The New Learning Architect

These are my live blogged notes from Clive Shepard’s presentation titled The New Learning Architect, part of the eLearning Guild’s Thought Leaders Webinar Series. Clive’s book of the same title is available for purchase if you have a Kindle (which I don’t, so I haven’t read the book). (Update 10/16/11: Clive pointed out in the comments below that the book is also available in paperback.)  Additional information and excerpts from the book are available on the Onlignment site. Any typos, mistakes, incomplete thoughts, etc. are mine, not the presenter’s. My side comments in italics.
Clive saw too much “us vs. them” with people supporting traditional vs. new learning methods. This book looks at how to bring those strategies together.

We are born as learning machines. Simplest learning model is just doing things; automatically as we do things, we learn unconsciously. With conscious effort (reflecting, observing, experimenting), we learn more. Doing – learning – doing – learning

Who/what contributes to learning? Model, inform, facilitate, support

  • Teachers, coaches, facilitators, etc. can facilitate this conscious learning.
  • Peers–we have tended to not acknowledge this much
  • Info/Content
  • Experts

Poll questions about how we learned when we first started in our current field, how we learned when we last switched jobs, how we learned a completely new sport/hobby.

People starting in a new field had fairly even split across options (formal learning, coaching, peers, JIT info, experience). Switching jobs was more experience and JIT info. New sport/hobby was heavily for expert/coach.

The point is that how we learn ourselves depends on the situation. We can’t just make generalizations about a single method being right in all situations.

Four Contexts

  • Formal: Learning to do something. Just in case, all the trimmings
  • Non-formal: Learning to (just in case, easy does it) (Coaching, OJT, podcasts, etc.)
  • On demand: Learning to (just in time and just enough)
  • Experiential: Learning from (doing and reflecting)

Two perspectives

  • Top down: organizations need employees to perform, managers decide what needs to be learned
  • Bottom up: employees want to perform. People take more responsibility for their learning than in the past

What employees need for bottom up learning to thrive:

  • Motive (may be intrinsic motivation b/c we want to learn, but may be external rewards or other reasons)
  • Means (access to tools, resources; having skills needed)
  • Opportunity (have to have time to do it; need authority or right to do it)

Great table with examples in each of the four contexts, bottom up and top down, but too much for me to capture here. (Update 10/16/11: The table of the four contexts is available on the Onlignment site.)

What can we do to support experiential learning

  • Systematic job rotation
  • Enrichment projects
  • Performance appraisals (when not used to abuse people)

Employees can engage in formal learning on their own; they can choose to take formal classes. That’s bottom-up formal learning

On demand: we can’t possibly provide everything that people need, so giving people opportunity and confident to use tools like search, wiki, forums, is important

Bottom up experiential learning: personal reflection, reflecting with others, blogging, getting a life

Example: Traffic wardens. This group doesn’t have much career advancement and not much motivation to learn, so not much experiential learning. More formal learning (like compliance training)

Example: Software engineers. This group has more discretion in time, works from home sometimes, much more opportunity for experiential learning. We may not need to provide too much structure, but support and permission, opportunities to practice are important. This is a different kind of architecture.

Consider the organizational goals and the individual learning population. Given those goals, assess priorities for the learning contexts. Get the right balance between top-down and bottom-up learning.

What is a learning architect?

  • Not a learning builder (at least not necessarily–one person might have both roles)
  • More of a consulting role
  • Can’t just be one because you call yourself that
  • Take responsibility to do more of this, not just what your clients say they want. You wouldn’t go to the doctor and say “I’ve done all the research online, just write me a prescription.” Need to make the client aware that you know more about learning than they do and you can make recommendations they wouldn’t think of

Question: How does learning architect interface with instructional designer?
Answer: Design happens at multiple levels. Finding the right balance for tools is the architect, but specific details are the instructional designer. All aspects of the same role, but broadening the responsibility

Question: Does the job market have the option for learning architect?
Answer: The job market may not have that formal title, but if you’re responsible for all the ways a group learns, this is the learning architect. Title might be learning consultant

Image credit: Blueprint by square(tea)

4 thoughts on “The New Learning Architect

    1. That is exactly the diagram I wanted. Thanks! I did skim through a few of the excerpts on your site during your talk, but I didn’t find the right one.

      Glad to know it’s available in paperback too. Once you get to the Kindle page on Amazon, it doesn’t say anything about another version being available (at least on US Amazon). On the product page for the paperback version, I see that there’s a Kindle version too, right at the top, so I was expecting it to be handled the same way from the electronic version.


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