Written by:

Holly Macdonald


September 15, 2010

Yesterday on Twitter, I saw this brief exchange between @JaneBozarth and @Dave_Ferguson, both of whom are consistently witty (and informative) in 140 characters.  It made me chuckle out loud and my daughter shouted “what are you laughing at?” to which I replied “oh nothing, just something kind of funny on Twitter”.

What I found really interesting when I thought about that a little was that this is a micro-example of the contextual nature of learning and I guess of social learning in particular.  You might read this and interpret this as an exchange between a couple of users, but since you don’t see what they tweet about all day/every day, you might not know if this was a tongue-in-cheek exchange or a huffy one.   And, if you were taking it literally – you’d wonder if Dave is asking for clarification on the process.

As we see more learning move into the informal world, I think a lot of our learning is going to be  increasingly contextual.  More situations of I guess you had to be there to make sense of it or learn.

This poses a timely question for me for a couple of practical reasons.

  1. Dan Pontefract has been invited to do a talk at TEDxUBC (FastForward Education) and is looking for some input from his readers through his blog (check out the post and make a comment).   I have a keen interest in the (r)evolution of the education system, most of which I think is too content-centric and not context-centric.  We spend too much time trying to fill people’s heads with more knowledge and not enough time helping them figure out what to do with it.  We don’t teach kids skills, we tell them stuff.  I am looking forward to what Dan puts together and while I’d really love to see it in person, at least I can look forward to the video.
  2. Secondly, I am putting together a webinar series called Training Innovations for people who are in HR type roles and are responsible for “training” within their organizations.  One of the big things that the participants have asked for is guidance on developing a training strategy.  How can an organization develop a training strategy with the contextual in center stage?  It isn’t purely about technology, although that would be a big help.  I don’t think leaving things wide open for people to figure it all out for themselves is the solution either.   I think there needs to be some kind of balance in organizations between what is formal learning and informal.  Whether that is unique to each organization or if there is a decision-tree based on size, industry, location, etc…(hmmm, that would be helpful, but unlikely anyone built one of these already?)  What kind of scaffolding is needed to help learning strategy developers include the contextual for their organization?  I am starting with the model I wrote about earlier (Am I peddling frustration?), which focuses on the “stocks” part of the equation, and in reading Harold Jarche’s comments and subsequently beginning to read the Power of Pull, I recognize that creating an environment where serendipity can occur is critical (Abandon Stocks, Embrace Flows).

Do you have suggestions?

As an aside, I also noted that Dave writes about context on his blog and Jane has recently published a book on Social Media for Trainers, which I have not read (sorry Jane) but seems to have a ton of practical ways to work contextually.