond the walls of the business organization, part of the responsibilities of the trainer/mentor should be to seek useful global networks and create networks that can be used to help employees engage in complex real world problem solving for the benefit of the organization. The mentor relationship with employees is important but needs to be structured and streamlined so that the experience for the employee is not impersonal. More about Mentorship in the next post.

What About the SME?

With respect to the Subject Matter Expert (SME) who is a lifeline to the business organization in keeping employees up to date on content, one realization that comes about as a result of the exponential changes in knowledge, information and pedagogy, is that there is more content out there, both valid and invalid, than can be reliably communicated, especially in an "on-time" framework. Adding into this the drive for personalized education and SME's are faced with an important question:

"Which is more important, communicate content that is constantly changing on an ongoing basis or teach people how to learn in an online environment so that they can analyze, evaluate and authenticate the content found in specific areas of knowledge pertaining to the business function?"

This would also mean connecting employees with mentors in different content areas of interest.

If part of the role of the SME changes to include teaching people how to think in an online environment, then employees take charge of their own learning and are empowered to keep up to date on their own time. This makes the job of the SME easier. They might think of also changing their title for the simple reason that the exponential increase of knowledge in the areas of interest makes it difficult for someone to call themselves an expert. Network connections on a global scale becomes a very useful responsibility for the SME because he or she no longer has to be the ultimate expert with respect to content but instead becomes the expert in connecting the CLO to these networks that will enrich the understanding and growth of learning for employees in the business organization.

Next.. Mentoring relationships as a vital past of the learning culture.