Shards (Martin/

Wishful thinking cannot fix broken tools

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

“Continuous learning at the individual level is necessary but not sufficient to influence perceived changes in [performance]. […] Learning must be captured and embedded in ongoing systems, practices, and structures so that it can be shared and regularly used to intentionally improve changes in [performance]” (Marsick and Watkins 2003:134).

“I still can’t find it. And I still need to work on it. It’s a mess.”

“That’s a struggle. I don’t have a good system on that.”

In the last five years, we have mainstreamed the use of electronic media for communication and, to a lesser extent, for formal learning.

The tools we use in learning (whether formal or informal) may change, based on need and context. We know that constant and rapid advances in technology and their costs make it difficult for headquarters (center) and field (periphery) alike  to afford or use the latest, cutting-edge tools. Tools that are officially sanctioned or supported may seem hopelessly out of date, too difficult to use, or both. We look for the pragmatic, lowest common denominator that “just works”. Often, we end up using a mash-up of products, some of which have become nearly as ubiquitous as e-mail, such as Dropbox, Webex, Skype or Excel.

Our tools are dated, yet – no matter how clunky or inefficient – their familiarity is reassuring.

Anchoring (focus, ignoring distractions) and filtering (extracting knowledge we need) require either better tools or improved competencies in using the ones we do have. Still, we lose precious time trying to retrieve information we need.

E-mail is the de facto lowest common denominator, but we expend time, energy, and skills to avoid drowning in it. Even though the promise of e-mail is that of a ubiquitous, low-bandwidth, ultra-fast knowledge and conversation medium to connect us, many of us experience it as a “complete anchor”. Because we treat it as formal communication (not conversation), it is not conducive to the informal learning and sharing that build trust in our working relationships.

Is there really an alternative to the time lost on repetitive tasks made necessary only due to their inadequacies? Doesn’t trying a new, untested tool not (yet) supported by the organization add a series of unknowns and risks?

The platforms we have to work with may feel broken, and attempts in the past to build better platforms failed.

We still look for the one best tool – silver bullet or Holy Grail – and continue to wish for the centralized platform that will single-handedly solve our knowledge problems, despite the repeated failure of previous attempts toward such solutions.

New tools are still conceptualized with the intent to manage, control, and direct activities or outcomes – even though we may intuitively feel that this is not what we need most.

Yet, we have learned that the real value of a new tool is not the tool itself, but what the tool enables.

Most of the technologies we use to enable, accelerate or support our work (and, therefore, our learning) are now online. Finding our way through the constantly-changing jungle of new and old technologies online requires constant effort.

We often start by duplicating the functioning of physical activities in an online space. For example, this shift first happened when Skype increasingly replaced the phone, eventually attaining such a monopoly that it will be difficult for better solutions to displace or replace it. It is ongoing with Webex and other conferencing software (free like Hangouts or enterprise solutions purchased by the organization).

We question traditional approaches and actively seek new methods and tools that can empower people in the network to connect to our global community of knowledge.

We strive to adapt to a changing world in which new electronic tools come into widespread use in some places, when they remain unavailable in others.

Photo: Shards (Martin/