Excerpted from: Victoria J. Marsick, Rachel Fichter, Karen E. Watkins, 2022. From Work-based Learning to Learning-based Work: Exploring the Changing Relationship between Learning and Work, in: The SAGE Handbook of Learning and Work. SAGE Publications.
Reda Sadki of The Geneva Learning Foundation (TGLF), working with Jhilmil Bahl from the World Health Organization (WHO) and funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, developed an extraordinary approach to blending work and learning. The program started as a series of digitally offered courses for immunization personnel working in various countries, connecting in-country central planners, frontline workers, and global actors. The program was designed to address five common problems in training (Sadki, 2018): the inability to scale up to reach large audiences; the difficulty in transferring what is learned; the inability to accommodate different learners’ starting places; the need to teach learners to solve complex problems; and the inability to develop sufficient expertise in a timely way to ensure learning is greater than the rate of change (Revans, 1984).
The approach grew out of work with Scholar, an innovative learning platform, developed at the University of Illinois by Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis. As the technology implementation of their ‘new learning’ theory, Scholar emphasized seven affordances of learning in a digital age that look at how new technologies change the way knowledge is created and how people connect and socialize (Cope & Kalantzis, 2016). The elements of the Scholar approach include: community-building functions and resources, such as dialogue area surveys and social media; and knowledge creation functions, including a collaborative publishing and critiquing space and tools such as language checkers, annotation functions, and a number of analytics including grade-level writing scores (see Figure 11.3).
Learning in this digital milieu is very different, not because it is new (given decades of experience with the internet), but because of the rapid rate of change compared to traditional courses that rely on a fixed understanding of how we learn when we share physical space. Published work is often generated by the learners themselves either from their existing libraries or what they produce within the course – which may also become available to other courses; from internet searches, source documents within their work, etc. Project-based learning is not new either, but the scale, the speed, and the meaning of such connections (i.e., how they are experienced) are. Learning contributions of this kind reduce the need for subject matter experts and are both convincing and situated in real-life contexts. Complex cases demonstrate the problems at the center of the course. Group dialogue and the development of proposals to solve real problems build a shared knowledge base. Participants develop action plans of how they will address the problems that are in their workplace. Finally, peer critiquing and support enable everyone to improve their plans from whatever starting place.
Deliberate efforts are made to create a learning community using tools that are already embedded in daily practice (keeping in mind that these tools are constantly changing) and structured activities like randomized coffee trials (Soto, 2016) through which learners meet outside of class to get to know one another socially (i.e., ‘to be human together’). Learning is scaffolded by a human knowledge network (Watkins & Kim, 2018) with peer review, staff support, expert resources, and a unique Scholar alumni cadre of former students who volunteer as ‘accompanists’ to support new learners in navigating the technology and whatever else creates a barrier for novices. Peer review is based on an expert rubric and facilitated by the Scholar team. This approach is scalable, with more than 800 learners in each cohort and 400 alumni volunteering to serve as accompanists. A small project team manages multiple cohorts at a time, with a duration of six to 17 weeks, depending on the course.
Recently, the Scholar team developed the Impact Accelerator, an extension to the courses that supports the implementation of course projects and encourages participants to develop new initiatives through collaboration. The Accelerator combines weekly webinars and assemblies, regular check-ins on implementation status, and support for developing in-country teams. Participants share best practices and challenging problems, for which peers provide help, responding as a culture without requiring prompting or intervention to do so. Initial findings from an evaluation of the Accelerator indicated faster implementation of action plans and improved collaboration among participants.
Over 20 country groups formed. In a short time, alumni documented that, as a result of what they learned and implemented, immunization coverage in their region improved. Learning involves a unique blend of a traditional format – an e-learning delivery platform – and consistent and deliberate use of actual work challenges and plans to generate improved workplace performance through a combination of peer support, healthy peer competition, and mentoring and coaching.
Sadki’s approach has been called ‘magic’. He disagrees. He says: ‘Learners are transmuted into teachers, leaders, and facilitators. In some countries, learners are self-organizing to take on issues that matter to them, evolving course projects into a potentially transformative agenda.’ He says success comes ‘from modestly intersecting the science of learning with real, lived learning culture and from reframing education as philosophy for change in the Digital Age. That, and a lot of elbow grease’ (Sadki, 2019). Sadki believes that impact is possible – even tangible – when educators connect the dots among the course, the individuals, and their context. His approach combines informal and incidental learning with conscious restructuring of context. The goal of his courses is knowledge creation focused on creating change in the workplace. The approach has gained sufficient momentum that ‘Scholar’ is more a movement than a learning approach. Sadki, a lifelong social entrepreneur and activist, has invented a new approach to learning and changing individuals and organizations. Table 11.2 summarizes features of the initiative map against the framework of learning in terms of separation, coterminous, seamlessly integrated or learning based work.
Cope, B., Kalantzis, M., 2016. Conceptualizing e-Learning. Common Ground Publishing, Chicago.
Revans, R. (1984). The origins and growth of action learning. London, England: Chartwell- Bratt.
Sadki, R. (2018). Peer learning support capacity building with Scholar. Poster presented at the Teach to Reach Conference, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Sadki, R. (2019). Magic. Retrieved from: https://redasadki.me/2019/03/25/magic/
Siemens, G. (2007). Connectivism: Creating a learning ecology in distributed environments. In Hug, T. (Ed.). Didactics of micro- learning. Concepts, discourses and examples (pp. 53–68). Munster, Germany: Waxmann verlag GmbH.
Soto, M. (2016). A simple tool to help M&A integration: Randomized coffee trials. Retrieved from: https://blogs.harvard.edu/ msoto/2016/01/26/a-simple-tool-to-help-ma-integration-randomised-coffee-trials/
Watkins, K. & Kim, K. (2018). Current status and promising directions for research on the learning organization. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 29(1), 15–29. doi:10.1002/hrdq.21293