What do the words ‘Cynefin’,  ‘Daniel Pink’,  ‘Ted Talk’‘Big Marker’, ‘Twitter‘, ‘Fuzzy‘, ‘Alpe d’HuZes’ all have in common?  The relation is that participants of the webinar ‘Serendipitous learning’ learned something unexpected recently.  ‘A lot of our learning is accidently, we actually learn all the time’,  explains Jane Hart (C4LPT),  ‘We don’t necessarily know what we’ve learned, till we start to use the knowledge’. During the Flipped (social) webinar on the 15th December 2011 she shared her knowledge and experiences about serendipity.

‘Enabling serendipitous learning is one of the major challenges, organisations are facing in the coming decade’.   ‘Organisations are moving from a culture of ‘command and control’ to one of ‘encourage and engage’, according to Jane.  One of her roles in her job as consultant, lecturer and researcher is to make people work smarter.

Identify and encourage the people who like to share

Learning is about sharing of knowledge, especially while using social media. It requires a certain culture of openess. What kind of factors influence the willingness to share?  What can we do as facilitators?

Jane:  ‘Many people are happy to share. They do, because they want to and have a reason to do so. In organisations we have to tap into that approach. We can not force people to share,  however we can encourage them. We have to remember that people need a reason to share. So, as a facilitator help and encourage the people who are motivated to share and emphasize how important they are in their organisation or community. Show them the value of sharing, how it will be important and help the organisation or the community’.

‘An important pré-condition is to build a culture of trust.  People need to feel that they are not going to be reprimanded. Social media policies can be helpful, however it is usually about sharing with the outside world. Within the organisation it is more about the value to the organisation. There is a difference between sharing internally and externally. As facilitator be an example for others. Share stories about how it works for you. Storytelling is key in telling people how it works in social media. In terms of security, if you want to keep it entirely within the company, this is possible. There are a lot of ‘enterprise tools’ and ‘open source’ tools you can use and have them protected through a firewall, you own and control the data entirely’. If you host it outside in the cloud, you don’t control the security levels. However, the companies can explain you exactly how secure it is. 

Towards a performance based approach

We are moving from a command and control culture towards an encourage and engage culture. How will the role of managers look like in a culture of ‘encourage and engage’?

Jane:   ‘Through the growing importance of social media and rapid external changes in the business environment, the role of managers will change.   The question,  “I need a training course” will not be the right point of departure in enabling people’s learning in organisations. “What is the problem you want to solve?”  will be the starting point in encouraging people to take responsibility in their own discovery path of learning.  What do you need to solve this problem?  What kind of expertise is needed? Where do you want to collect the information?  Who do you like to meet and connect?  How would you like to develop your competencies to solve this problem?  What kind of learning community might help you?  The managers role will change  from a controler into the role of a guide questioning and helping people to solve their problems’.   Formal learning such as face-to-face training courses will become less important.  Informal learningprocesses in organisations will increase in importance.  Connecting and helping to find the right people, creating an enabling environment will be crucial factors that will support people’s development in organisations. In a culture of ‘encourage and engage’ the manager will focus on relating learning to performance. What is the effect of learning on performance?  What works well?  What can be improved?  Social media will play an essential part in the process of sharing and connecting.  It  will move organisations from a ‘Hierarchical’ to a ‘Wirearchical’ approach in learning.

‘Easycratie’  , the 8-fields model of Kessels and Smit  and the article ‘Veranderingen in richten als leerproces – De rol van de manager’  are excellent  resource materials in empowering managers to move towards an ‘encourage and engage’ role in organisations.

The community gardener, an insider or outsider?

‘Communities of Practise (CoP’s) are excellent places for formal and informal learning’  according to Jane Hart.  ‘Communities are about “collecting and connecting“.  They are the places where people can address their problems.  It enables serendipitous learning.  It is not necessary that CoP’s are big communities. It is rather the quality than the quantity, that determines the success of a CoP. Some people are active, others are less active. The old model for communities is 90-9-1 which symbolizes the composition of communities;  90 % are the quiet readers and followers, the so-called lurkers,  9 % are fairly active,  they read and respond,  and 1 %  are the core people running and keeping the community active is moving more towards a 70-20-10 model.  This does not mean that the lurking is hindering personal development.  Each person plays a role in the community. Lurkers will still learn by reading and following others. Organisations need to enable people and provide the right conditions (time, money and support) to encourage people’s participation in such communities.  Currently many self-employed consultant are active in online communities.  However, the changing demands in the working environment of organisations, will also foster the increament of participation of people working in organisations in social media platforms.

Jane:  An important role in learning communities is there for the so-called “Community Gardener“. This person feeds the community with new ideas, new posts and encourages people to remain active’.   Jane prefers that the Community Gardener is a member of the community. ‘Outsiders can be helpful in the start-up phase, however insiders are needed to keep the community going’. 

Facilitating serendipitous learning

Can we help people to learn unintentionally? ‘Often browsing on the web is seen as distraction. We should emphasize that it important to stimulate out-of-the-box thinking and it challenges our mental models. Managers don’t see browsing on the internet as learning. We can promote serendipitous learning as a strategy. We also need to help people understand that you can’t manage and capture everybody’s learning. You can’t lock it up in a database. Most of what we learn is accidental, serendipitous. We can encourage and support it, and measure it’s impact on people’s productivity and performance.’ ‘Recognise that people do learn in that way. Learning professionals can help by showing places and tools to learn serendipitously and help find connections.’

Intelligent filtering will be the next trend for learning organisations

‘Techcrunch’ and ‘Mashable’ are two resource sites which feed the professional garden of Jane with new tools.  ‘Learning is a life long process!  Passion, dedication and doing things from the heart, are the main ingredients. And what trend does Jane foresee for learning organisations in the future?  ‘Intelligent filtering will be the next stage in making people in organisations smarter.  By then we will not talk about social media, but about web 3.0 education models’.

More resource materials:

Jane Hart’s presentations at   >>>  http://www.slideshare.net/janehart

Serendipitous learning:  Recognizing and fostering the potential of micro blogging

John Moravec – Education futures –  The education 3.0 model   and a VPRO documentary about the Education 3.0 model


The next webinar will deal about  engaging and activating online communities with Nancy White as expert.  The webinar will take place on 21st February, 2012 from 15.30 – 17.00 hrs Amsterdam GMT-1 time.  More information,  Faciliteeronline.nl