Saturday, 4 August 2007

Informal learning - identifying bad practice

Being a huge advocate of organisations paying more attention to informal learning, I've been attempting to raise awareness with practitioners of project managers of possible ways of learning. Then I had a sudden crisis of confidence. What if they are learning not the most effective ways to do things, but are validating bad practice.

I'm not saying that this happens, just that it's a possibility. In any gathering where practice experiences are shared, it's surely possible that there are more novices than experienced practitioners. If the experienced practitioner is advocating a practice which is not necessarily the most effective way to do things, or indeed, advocating bad practice of some sort, how are the novices to know that they should not adopt that practice? How do they identify "good" practice, when they have nothing to compare it against? After all, we don't know what we don't know. And who has the authority to identify good practice.

I return then to the concept of communties and networks, as it seems that the more contact novices have with ways of working, the more likely they are to identify mulitple ways of acting, and so be able to make their own decisions about what is good and bad practice. Without multiple contacts with multiple ways of working, their options for choosing an effective approach are lessened, another argument for the concept of Connectivism and networked learning, as advocated by George Siemens. It also appears to indicate that any community of practice must have a mix of novices, experts and all those in between, which in itself has implications for the moderation or management of communities to gain the best result for organisations.

Is it then the role of the community facilitator or coordinator to maintain a mix of skills and abilities in any given group, and if so, how do they go about identifying these? Maybe a community coordinator can direct the make up of a community to some an extent, but the development of skills in critical reflection and relationship building is far more empowering, and may better enable novices to consider critically any practice they come across. In addition, skills in network development will help them identify more individuals from which they can learn multiple ways of working.

1 comment:

Dave Lee said...

Hi Helen. I just bumped into your blog via Facebook. I've had the same concern for some time. Three things that I believe a community of practice can do to help slow the spread of bad practices might be: 1) identify bad practices. Rating systems can rank low rated objects just as well as #1 and #2. 2) Document mistakes. Open and responsible sharing of all experiences, not just victories can help others to not go down the wrong path. 3) Identify who the experts are. Don't leave it for every learner to figure out who knows what they are talking about.

Great posts, Helen. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.