Saturday, June 26, 2010

Curiosity - Informal Learning???

Well this blog has to do with recent events at our corporate office in Boca Raton, Florida. For anyone who doesn't know, Bluegreen's offices in Boca are part of the former IBM campus off Yamato Road. The property is now managed through Blackstone/BREA and is called the Boca Corporate Center.

The campus is absolutely stunning and we are fortunate to have many beautiful trees, fountains, a lake and lots of wildlife including foxes, armadillos, opossums, alligators, ducks, squirrels, ibises, etc! So while this is great fun, and I normally would not think to post about it, this week we have been visited by a Banana Spider, aka, a Golden Silk Spider. In one of the many trees (but near an entry way) this spider has made her web. She quite large and the picture is a good representation of her appearance.

Because the appearance of this spider has attracted so much attention, our co-workers started researching her. That is how I learned she was a Banana Spider and that she was female because of her size and that she isn't very aggressive, etc. Now, given that we are all working very hard all the time, curiosity got the better of some folks and they took the time to do some learning about their environment and become knowledgeable about this spider. This type of curiosity is absolutely necessary in today's workplace! These types of informal learning events, especially when related to company or industry happenings, have the potential to create the kind of advantage that business folks are looking for through innovation.

I'm not sure that everyone will agree with me, but I get very excited when I witness collective learning that happens so spontaneously!


Prior: The poor shall eat and have their fill. Those who long for the Lord shall give God praise.

Choir: May their hearts live forever. Let all your people bless you.

Prior: We give you thanks for all your gifts, almighty God, living and reigning now and for ever.

Choir: Amen.

Bishop: Protect us, O Lord our God, and give us the help we need in our frailty. For the sake of your name, O Lord, reward those who have been good to us and give them eternal life.

Choir: Amen.

Prior: Both here

Choir: and in all your churches throughout the whole world, we adore you, O Christ, and we bless you because by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.


Prior: The eyes of all creatures look to you to give them food in due time.

Choir: You give it to them, they gather it up; you open your hand, they have their fill.

Prior: ...For we do not live on bread alone.

Choir: But on every Word that comes from the mouth of God.

Prior: Let us call on the name of the Creator, who always takes care of us.

Choir: For the kingdom, the power, and the glory belong to God, now and for ever. Amen.

Bishop: Bless us, O Lord, and these your gifts which we are about to receive from your goodness. Through Christ our Lord.

Choir: Amen.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Thinking About Conscious Thought

I am drawn to dialectical thinking and the work of Kegan. According to Merriam, Caffarella and Baumgartner (2007), Kegan’s theory is drawn from “both a psychological and contextual approach, proposes a level-of-consciousness model that incorporates dialectical thinking as part of the highest level of consciousness” (p. 343).

From the work of Illeris, I was readily convinced of the interplay between psychological processes and the environment in the development of learning. I perceive Kegan’s theory consistent with that earlier identification.

The notion of evolving consciousness appeals strongly to me on many levels. My development has progressed from a very parochial worldview to one that is more universally focused. Growing up Catholic, with Democratic Mid-Western, second generation immigrant, lower-middle class, white values, the world was pretty well defined. Expectations were concrete and some realities were perceived to be absolute. Throughout my adolescence and early adulthood, I was increasingly led to more and more discretionary internal processes.

For me, being human or at least being a citizen within a democracy requires dialectical thinking, an “acceptance of alternative truths” (p. 342). Kegan doesn’t know if we post-modern folks have what it takes to meet the demands of our “culture’s curriculum” (p. 344). Using some critical reflection of my own, I can only speak for myself when I share my doubt that I am capable. I read a recent article that also had to do with Kegan’s developmental theory and Mezirow’s transformational learning. In the article, Kegan refers to three levels of the constructed self: (1) the socialized self; (2) the self-authoring self; and (3) the self-transcending self. In terms of personal development, I am aiming towards wisdom and for the self-transcending self and the next tier on the hierarchy above Maslow’s self-actualization. However, having attained middle adulthood in my mid-forties, I wonder about the likelihood of this personal, evolving, cognitive development. Clearly, I have achieved the level of the self-authoring self to a great degree (my developmental resolution of an identity crisis propelled me there much more quickly than some of my friends and family without such a compelling and pervasive ego-conflict).

When tempted to believe that my development is at its appropriate phase, I am reminded of the work of Socrates and even our contemporary scholar, Cornell West, who deals with the most difficult topics in the history of our nation, race and democracy in America. From a systems viewpoint, the national consciousness is still evolving and becoming more tolerant and less absolute. However, I have yet to experience our gains as win-win for most parties involved in the process (myself included). West has a focus on the significance of human life; what it means to be human on a fundamental basis. This, for me, is characteristic of developmental progress into maturity. Unfortunately, many of the research projects based on Kegan’s theory are pointing to the fact that we are not self-authored or self-transcendent. Many adults are still operating from the socialized-self level of consciousness; we are what we have been made to be, albeit personally cooperating with the process through our inner identification with the norms and values of the cultures and subcultures in which we are embedded.

Anecdotally, there is the expression which you may have heard, “Be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.” This is almost a prayer for me. I strongly believe that there is a higher consciousness pulling me towards on-going development individually and I assume collectively along with the rest of the natural world. This is where in the head-dominated academic world, I pause and remember the work of Graves and the concept of grace. There is that which operates beyond the level of my cognitive awareness and when engaged in that evolutionary process, I can only breathe in the mystery of mind and beyond mind.

Emancipatory Education

My critical assessment of my own beliefs, assumptions, prejudices and biases began in early adolescence specifically around the area of sexual orientation. To a lesser degree, other forms of personal and social identity brought about on-going critical reflection. Being a Catholic, descendant of Polish immigrants and later as a priest and a monk, I have lived in a largely counter-cultural lifeworld. Being born in 1966, I grew up in a post-civil rights society with its attendant obligations for confronting privilege and being sensitive to the needs of others. Early on I was influenced by organizations such as The Catholic Worker and the birth of Liberation Theology which were both emancipatory movements that helped to shape my frames of reference.

Being educated within the Catholic school system (elementary, secondary and post-secondary) with additional educational experiences further embedded within Catholic monastic education, it is hard to miss the points of what the initial construction of my social responsibility as an educator should be. Every classroom I sat in during those times had a crucifix over the teacher’s desk. The teacher, sometimes priests, nuns or monks, stood as an alter Christus, which is Latin for “another Christ.” Although rarely said out loud except in monastic settings, the teacher took the place of Christ in the classroom and became the way and means through which knowledge and the love of God would be learned. The role of the educator had spiritual, moral, ethical and communal implications. In terms of the social responsibility of the educators, context provided a great many additional obligations, i.e., institutional and ecclesiastical. Educators were in place (commissioned) and had the mandate for each learner to come to the knowledge of God. In fact, the early response of the Baltimore Catechism to the question of why we were made was “to know, love and serve God in this world and be happy with God in the next.” An educator or teacher was so by vocational calling and the acceptance of the position was an act of grace in response to an invitation from God to which the individual submitted or obeyed. To what degree I remain influenced by these experiences or my interpretations of them is still an open-ended question. I find some of the postmodern relative perspectives objectionable on many grounds especially where human beings are left disempowered and fragmented, however, I value the benefits of their critical analysis and believe that humanity continues to evolve its own self-understanding on both an individual and collective basis. Each voice and story is embedded in the tapestry and no one has ever been able to contain the on-going and persistent stretching of the collective human mind/spirit/body. In my experience, the continued practice of adult education is an upward and onward journey.

Learning Organization

Organizational learning has become a key item of discussion around many executive conference room tables since Peter Senge's work in the 1990s and the ongoing research through SOL and MIT. As companies vie with one another to maintain or secure competitive advantages, the development and retention of human capital and organizational learning have been an item of keen interest to many of the Fortune 500 companies. Manufacturing businesses and industry have predominated the on-line application of many employee learning and communication systems as well as organizational improvements and adjustments to grapple with the perceived need to sustain on-going value for their customers.

Sohal et al (2002) define a learning organization as one that “creates competitive advantage by adapting better to changing environments, continually improving and more easily absorbing new concepts and innovations.” Further, “learning organizations create an environment of success by working closely with their people, customers, suppliers and competitors.”

The currents flowing in organizational learning today were initiated due to many and varied factors including the advent of relatively new ideologies such as total quality management (TQM) and Six Sigma, the globalization of the economy, the competitiveness of the world market, the advances in technology and the shrinkage of available qualified human capital and the rapidly changing demographics of developed nations.

A. S. Sohal, et al, (2002) summarizes the explanation or assumptions for organizational learning endeavors as follows:

The learning organization creates competitive advantage by adapting better to changing environments, continually improving and more easily absorbing new concepts and innovations . Learning organizations create an environment of success by working closely with their people….Learning organizations also possess the mechanisms which transfer learning from the individual to the group, and have an internal transformation process, a commitment to knowledge and an openness to the outside world. (p. 188)

When we discuss electronic forms of organizational learning (including the new utilization of social media in learning and collaboration), the business problem in need of a solution remains largely the same issue for management as non-electronic initiatives for training and development. What business leaders want to measure is the return on investment (ROI) for training and educational initiatives. Historically, this has been an on-going difficulty for human resource development (HRD) professionals to demonstrate. Management wants to see the “bang for the buck.” Questions routinely focus on whether or not the learning experiences foster real return in business performance and what standards of measurement will be acceptable to those at the helm of each industry or corporation. Strategically it makes sense to spell out the management expectations and willingness of the culture to support learning before undertaking any information systems initiative.

Further, organizational learning in service of the creation and sustained acquisition of value seems a clear prerequisite for any manager. The motivators for such a philosophical shift seems to be tied to many variables including influence from scientific methods, learning theory, organizational psychology and information technology. The computer’s ability to process data to obtain meaningful information can be compared to the use of knowledge for the creation of value. In that modern
organizations are in a constant state of change, the process of assessment or evaluation leads to practices which employees must then evaluate or measure to determine what new pieces of information to feed back into the process.

Sohal, A.S., Morrison, M. & Pratt, T. (2002). Creating a regional learning environment for accelerating company development and growth. Total Quality Management, 13(2), 183-184.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Reflections on Adult Learning

Merriam, Caffarella and Baumgartner (2007) state that both self-directed learning (SDL) and andragogy "are grounded in humanistic theories." (p. 283-284). The assumptions of andragogy do form part of my reflective learning about my experiences as an adult learner and as a practitioner of workplace learning and development. The very fact that so many adult educators utilize andragogical principals in their practice of adult education, reinforces their relevance as a tool for creating the appropriate learning environment. Setting aside arguments as to their comprehensiveness, accuracy or validity, it remains important that a significant number of educators utilize andragogy to inform their practice. If these educators are doing so, there has to be a wide-based recognition of their utility or they would have fallen out of practice.

The outcome of learning, according to Maslow's hierarchy, is self-actualization. One of the alternatives proposed by Maslow was reported to be "the grappling with the critical existential problems of life." This was very insightful to me because Dr. Cornell West of Princeton University has taught on this very point, stating that to be truly human, individuals must focus on the significant and fundamental questions of what it means to be human. Dr. West uses the word paideia to characterize the learning of what it means to be human. According to Wikipedia, the ancient Greek word paideia means instruction or learning related to an individual's realization of their true form, an understanding of what is meant to be genuinely human. This type of education seems to be totally within the humanistic framework, as one of Rogers' characteristics of learning is "essence is meaning" (Merriam, Caffarella and Baumgartner, 2007, p. 283).

Far from being amorphous, these humanistic learning principles have deep social and political implications. They have fundamentally contributed to the formal institutions of adult learning. The andragogical notion of increasing self-directedness in learning is completely supported in practice. The two most clear examples of which are, in my opinion, the traditional apprenticeship model of instruction (where the apprentice begins with very directed supervision of work by the master, through a journeyman stage with less directedness and greater discretionary learning, through the eventual establishment of self-directed practice at the master level). The second example that I can come up with is American formal educational instruction (where the students at the primary level experience a very directed form of learning, which becomes somewhat less directed in secondary and post-secondary education and culminates in the more or less self-directed activities of the Ph.D. candidate). It was explained to me somewhere along the line in my academic career that the Ph.D. is the terminal degree as by the point at which a learner earns a Ph.D., he or she is capable of independently using the same learning process in which they mastered that subject to any other subject they choose to learn. Both examples are pretty strong indications that our wider educational and social arena have embraced the notion of self-directed learning.

Because humanistic learning is experiential, or rather derivative from our reflection upon and assignment of significance to experience, I also want to relate another example from my experience that is nearly as old as the apprenticeship model that comes from my personal experience in monastic education. In the Rule of St. Benedict, there is an early passage that speaks to the types of monks. In this section, Benedict acknowledges that some monks, after years of monastic practice, may advance to the state of becoming an anchorite or hermit because "they have already learned" and "can cope single-handedly." This is a Western monastic understanding of the progression of learning, however, the self-same thing is recognized in the Eastern monastic understanding (Christian and non-Christian) where each monk selects a master under which he/she learns the way of life and achieves the goal to which his/her life is ordered, whether that is salvation, enlightenment or in our humanistic learning theory language, self-actualization. Thereupon arriving, the monk/nun becomes a master in their own right and begins to accept students themselves.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why school...then and now?

I have had a passion for learning for as far back as I can remember. School attendance was an expectation in my family. My mother was the first in our extended family to receive a master's degree and I suspected that very few in the family would expect less from me.

From very early on, in Catholic grade school, I felt called to the monastic life and knew that solid academic performance was a requirement as well. In addition to high school, I knew that there were eight years of preparation for the priesthood. Nevertheless, I felt pulled to learning and never experienced any difficulties outside of mathematics and physical education. I saw the possibility of formal education going on well into my adult life. With the conscious awareness of "the call" in a Catholic school, you can imagine I did quite well in that environment. It was, for the large part, a very protective and nurturing environment, although some of my greatest psychological handicaps stem from those early years. Who am I in relation to all of this? I wasn't always successful in langing myself on top!

Leaving graduate seminary put a 10 year gap in my formal education but as I was working in social services, I entered an MSW program at Rutgers in Newark. I left it behind when I came to Florida and my career transition to Human Resources took place by coincidence. After my MS in HRM, I felt that a second graduate degree in HRD would help me in my new role as Director of HRD at my company. There is a strong vocational aspect to my preference for schooling because I view education as not only developing in what I do but in who I am. I simply can't conceive that the need of ongoing education will ever leave me, short of a brain trauma or illness. But, I am a fan of informal learning, too! I dream about hitting the lotto so I could enter a life of leisure and study. I do have to confess that I'm simply not disciplined enough to make a serious go at academics. I also can share that nothing I ever learned has come back to haunt me. Simply put for me, there is a greater freedom for me on the path to knowledge than off of it.

School and Society

I just finished a semester long course in educational history here in the United States from the colonial period through today. As a student, with formal schooling of some 22 years, you would think you would gain a little of the history just by osmosis. That wasn't my experience! While this course was limited to public school education, the larger context of understanding history through a lense like educational policy provides insights into so many other realms. I'm grateful that this was part of my curriculum and it does provide a solid basis for understanding existing vocational and adult educational programs (including training and education in the workplace).

The text we used was called School and Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives by Tozer, Senese and Violas. It should be required reading prior to any public speaking on educational policy or school reform.

Prior to reading the text, I held the opinion that most of my formal schooling involved education. When I arrived at college, from the welcoming convocation onwards, the Benedictines instilled the value of liberal arts education. Not to say that I would exclude experiences of training and schooling co-existing at different periods. My experience of education is personally transformational. I hold a different worldview and am a different person because of the learning experiences I have had inside and outside of formal education. Apparently, there have been many educators and public servants that had a hand to play in my positive experiences. It might be surprising to some that educational goals are very poorly aligned in the history of the United States despite the contemporary nationalization of educational aims.

The system in place today, evolving from the efforts of Jefferson and Mann and the others we encountered this semester, still appears ill equipped to handle the challenge. Every year we are bombarded with reports that American students are far out-ranked in comparison to students from other nations and yet educational reform never seems to address this discrepancy or balance the inequities within our nation. Our educational system is barely able to articulate its own failures in relation to its espoused values and the continuing imbalance in class, race and gender. This inability is partially due to our national political economy and our national ideologies which, in fact, have failed to produce what Jefferson hoped for - the natural aristocracy. In a "free" society, it is truly amazing how difficult it is to report that we don't all experience the same educational opportunities and that all of our interests and freedoms are collectively subjugated to the dominant majority (not even a real majority). So, I continue to wonder if Jefferson's fourth tier of education, life-long learning is, in reality, not much in practice at all. After some 200 years of practice, are we better equipped to take on the educational reform needed today? We are far from being any less divided despite the many advances made.

Until we are better able to articulate our freedoms and our current reality, I am much more comfortable with state and federal involvement with our education. Few parochial minds are globally oriented. Nothing short of the goal of the formation of global citizens who have been educated in what it means to be human is imperative for America and the world. We can't get there until we seriously confront the brutal reality of where we are now.