Informal learning patterns

by Jay Cross on June 26, 2009

Learnscaping, Getting Things done in Organizations, is now available on Amazon for $25 + shipping. It’s a 160-page unbook, a continuing work in progress but containing enough meat to justify the price, I think.

Learnscaping describes a dozen learning patterns, e.g. processes that organizations are using to improve performance through networked informal learning.

Andy McAfee, late of Harvard B-School and now crossing the Charles River to MIT, has gone me one better with his discussion of Enterprise 2.0 patterns. His recent post, Toward a Pattern Language for Enterprise 2.0, details two sorts of patterns for optimal enterprise 2.0 technology, no-brainers and maybes. Both sets of patterns apply to Learnscapes, which are in essence a subset of enterprise 2.0 (a term Andy invented).

Patterns Where 2.0 Should Replace 1.0

2.0 1.0
Technology appears to have been designed for the user Technology appears to have been designed for someone other than the user — the developer, the boss, a lawyer, etc.
Only small amounts of time and training are required to become familiar with a technology It takes significant time and training in order to become minimally competent with a technology
Few steps are required to accomplish basic tasks; technology-based work is ‘frictionless’ Many steps are required to execute basic tasks; technology-based work has a great deal of friction
Devices delight, pleasing the eye and the hand Devices exist to accomplish tasks and are designed only for function, not form
Delays and latency are low; technology responds instantly Delays (especially at startup) can be long and latency can be high
Crashes are no big deal and are easy to recover from Crashes are time-consuming and costly / catastrophic
Relevant data is in the cloud, so it doesn’t matter which device the user employs Relevant data is stored locally at many devices, so it matters which device(s) the user has access to
Users navigate via search Users navigate via menus and directories
Work is accomplished via the browser Work is accomplished via many discrete applications
Technology accurately guesses what users want, is forgiving, and makes users feel smart Users have to guess what the technology wants. The technology is unforgiving and makes users feel stupid
It takes virtually no time to author (to contribute online content) and few if any approval loops exist It’s laborious to author, and many approval loops exist
At its best, technology is welcoming and empowering At its worst, technology is alienating, isolating, and frustrating


Patterns Where 2.0 is an Alternative to 1.0

2.0 1.0
Technology is used to execute spontaneous collaborative work Technology is used to execute planned / predefined business processes
Technology is used to share work and conclusions with others Technology is used to generate or analyze information individually
Technology is used to broadcast information publicly to people both known and unknown Technology is used to transmit information privately to known people
Technology is used to ask questions and solicit information and help from people both known and unknown Technology is used to ask questions and solicit information and help from a small group of already-identified people
Online content is the start of group-level work; it is work in progress Online content is the end point of group-level work; it is finished goods
Online content is generated by many people Online content is generated by a few approved sources
A person finds new colleagues by examining the online content they’ve generated and assessing its quality A person finds new colleagues by asking around an looking through official directories
Information sources give good answers to the questions users thought they were asking Information sources provide complete answers to perfectly phrased questions
Technology is used to create and diffuse new knowledge Technology is used to encode previously-generated knowledge


Andy’s book, Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for your Organization’s Toughest Challenges, is due out soon. You can download the first chapter for free here.

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