I was fortunate to attend a session by Chris Collison, Knowledge Management specialist on learning. He was one of the speakers at Africa Evaluation Association Conference held recently in Yaounde, Cameroon. Here are some of the points Chris shared:
Individual learning happens naturally. When we move from individual learning to group of people learning collectively there is a big leak. Learning does not spread naturally from person to person. Moreover, learning decays over time when we try to document and codify our knowledge in a report. Label of lessons learned is unhelpful for us. It makes our learning static and passive; we lose the focus of learning and who is learning because we are paying more attention to results, which distracts from us from learning. Lessons learned are usually poorly taught, bullet points kill the learning, we don’t pay attention to who will later learn from our reports and documents.
Lessons lose their life when we capture them. Chris said that when we talk about something we are passionate about we are able to capture only 7% of our message in our document.
And then what do with these reports? We put them in archaic system they are hard to retrieve. And if they are found they are not very useful because we have not asked the right questions. Thus, we end up with imperfect learning. Lessons are filed but rarely accessed or applied; rarely accessed by next team; lessons get lost in too many steps.
Chris observed that biggest problem is not sharing but asking questions. There are many things which stops us- we are different or we don’t want to learn. Real men don’t ask directions, this may seem weakness. Why should I show my weakness; macho culture prevents people to ask . This stifles the demand for learning.
Another two interesting things Chris noted. Tall poppy syndrome is where those who, come out with new ideas are snapped and put down. This Chris said creates fear and prevents lessons being shared . Shrinking violet syndrome means lesson stay hidden amongst people due to false humility or lack of awareness that they have something valuable to contribute.
Getting Lessons learned right
We can work on our knowledge of garden said by Chris by peeling away the layers by asking multiple questions. We need to ask the right questions, why questions. We must keep the focus on the ‘customer ‘ i.e. learner of lessons learned. Chris said that people love stories. We should try to bring lessons to life with stories.
Thus, my take away was that learning does not happen automatically we need structures and processes for collective learning. Chris session raised a lot of discussion afterwards. I end with what a participant shared about learning. He works in a university where his department was trying to look for a particular document in the 20-year records. But they could not retrieve because the coding system was flawed. Thus, this 15-minute session from Chis stimulated and evoked many conversations.
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