purdue symposium recap

I feel very comfortable floating in uncertainty. If I’ve learned anything in the past couple years, it’s that the results are worth it when you do take the time to grapple with challenging ideas. Rushing to application may produce quicker results, but it can sometimes result in false conclusions. Admittedly, you sometimes have to rush anyway, but I avoid it when I can.

For that reason, I enjoyed the day-long workshop I attended that revolved around informed learning last week. Dr. Mary Somerville presented in the morning, and it quickly became clear the talk was more systems and big picture oriented. In fact, one of the handouts succinctly describes the framing of her presentation:

“Over a decade of research has produced an Informed Systems Approach, which integrates informed learning, appreciative inquiry, action research, and shared leadership elements to catalyze and sustain organizational learning.”

While I don’t remember her actually saying the words “informed systems approach”, her discussion around informed learning felt very much in that context. 

She talked about the lessons she learned at California Polytechnic State University as the Assistant Dean of Information and Instructional Services. The overarching theme or pedagogical method there was “learning by doing,” and this risk-tolerant culture gave her an opportunity to pursue instructional initiatives that helped her gain further perspective on the concept of informed learning.

Having a successful instructional program for students was more about having a workplace culture of learning than just good programming for students. Library faculty and staff needed to foster an environment of learning among themselves as much as for students. This meant reflecting on their teaching, sharing successful strategies, and–what I see as abstract but important–always trying to use that information to learn and improve. That’s what I chose to hear even if she didn’t use so many words.

Still, she had the following points in a drawing to illustrate the cyclical process of learning in the workplace that has a similar gist:

  1. Create informed learning workplace environment
  2. Appreciate systemic nature of problematical situations
  3. Clarify organizational purposes and preferred processes
  4. Co-design systems infrastructure and professional practices
  5. Practice ‘using information to learn’ and ‘action to improve’
  6. Refine workplace purposes, values and processes
  7. Build capacity for discovery, collaboration, and innovation
  8. Resource promising informed learning workplace initiatives
  9. Activate interactive evaluation ‘informed learning cycle’

There’s a lot of “how” missing that I don’t want to get into, but I think my initial instinct on the topic being about metacognition seemed to be on the mark, especially after discussing the following principles of informed learning:

  1. Informed learning builds on learner’s own experiences of using information to learn.
  2. Informed learning promotes the simultaneous learning of discipline or profession related content or practices, and learning about the experience of using information
  3. Informed learning is about changing learners’ experiences in order for them to become reflective learners and to develop new and more complex ways of working with information

It’s all about self-awareness about how you use information and learning from it to do better. And then cultivating an environment that sustains those processes for everyone involved.

These are things I think I’ve come to implicitly understand and unconsciously work towards with one of our credit courses. After massively revising it, I found (and continue to find) that a lot of my work is focused on the two-way communication I have with instructors who teach the different sections of the course. It’s far from perfect, but as I’ve been slowly establishing practices, I’ve started to see a lot of good come out of different discussions that have helped us grow the course and how we teach it.

But the overall discussion sent me down another interesting path as I started thinking about an aspect of the workplace that was perhaps ripe for these ideas:

When chairing a committee (or task force/working group/etc.), you try to figure out who are the best human resources that you can learn from in order to make decisions regarding some program or policy. You then gather those people together (or sometimes someone does it for you) and start working toward that committee’s purpose.

But this isn’t actually an informed learning environment yet. Throwing people into a room (even the best and brightest) together probably results in the least common denominator more often than a truly synergistic outcome. What needs to happen is a more explicit discussion of what each person offers and how each person can best contribute, especially if there’s not an existing framework or methodology that is being followed (but even then).

When this learning process takes place, one is much more geared for success and innovation than in an environment of awkward negotiation and compromise due to an assumption that everyone can work together (or that what’s worked in the past will work in the future).

Sorry, that was a lot and probably not succinct. But I think it will at least help me to start seeing committee work, good or bad, as an information problem rather than just the standard label of “workplace communication.”

That’s all I have for now, but I would like to continue to think about this, further develop my understanding of this idea, and see what applications I might start working toward.

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