Empty Seats (Jon Candy/flickr.com)

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/flickr.com)

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/flickr.com)

Nails (Adam Rosenberg/flickr.com)


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/flickr.com)

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 …

Jello in mid-air while running (Tony Cyphert/flickr.com)


Reda Sadki Learning strategy

We need to learn faster, to deliver results faster. We find ways to accelerate knowledge development. And yet, although we acknowledge the need to focus on task completion, we accept that our shared learning takes time to build trust and deepen understanding before it can be turned into action. In many cases, we know that the most powerful forms of learning come from surviving stretch assignments – where we tackle new tasks or problems that appear unsolvable that appear to be beyond our capacity and experience. Stretch assignments – not explicitly named or recognized as such – are common in our resource-scarce environment, despite our risk-averse culture.

Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, the Navel of the World (Yulin Lu/flickr.com)


Reda Sadki Learning strategy

The strategies we use to anchor and filter rely on building trust in our working relationships. Learning together is grounded in a shared culture of openness and trust. For example, we trust each other to keep communication to the point. We mobilize different networks of trust, internal and external, based on need. This mutual trust is important as it provides for fast updates, problem-solving, and other forms of dialogue and inquiry – while limiting exploration and avoiding excessive detail. Photo: Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, the Navel of the World (Yulin Lu/flickr.com).

'Tis the Season for Colourful out of Focus Subjects (Billy Wilson/flickr.com)


Reda Sadki Learning strategy

“Our challenge lies in focusing our insights. Distraction from what is important is a continual obstacle.” George Siemens (2006:136) How do we stay focused? How do we extract important knowledge? Anchoring is the act of staying focused on important tasks while undergoing a deluge of distractions. We anchor to pay attention even when we are overwhelmed by the volume and velocity of work. Filtering is how we extract important information. We face an abundance of information that is part of what makes us “busy”, our workload “stressful”, and means we have “no time”. We still spend much time to find what we need. We rely on a number of strategies to find and focus in order to complete the tasks, sometimes at the expense of the bigger picture. We expect technology to help. For example, we want not just a newsletter, but a newsletter on the specific keywords or topics that are …

Ebb and Flow (Alistair Nicol/flickr.com)


Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Knowledge skills are increasingly important due to the pace of change in knowledge. We know that staying current cannot rely solely on formal training. This is both because we seldom have the time and resources to stop our work in order to learn and because the pace of change is faster than our ability to capture and codify it as formal knowledge. The notion that I can know in myself what I need to know is no longer an ideal. Instead, we develop networks and activities to ensure we can access and contribute to the most-current knowledge. We look for knowledge sources that provide currency, authority, and speed of access. Some of us remain frustrated with abundance. Yet, we have learned to accept that abundance is not dysfunctional. It means one won’t read or know everything. The many available depersonalized, electronic channels (such as the keyword-based newsletters and searchable online …

Old rusted anchor chains at Falmouth Harbour (StooMathiesen/flickr.com)


Reda Sadki Learning strategy

 “Hitting a stationary target requires different skills of a marksman than hitting a target in motion.” – George Siemens (2006:93) We are all knowledge workers who struggle with knowledge abundance – too much information.   Our ability to learn is heavily dependent on our ability to connect with others. How well are we able to collect, process, and use information? Individually, we have learned the behaviors that enable us to anchor (stay focused on important tasks while undergoing a deluge of distractions), filter (extracting important elements), recognize patterns and trends, think creatively, and feel the balance between what is known with the unknown. These behaviors “to prioritize and to decipher what is important” are “a bit of an art”, we say. How do we learn them? These knowledge competencies – and the learning processes that foster them – are central to our everyday work, and require explicit reward and recognition (for example, in job …

Triceratops fossil, Galerie de Paléontologie du Jardin des plantes (Paris) (personal collection)


Reda Sadki Learning strategy

“You’ll become a dinosaur if you don’t learn.” People in the organization recognize the need for change, see its value, see their own roles in the process, are willing to adopt new approaches, and possess the competence to move forward with change: At the individual level, we strive to consider each task, however mundane, as an opportunity to learn. Continual learning requires cooperation and collaboration with both internal (dialogue and inquiry) and external (connect to external systems) interlocutors. It is not “not knowing” that is the problem. It is often the lack of doing – a form of knowing. Meaningful connections are made explicitly based on need, rather than prescription, often to solve the problems at hand. Feedback is the key element in how we continually learn. We use feedback to adjust, acclimate, and adapt. We strive to leverage the tension between the learning we do to deliver results and the …