Category Archives: Workscaping


howardIn his keynote presentation at Online Educa Berlin last week, Howard Rheingold emphasized co-learning.

Since the teacher learns more than the student, let’s all be both teachers and students. Esteemed co-learners, your job is to create new co-learning communities. If a group doesn’t exist for facilitate your informal learning, make one.

Peeragogy is a set of techniques for collaborative learning and work. It’s a both a discipline and a living book. Howard kicked off the Peeragogy project, many authors contributed to the work, and now a team is dedicated to making it ever better. Housed on a wiki, Peeragogy keeps on improving. Peeragogy walks its talk.


Version 2.0 of the book is out now. Free pdf & brand new softcover for $20.

Version 3.0 is in progress and you can help! Join “Peeragogy in Action” on g+.

I made a contribution on Peeragogy in the corporation for an early version of the book two years ago that presaged some of the current buzz about learning ecosystems.

The Workscape, a platform for learning

Formal learning takes place in classrooms; informal learning happens in workscapes. A workscape is a learning ecology. As the environment of learning, a workscape includes the workplace. In fact, a workscape has no boundaries. No two workscapes are alike. Your workscape may include being coached on giving effective presentations, calling the help desk for an explanation, and researching an industry on the Net. My workscape could include participating in a community of field technicians, looking things up on a search engine, and living in France for three months.

Developing a platform to support informal learning is analogous to landscaping a garden. A major component of informal learning is natural learning, the notion of treating people as organisms in nature. The people are free-range learners. Our role is to protect their environment, provide nutrients for growth, and let nature take its course.

A landscape designer’s goal is to conceptualize a harmonious, unified, pleasing garden that makes the most of the site at hand. A workscape designer’s goal is to create a learning environment that increases the organization’s longevity and health and the individual’s happiness and well-being.

Gardeners don’t control plants; managers don’t control people. Gardeners and managers have influence but not absolute authority. They can’t makea plant fit into the landscape or a person fit into a team.

In an ideal Workscape, workers can easily find the people and information they need, learning is fluid and new ideas flow freely, corporate citizens live and work by the organization’s values, people know the best way to get things done, workers spend more time creating value than handling exceptions, and everyone finds their work challenging and fulfilling.

The technical infrastructure of the Workscape

When an organization is improving its Workscape, looking at consumer applications is a good way to think about what’s required. Ask net-savvy younger workers how they would like to learn new skills, and they bring up the features they enjoy in other services:

  • Personalize my experience and make recommendations, like Amazon.
  • Make it easy for me to connect with friends, like Facebook.
  • Keep me in touch with colleagues and associates in other companies, as on LinkedIn.
  • Persistent reputations, as at eBay, so you can trust who you’re collaborating with.
  • Multiple access options, like a bank that offers access by ATM, the Web, phone, or human tellers.
  • Don’t overload me. Let me learn from YouTube, an FAQ, or linking to an expert.
  • Show me what’s hot, like Reddit, Digg, MetaFilter, or Fark do.
  • Give me single sign-on, like using my Facebook profile to access multiple applications.
  • Let me choose and subscribe to streams of information I’m interested in, like BoingBoing, LifeHacker or Huffpost.
  • Provide a single, simple, all-in-one interface, like that provided by Google for search.
  • Help me learn from a community of kindred spirits, like SlashDot, Reddit, and MetaFilter.
  • Give me a way to voice my opinions and show my personality, as on my blog.
  • Show me what others are interested in, as with social bookmarks like Diigo and Delicious.
  • Make it easy to share photos and video, as on Flickr and YouTube.
  • Leverage “the wisdom of crowds,” as when I pose a question to my followers on Twitter or Facebook.
  • Enable users to rate content, like “Favoriting” an item on Facebook or +!ing is on Google or YouTube.

Some of those consumer applications are simple to replicate in-house. Others are not. You can’t afford to replicate Facebook or Google behind your firewall. That said, there are lots of applications you can implement at reasonable cost. Be skeptical if your collaborative infrastructure that doesn’t include these minimal functions:

Profiles – for locating and contacting people with the right skills and background. Profile should contain photo, position, location, email address, expertise (tagged so it’s searchable). IBM’s Blue Pages profiles include how to reach you (noting whether you’re online now), reporting chain (boss, boss’s boss, etc.), link to your blog and bookmarks, people in your network, links to documents you frequently share, members of your network.

Activity stream – for monitoring the organization pulse in real time, sharing what you’re doing, being referred to useful information, asking for help, accelerating the flow of news and information, and keeping up with change

Wikis – for writing collaboratively, eliminating multiple versions of documents, keeping information out in the open, eliminating unnecessary email, and sharing responsibility for updates and error correction

Virtual meetings – to make it easy to meet online. Minimum feature set: shared screen, shared white board, text chat, video of participants. Bonus features: persistent meeting room (your office online), avatars.

Blogs – for narrating your work, maintaining your digital reputation, recording accomplishments, documenting expert knowledge, showing people what you’re up to so they can help out

Bookmarks – to facilitate searching for links to information, discover what sources other people are following, locate experts

Mobile access – Half of America’s workforce sometimes works away from the office. Smart phones are surpassing PCs for connecting to networks for access and participation. Phones post most Tweets than computers. Google designs its apps for mobile before porting them to PCs.

Social network – for online conversation, connecting with people, and all of the above functions.


Learning used to focus on what was in an individual’s head. The individual took the test, got the degree, or earned the certificate. The new learning focuses on what it takes to do the job right. The workplace is an open-book exam. What worker doesn’t have a cell phone and an Internet connection? Using personal information pipelines to get help from colleagues and the Internet to access the world’s information is encouraged. Besides, it’s probably the team that must perform, not a single individual.  Thirty years ago, three-quarters of what a worker need to do the job was stored in her head; now it’s less than 10%.




Learning out loud

workscapeGo ahead. Peak into my brain. New thoughts are percolating but the outcomes are still fuzzy.

I’m soundly convinced that Learning Platforms are crowding out Learning Programs. This is an inevitable part of moving from Stocks to Flows, from Push to Pull, from institutional control to personal freedom, and from rigid industrialism to flexible, more human work environments. Focus on improving the learning ecology rather than tackle one event at a time.

“Learning in advance” doesn’t work in a realtime world, so learning and work have converged. Learning is simply an aspect of getting the job done. Learning new things — sometimes by inventing them — is an obligation of corporate citizens. Most of this learning takes place in the workplace. The learning platform is the organization itself, not some separate entity.

I call these learning aspects of an organization its Workscape. A Workscape is a metaphorical space. The Workscape can include the water cooler, the Friday beer bust, the conversation nook at the office, wi-fi in the cafeteria, the enterprise culture, in-house communications, access to information, cultural norms around sharing and disclosure, tolerance for nonconformity, risk aversion, organizational structure, worker autonomy, and virtually any aspect of the company that can be tweaked to enable people to Work Smarter.

This afternoon I’ve been trying to come up with next practices for Workscapes in general. What are the design principles for optimal workscapes? What aspects of good learning should migrate into the Workscape. A starter list:

  • All learning is self-directed. Give people the freedom to chart their own course. “I like to learn but I hate to be taught.” Set high expectations and people live up to them. Help people make sense of and prosper in the world and the workplace.
  • Conversations are the stem-cells of learning. Foster open, frequent, frank conversation both virtually and in person.
  • Experiential learning is magic. People learn by doing. Encourage experimentation. Insure that managers and mentors understand the impact of “stretch assignments.” JDI. Broadcast opportunities and projects.
  • Teach people the least they need know to tackle things on their own.
  • Make it drop-dead simple to access people in the know, the lessons of experience, how-to information, and performance support.
  • Learning is social. Encourage participation in communities. Narrate your work and share with others. Communities and guilds create knowledge as well as consume it.
  • We want what we want, no more. Whenever possible, provide choices. Give me the pieces to create personalized learning experiences.
  • Learning is for everyone, not just novices and up-and-comers. You can’t expect to prosper without it. Make sure everyone’s covered.
  • Learning takes reinforcement in order to stick. Seek feedback. Blog, tweet, and otherwise share your reflections. Revisiting what you learn fixes it in memory.
  • Innovation is born of mashing up concepts from different disciplines. Encourage looking outside the box.
  • Provide feeds for what’s going on in the team, the department, the company, the industry, and technical disciplines.
  • People confuse learning with schooling. Build lessons on learning how to learn into the Workscape itself.

I’ll keep building the list but I’m hungry for more. I don’t want to get caught thinking small. What other aspects of sustaining the organization should be here?

Most of the value of organizations derives from Social Capital. (See my post Measure what’s important.) Were you able to deconstruct an organization into molecules of social capital, you’d have:

  • human capital – the know-how of the workforce
  • relationship captal – your reputation and ways of working with customers and partners
  • structural capital – processes, systems, and secret sauce

social capital

Thus far, my list deals with only human capital. Help me think through the role of the Workscape in leveraging relationship capital and structural capital as well.


How to replace top-down training with collaborative learning (1)

The Twenty-First Century Corporation Businesses around the world are transforming into extended enterprise networks but their training departments are stuck in the previous century. In the pursuit of trying to fix what’s broken, let’s imagine what ideal corporate learning would look like if we could start over from scratch. In the 1800s and 1900s, successful companies ran like well-oiled machines. Workers were mere cogs in those machines. The people were interchangeable parts. Companies paid them to follow instructions and do the same thing over and over again. Workers have since replaced machines as the primary means of creating value. Companies rely on them to solve problems, delight customers, and stay ahead of the game. They are what make a business go and grow. A company’s market value echoes the ingenuity, know-how and reputation of its people. Twenty-first century employees have to do complex, unpredictable work. They have to keep up with a torrent of new products and services, not just their own but also their competitors’. They have to stay sharp in a world that’s going ever faster. They have to grapple with a barrage of new information and demands on their time. Continuous learning is the only way they can keep up. Their work has become learning, and learning is the bulk of their work. And, on top of this, technology has connected the world, making it possible to connect with just about anyone, anytime, anywhere. The ease of sharing of information has lead to a cultural phenomenon, which relates to our topic at hand; people are used to being able to get the answers to their questions – to learn – of their own accord through research and conversation. But this way of learning – autonomous searching and social collaboration – has not yet been reflected in corporate learning, demonstrating that corporate learning has fallen behind. To keep things simple in our following exploration of how corporate learning needs to change, let’s call the industrial-age (old school) companies Hierarchical and the network-era (2012) companies Collaborative. Control in Hierarchical companies resides at the top. Orders and instructions are pushed down through the organization. Control in Collaborative companies is distributed throughout the organizations. Workers and supervisors have a large say in what they do and they pull in the resources they need for themselves. So, imagine the training department just disappeared because our organization has shifted from Hierarchical to Collaborative, and learning has become everyone’s business. Where should we focus to improve learning? It’s a matter of people and infrastructure. Those will be the topics of my next posts on this subject.
White paper      |      Slideshare

Online Educa

Participants at Educa are enthusiastic:

You can watch a longer version of the party video here. When did you last see this enthusiastic a group of learning professionals?


Six of the Business Educa track sessions in Berlin were streamed and recorded:

The Opening Conversation

Social Media & Mobile Learning

Learning from Experience

Games: Should you be doing this at work?

Working Smarter with Learning Networks

Preparing for Business Educa 2011

Overall Business Educa Video Archive

Online Educa Day 2
Tony O’Driscoll was up at 5:00 am to present his thoughts on learning in 3D from North Carolina. The Tech Staff do not recognize that Macs exist and did not have the right cable to bring in the Skype session. Here is my implementation hack. We could hear Tony clearly; seeing his face on the screen was a bit tough.

Online Educa Day 2
Show’s over.

European Launch of The Working Smarter Fieldbook

One of the joys of publishing an unbook instead of going the traditional route is putting together your own marketing campaign. We released The Working Smarter Fieldbook at the Irish Learning Showcase in Dublin.

Dublin Book Release

This being Ireland, Guinness played a major role.

Dublin Book Release

Several people who had read the 2009 and earlier 2010 editions of Work Smarter asked if they should read the new version. I told them yes. The Fieldbook is more than half new material. It’s 50% longer. It has many more ideas from Jane, Charles, Harold, Clark, and Jon. Readers tell me it’s a more practical book.

Co-author Jane Hart and I introduced the book at the formal Irish Learning Showcase. Interactive Services purchased books for everyone in attendance.

2010IrishLearningShowcase 124

Co-author Charles Jennings joined me the next day for celebrations at the Guinness Storehouse.

Dublin Book Release

Sharon Kaliouby hosted the third part of the release at Dublin’s oldest pub, The Brazen Head. (Click link for cool Celtic music.)

Dublin Book Release

The young woman to my left added to the festivities.

Western Ireland

Ireland is wonderful. The Internet Time Alliance will be back.

Workscaping, part 3 of n

Sources of knowhow

My class at Harvard Business School has the distinction of being the last not allowed to bring portable calculators to exams. (A Bomar 4-function calculator cost $99, a sum that kept many of us from acquiring one.) I got through by doing discounted cash now with a slide rule.

Everyone has several calculators today. They are giveaways. There’s probably one in your phone. All of which makes it irrelevant to learn long division, how to take cube roots, or logarithms. Why bother? That’s yesterday’s knowledge.

Robert Kelley at Carnegie Mellon discovered that whereas in 1986 we carried 75% of what we need to know to do our jobs in our heads, by 2006 our brains contained only about 8-10% of what we needed to know.

The rest is stored in our “outboard brains” — our laptops or, increasingly, our smart phones.

Once I had to learn most of the things required to do my job; now I need to know where to retrieve them. I search or ask people when I need to know. If I have a good network of savvy colleagues, I can ask them for advice (“social search”). “I store knowledge in my friends.” (6)

Instructional designers once only designed instruction. Now they must assess the tradeoff of putting knowledge in the worker’s head (learning) or putting it in an outboard brain (performance support). Among the options available to them:

Searching and asking questions work best with explicit information, things that could be written down.

The subtle information that cannot be pinned down in simple sentences, for example, the emotions and nuances that make or break a sale, is tougher to transfer because “’wisdom can’t be told.” (7) People acquire this implicit knowledge through observing others, collaboration, and lengthy trial and error. Like blindfolded zen archery, mastery sometimes takes years. (8)

Or course, many times we have already learned a skill through experience. Today experiential learning can be accelerated through simulation, virtual worlds, and role play.

In the increasingly complex world we inhabit, we often confront novel situations. This requires innovation, a new way of doing things. Innovation is often the result of a mash-up of ideas, for example a rule of thumb from one discipline being applied in a new context

So far, we’ve addressed motivation and content. Longer term, there’s more to it than that. In addition to learning about things, we need to become professionals.

More on the way

6 Karen Stephenson, as quoted by Downes post-44607

7 Harvard professor Charles I. Gregg. 1970. http://www.aacu.orgipeerreviewlpr-wiOSlprwi05realitycheck.cfm

8 Herrigel, E and Suzuki, D. 1953. Zen and the Art of Archery

Workscaping, part 1 of n