On learning, leadership, and impact: a new kind of dialogue to tackle the challenges that threaten our societies

Reda Sadki Writing

The Geneva Learning Foundation’s new Dialogue is an invitation-only global conversation exploring learning, leadership, and impact. Our aim is to explore new ways to connect individuals who are tackling the challenges that threaten our societies. In the past, one observation has been that conversations around learning and leadership tend to happen between nearly-identical peers. One of the bets we are making is that to progress our understanding on leadership, diversity is a necessary condition. And, indeed, I am struck by the radical diversity of the Dialogue’s participants so far. My conviction is that such improbable connections could create new possibilities for facilitated dialogue to surface new insights into the nature of leadership in the Digital Age. Below are three examples, connecting a disease control student from Ghana, an engineer working on a water pipeline in Libya, and an NGO worker from New Zealand.

Learning, leadership, and impact in the Digital Age: In dialogue with Karen Watkins

Reda Sadki Writing

Listen in on the Foundation’s first invitation-only Clubhouse chat. Karen Watkins and I chatted about the Foundation’s unique approach to this triptych of learning, leadership, and impact in the Digital Age. We shared some of the insights we gained about resilience during the first year of COVID-19, learning from the Foundation’s immunization programme that connected thousands of health professionals during the early days of the pandemic. It was informal in ways intended to provoke incidental learning. No stilted panel, rigid agenda, or dull slides. And, most important, we opened up the dialogue to include real-world challenges, successes, and lessons learned that were shared before the chat by invitees. Those we discussed include: Children adapting to digital learning in Lebanon during the COVID-19 period with involvement of girls actually increasing because of the use of digital technology. How to deal with resistance against peer-supported learning in pyramid organizational hierarchy. Bringing a …

Colorful paint splash

Imagining a new kind of community of practice

Reda Sadki Design, Writing

Busy managers may enjoy connecting socially and exchanging informally with their peers. However, they are likely to find it difficult to justify time doing so. They may say “I’m too busy” but what they usually mean is that the opportunity cost is too high. The Achilles heel of communities of practice is that – just like formal training – they require managers to stop work in order to learn. They break the flow of learning in work. Incentives or perks may help substitute for intrinsic motivation, but these will be counter-productive, if only because they establish expectations that are difficult to meet over time. Instead, we earn trust and establish relevance by providing services in ways that save time and help solve their business problems. During the inaugural phase, this is similar to a ‘conciergerie’ service, at the beck and call of the managers who just need to ‘push a …

Hub and spokes by Robert Couse-Baker

Against the hegemony of the ‘International Trainer’: Transforming learning to decolonize global health

Reda Sadki Writing

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break. When the levee breaks, I’ll have no place to stay. – Led Zeppelin While the International Trainer lands at the airport, is chauffeured to her hotel, and dutifully reviews her slides and prepares her materials, a literally and figuratively captive audience has been herded at great cost to that same hotel, lured in by a perverse combination of incentives. The costs are mostly related to the incidentals of travel and accommodation, but the stakes are significant. Never mind that the outcomes are unlikely to be evaluated in any meaningful way. The symbolism of such ‘learning theater’ is well-rehearsed. Its funding is seldom questioned. In any case, questioning its value does not seem to slow down expenditure, much less lead to meaningful change in practice.  The whole affair is a fascinating microcosm of the broader power relationships that underpin global development. Let …

Fruits

Pros and cons of online courses

Reda Sadki Writing

“Please, I need someone to enlighten me on the pros and cons of online courses for active learning and professional development.” There is quite a bit of contextual information missing to decode what is really being asked. We only know that it is an individual professional from an anglophone country in Africa. Still, I can think of at least three ways to answer this question. Answer #1. Wrong question. This is the wrong question. Pros and cons depend on the quality of the pedagogy, the teaching and facilitation team, the resources, technologies used, context, learning and learner objectives… everything except the medium. Review a course against criteria like the above, not as an abstract consideration. Define your own goals. What are you hoping to achieve? What is the relationship between perceived quality and cost? The residential experience is still perceived as the gold standard for education. And it tends to …

Inside a lava tube on Hawai'i (Personal collection)

Ashes to ashes

Reda Sadki Writing

L&D is dead. Pushing us down the blind alley of technological solutionism, the learning technologists have demoted learning to tool selection. Microlearning reduces the obsession with knowledge acquisition from a one-hour video to 60 one-minute videos. Gamification is lipstick on the pig of behaviorism. xAPI and other “X”-buzzwords are just the latest tin con by desperate LMS vendors. Fantasizing that VR or AR will save us perpetuates the persistent confusion between tools and process. As ‘learning leaders’ we are condemning ourselves to irrelevance by chasing ephemeral fads, investing in empty gimmicks, and embracing bearded gurus spouting non-sense. ‘Learning in the flow of work’ is a successful consultant’s buzz word, but will not help us any more than 70-20-10 did. Leadership ‘development’ remains about pampering a few executives old enough to appreciate cushy hotel and conference rooms. Kirkpatrick died, replaced by a coterie of rabid Kirkpatrick wannabes frothing at the mouth …

Diving platform on Graveyard Hill in Kabul from TV-Hill, Afghanistan. Sven Dirks, Wien

The significance of digital platforms to the business

Reda Sadki Learning strategy, Thinking aloud, Writing

Business gets done by groups in workshops and meetings and by individuals in private conversation. There is an undeniable cultural advantage for diplomacy that comes from looking your interlocutor in the eye. Emerging digital platforms are in the margins of this business. The pioneers are creaky in their infrastructure and, ironically, playing catch-up. They have long lost the initial burst of enthusiasm that led to their creation. Yet they are still here, alive and kicking with funding that can support, in principle, their reinvention. For this, they need courage and creativity, especially if they function in a bureaucratic environment. Then there are new platforms in search of purpose and the users it would bring. Sometimes, it is the other way around. No platform is perfect. All of them have strengths, experience, insights, and the potential to be more in the future than what they are now. Some have already achieved …

Subject matter experts as a learning problem

Reda Sadki Writing

Copenhagen. I chat with two “learning consultants”, whose job it is in their respective universities to help faculty improve how they teach. Much to my dismay, I understand that their role is perceived as being about the adoption of new tools (“Should I use Adobe Connect or Zoom?”). Yet they are a case in point that learning technologists provide a rare opportunity for university faculty to think through how they teach. In such institutions of teaching and learning, guess who is paid more? Cue Felder’s infamous quote: “College teaching may be the only skilled profession for which systematic training is neither required nor provided – pizza delivery jobs come with more instruction.” Subject matter experts are a problem. They are expensive. If they are good, they tend to be too busy to contribute. They often confuse knowing with teaching. Their best intention is to transmit what they know. They are …

Magic

Reda Sadki Writing

We struggle with the measurement of learning. Elaborate frameworks compete for attention. The sophistication of complexity theory or fractals, the business speak of ROI, levels, pyramids, concentric circles… every learning guru peddles a model to describe and diagnose the effects of what we try to do – and what learners actually do most often on their own. How can we possibly describe the complex chain of correlation and causation between a learning intervention or incident and an outcome? Is there an important distinction separating knowledge or skills “transfer” from the progression to implementation and, ultimately, impact? How much of a difference can we actually make on performance outcomes or human capital development, when so much is related to the environment’s learning culture? I described a few of the outcomes we are observing for our most advanced global programme. Learners are transmuted into teachers, leaders, and facilitators. In some countries, learners are …

Humanitarian Leadership Academy merges with Save the Children UK

Reda Sadki Writing

I asked three questions, four years ago, as a sympathetic observer eager to see a learning organization – launched with much fanfare and 20 million British pounds of DFID support – help improve humanitarian work. Never really got an answer. Until today. It turns out that the Humanitarian Leadership Academy is being absorbed into the UK’s largest international NGO. (Save the Children originally lobbied for the Academy’s startup funding and hosted it, yet never entrusted the Academy with its own training…) The Academy consistently touted the snake oil of gamification or fads like the “Social Age” under the guise of “innovation” (often seemingly for its own sake), fig leaves for a startling lack of strategic thinking and an eerie vacuum of learning leadership. Never mind the questionable donors, it is now clear that the Academy’s roots in charity and “free training” made it mission impossible to not just explore but …