Salvador Dali, Chess Set, 1971 (Andrew Russeth/

Accidents happen

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Question: Why were you looking at their data? Answer: Just out of interest to see. We recognize that some of our most significant learning may occur by accident, as a byproduct of some other activity such as task accomplishment, interpersonal interactions, or trial-and-error experimentation. Where informal learning may be sometimes intentional and more possibly planned, incidental learning is semi-conscious. Call it learning by accident. Call it serendipity. Surprise comes with a new realization, when we are not looking explicitly for answers: The element of surprise may actually be conducive to making the learning “stick”. Outside of “aha” moments which remain exceptional, incidental learning grows slowly through a process of accretion. New insights come when you do not expect them, whether in formal or informal spaces. Incidental learning is embedded into work. Incidental learning depends on context and purpose for its significance. Discovering a new way to do something new has immediate meaning  only if the …

10 habits (Audrey Low/

Learning habits

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

What are the learning habits that we perform on a regular basis to stay current? As professionals, we organize our personal learning habits in different ways that reflect our interests, personalities, and career paths. We rely on a variety of information sources, engage in reading, attend seminars and conferences, or take MOOCs or other online courses. And, of course, we connect with others. The content we seek may be directly related to our work – or conversely we may seek to acquire knowledge outside our immediate realm and field of vision. Some or if not most of our reading of work-related content takes place outside of work, even though some of us may choose to cordon off our private lives and succeed in doing so at least some of the time. We use these information sources in different ways, striving to question what we learn, sorting and organizing what we gather.  We recognize the deeply …

Casse-tête (Frédérique Voisin-Demery/

How do we solve problems in work?

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

What do we do when we are confronted with a problem?  Problem solving begins when we encounter a new experience. We do this out of necessity, but also because we enjoy it. We also need to be able to solve problems fast. We develop our ability and willingness (including on a political level) to identify, analyze, and solve problems. We accept that tackling problems is painful. It involves risk-taking that may not be supported by the organization. Yet so much of how we learn and grow stems from such experiences. We know that our organization does not necessarily recognize – much less reward – uncovering problems. We need our line management and leadership to support this willingness to tackle problems. Even with supportive management and great colleagues, in many cases we are alone in confronting a problem, if only due to resource and time constraints. Yet we know that our ability to solve problems depends on …

VIA VB7009 Embedded Board - Rear I/O (VIA Gallery/

The value of learning embedded in work

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Learning that is embedded into work resolves the dilemmas of (formal) learning that requires stopping work. What we learn as we work, we learn in order to apply, and such a learning process does not usually require dedicated resources. For those of us who see ourselves as “doers” and oppose our way of doing to that of “thinkers”, we may only reluctantly acknowledge that what we do involves continual learning. It is context, we insist, that provokes a more explicit search for new knowledge, validation, or solution. And that is, in fact, the point: doing is a form of knowing. We rely on experience to address what is familiar. However, even when taking on a task that is similar to one we have done in the past, we may need to adjust, adapt, and change. When we become mindful about learning, we can use any assignment – even mundane tasks – to more …

Smoke (Paul Bence/

Should we trust our intuition and instinct when we learn?

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

How much of what we learn is through informal and incidental learning? When asked to reflect on where we learned (and continue to learn) what we need to do our work, we collectively come to an even split between our formal qualifications, our peers, and experience. As interaction with peers is gained in the workplace, roughly two-thirds of our capabilities can be attributed to learning in work. We share the conviction that experience is the best teacher. However, we seldom have the opportunity to reflect on this experience of how we solve problems or develop new knowledge and ideas. How do we acquire and apply skills and knowledge? How do we move along the continuum from inexperience to confidence? How can we transfer experience? Does it “just happen”, or are there ways for the organization to support, foster, and accelerate learning outside of formal contexts (or happening incidentally inside them)? …

Factory whistles (pwbaker/

Wishful thinking

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Stopping work to learn remains the ideal. After all, many of us carry the memory of residential higher education as a powerful moment of personal growth, at the end of our teenage years and prior to entry into the workforce. Formal learning in the present includes both in-service workshops and trainings as well as various forms of continued professional development (CPD) offered by training providers and higher education institutions. These were traditionally face-to-face and are increasingly delivered at distance (online). Why do we wish so earnestly for more formal learning? Our expressed wish reflects our willingness to stay current and improve. However, wishing for more time to stop work and engage in formal learning is likely to remain wishful thinking because of at least four factors: Time – time is the scarcest resource and formal training requires stopping work to learn, in a learning culture that values task completion. Applicability – learning formally then …

Empty Seats (Jon Candy/

Workshop culture

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

We live in a “workshop culture”. On the one hand, it is costly and exclusionary. Few can afford to travel, and the organization finds it more difficult to afford and justify the expense of moving bodies and materials to meet. Its outcomes are difficult to clearly identify, much less measure. They often contribute to communication overhead. Their format and content may be superficial or stiffen participants through overly formal approaches, thereby stifling creativity. On the other hand, occasions to physically meet with colleagues in the network are increasingly rare. “I meet everybody not even once a year,” bemoans a senior manager. In between, we have learned to blend online and face-to-face communication. Yet, we strongly feel that there is high value to those face-to-face exchanges, even if some of that value may not be immediately tangible. The formal work of a conference may itself be productive because of its process (including reflective practice) …

Rusting away along the river Congo (Julien Harneis/

Emergencies kill learning habits

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

We recognize that large-scale, complex emergencies have a dramatic impact on many aspects of our work, including what and how we learn. Some may feel, based on experience, that emergencies kill learning habits. We put everything on hold – including the things we do to stay current – to focus on the emergency response. However, the disruptive power of emergencies and their intensity fosters new, informal learning and provokes incidental learning indispensable to solve new problems in new ways. That is real-time innovation. Therefore, because emergencies and the change they bring are a constant in our work, we need to harness their disruption and intensity to ensure that lessons are learned and applied – before, during, and after. This requires new approaches, tools, and a change in mindset. We need to retain not only what we learned, but also how we learned it. Photo: Rusting away along the river Congo (Julien Harneis/

Nails (Adam Rosenberg/


Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Applicability is the brick wall of formal training approaches. Not only do we first have to stop work to attend a training, but once the training is completed, the challenge is then to figure out how to apply what we learned to daily work. It is estimated that, on the average, applicability of a well-designed workshop using the best participatory methods (such as simulations, dialogue, problem-solving, etc.) is around ten percent. Nevertheless, we apply new knowledge and skills from formal training, especially on managing teams or administration-related tasks such as finance or procurement, not directly related to our core technical skills. Yet, many of us have fond memories of formal training – irrespective of whether or not we were able to apply any of our learning to our work. Despite difficulty in recalling both the content of formal training and how we were able to apply, we remain willfully optimistic about …

The Longest Carpet Fringe (Theen Moy/

Formal learning of the past

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Formal learning in the past includes formal education and qualifications obtained. They serve as credentials of value to establish that we know – part of building relationships of trust – and provide frameworks of reference (“shelves”) to make sense of new knowledge. From the past, we also draw on personal experience, attitudes, and values acquired or developed in formal education but also from personal life, family and community. As working professionals, we may think of higher education as a “thing of the past”. Nevertheless, formal qualifications matter for our personal brand and remain the prevailing currency in hiring practices. We draw on frameworks, tools and methods we learned in formal study. Foundational elements obtained through formal qualifications may be mobilized as fall-back or to drawn on an “overarching discipline of thought and the rigor of thinking” to help “navigate informal learning”. “We learn foundational elements through courses,” explains George Siemens, “but we innovate through our own learning” (Siemens 2006:131). Photo: The Longest …