Updated: 7/7/06; 9:14:49 PM.
Connectivity: Spike Hall's RU Weblog
News, clips, comments on knowledge, knowledge-making, education, weblogging, philosophy, systems and ecology.

 Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Summary: Denham Grey has made important observations about learning within work-groups. I liberally quote some of his observations and then note parallels with the work on Naturalistic (now 4th Generation) Evaluation and Research. Somethings simply are only learned together.

Denham Grey of KMWiki has started the knowledge-at-work weblog.

His move has been celebrated by a number of my favorite Bloggers: Seb Paquet. Lilia Efimova, Ton Zijlstra, Stuart Henshall, Dina Mehta, and George Siemens of Elearnspace. Each has her/his own reasons for welcoming Denham to Blogspace. As do I.

I find important parallels between his recent Personal Learning entry re what REALLY brings about learning in the workplace and a qualitative and research paradigm developed and disseminated by Egon Guba and Yvonna Lincoln over the last 15-20 years.

The following is extracted from his recent Personal Learning entry.

Toward Principles

  • The importance of cohorts

    You may obtain information from the 'sage on the stage' a book or CBT, but you learn on the playing field, where your identity is forged, opinions are validated, values mediated, beliefs formed and assumptions are tested. Social mediation is key, and this is where cohorts help you make meaning and gain understanding. We own a social brain and apprenticeship is the natural way to learn. We need cohorts and community to build a shared repertoire of key concepts, evolve tools, craft language, gather stories and highight sensitivities. This is where learning products reside.

  • Sharing meaning

    Shared meaning is the difference between personal knowing and acquired understanding or social knowledge. This is the power behind language and communication. Points to the essential role of sharing critque, alignment & reflection in learning. Meaning is established through patterning, emotions play a key role. To make meaning explicit and ensure alignment, it is essential to test assumptions.

  • Crafting distinctions

    Mike McMaster? helped me first appreciate this key knowledge practice. Creating new knowledge comes from bringing forth new worlds, from agreeing and naming subtle signs, symptoms, patterns and perceptions that enable alternative courses of action. Mostly this happens as a natural byproduct of conversations within groups and is recognized by the issues, the values, the beliefs and in the language of a community of practice. Often encoded in the 'slang' and group talk that sets the community apart. Distinctions are closely related to ontologies and to making meaning. They contribute a large measure to identity.

  • Deep learning, identity and dialog

    Knowing is an act of participation, knowledge is more a living process that acquisition of an object, it is closely tied to who we are and emerges in dialog or through copy and practice. Lasting knowledge is knowing more than definitions, concepts and relationships, it is feeling what is right in a particular situation, requires personal engagement, passion and a community to emerge. Learning and knowledge require an ecology to thrive and evolve.

  • Generative learning

    New insights arise at the boundaries between communities, connections and reflections, are key to synthesis and access to new ideas. The learning potential of an organization lies in maintaining a tension and a balance between core practices and active boundary processes. Identity and meaningfullness are the wellspring of creativity, sharing is a natural by-product of belonging. Learning is more about community than content

  • Creative abrasion, high challenge and safety

    Dorothy Leonard struck a chord talking of creative abrasion. To change your mindset you need to raise the energy levels, increase the attenion and focus. This is difficult to achieve in a placid conversation. Exposure to alternative assumptions and frames, some advocacy, deep dialog, strong engagement and a pure clash of ideas help to unsettle, and resettle meaning. Prior beliefs are difficult to change using classroom instruction and teaching as telling. Taken too far, increasing stress levels will reduce the learning opportunity, there is a fine balance to be maintained.

  • Boundary hopping and busting prototypes

    The sweet spot for learning is at the boundaries of individual and community. Here you are less sure and secure , core ridigities are lower, you are flooded with new thought forms, alternative analogies and metaphors. Making connections is key and often follows trusted relationships.

  • Extreme programming

    Terry Yelmeme suggested (June 2000) this may be a useful paradign and practice for knowledge creation. I'm just starting to investigate here. http://www.c2.com/cgi/wiki?ExtremeProgramming

  • Language as generative learning

    Recognizing the Importance of Generative Language, directly from a previous publication of : Epple and Conklin (mark-up is mine): also see http://www.touchstone.com/tr/wp/learning.html

    One of the major paradigm shifts made at I-Bus was to view language not as informative or descriptive but, rather, as generative. This means that language has the power to create reality . Through language we have the ability to bring forth a different future. As linguistic beings, we individually create our reality in language . We dwell in, and live out of, our public and private conversations. It is through language that we interpret events and it is through language that we build shared interpretations and understanding among community members. Therefore, as people living within a workplace community, our workplace reality is constructed by our social conversations . It is also through language that we are able to shift the reality of the community.

    Recognizing the generative nature of language and that conversations create reality provided a major shift in our organizational thought processes. Conversations, both public and private, provide the access to both assess organizational mind sets, mental models and belief systems, and to intervene by reshaping the existing conversations. Viewing an organization as a network of conversations and commitments that bring about a set of results provides a powerful basis by which organizational interventions can be achieved. Key questions of inquiry within the organization can now be identified, such as, which conversations are opening up possibilities and which conversations are shutting down possibilities ? Which conversations are creating the results we are achieving and which conversations create barriers to changing those results? These become key questions of inquiry within the organization and necessary to capture.

    For communities to build shared interpretations and understanding, community members must give voice to their unspoken ideas and beliefs . For this to occur, community members must build trust, intimacy and create a safe place for full expression to occur. True dialogue requires the disclosure of mental models and a wider expression of private conversations. Here again, groupware technology and tools can create valuable communicative support structures. Groupware plays a significant role in supporting community-wide dialogue, advocacy and participative decision-making. Groupware also allows us to communicate outside the bounds of time and space.

    Picture, now, these processes and the following stakeholder knowledge- creation activity. [It is a general design.. it starts with separate stakeholding groups ...but will be applicable to group made up of representatives of stakeholding groups which have already constructed their syntheses--now the circle is applied to push/nurture a cross-group synthesis, to construct an overarching understanding of the starting issues as seen by all significant stakeholding groups in the organization]. Herm Dialectic Circle

    Picture the following: A facilitator works with the group of 8 respondents--though group could do this on their own. The facilitator starts arbitrarily with some member of the Stakeholder group and asks the stakeholder to respond to a general question the issue at hand, let's say setting up and supporting communities of practice for members of the major stakeholding groups in the company. The first individual (R1) responds and the listener notes, records or listens asking follow-up questions as they seem timely and relevant. Sooner or later the discussion dries up: new issues and new ideas re communities of practice are no longer coming up.The listener summarizes, asks for corrections and amendments and then moves on [in extremely tense or contentious environments confidentiality issues may come up. In many of those cases individuals will grant "access" to the information but may limit or eliminate mention of her/his name]. Anyway the listener then moves on to the next interviewee, asks the same first general question, summarizes information from the prior interview [following confidentiality agreements] and asks for further response. That interview concludes with yet another set of amendments, corrections and then the next interview occurs. All of this then leads. person- by-person to the production of a summary statement which includes the total set of constructions owned in the group.


    The "technology" of Fourth Generation Research and Evaluation has been used to surface a complete[representative, compositie, stakeholder-derived] picture of an Evaluand. Invariably, the view that each participant takes away from the experience is different than, larger than the one s/he walked in with. Virtually all of the listed "Personal Learnining" princiiples that Denham has surfaced so far would help explain the personal knowledge transformations that occur in the context of the Fourth Generation Evaluation experience.

  • Have dropped the use of Zonkboard here. It had no real effect on reader presence or the quality of their experience.

    Perhaps you've had a better experience -- based  on a different method.

    Let me know.

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    Spike Hall is an Emeritus Professor of Education and Special Education at Drake University. He teaches most of his classes online. He writes in Des Moines, Iowa.


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