Why should managers and leaders use modern learning theory and praxis?

Posted on September 12, 2010


Company value
What if company value basically is produced by transforming old knowledge through involved employees in accordance with the specific context?

If value primarily is produced from this logic, then you can argue that it is not enough a few persons formulate what others shall do, how they shall do it and when. Nevertheless this is often the case when I look at public and private companies, educational structures and others.

None critical approach to learning processes
I experience e.g. that the manager or the lecturer stands at the blackboard, presenting the next challenge, the new strategy or the main points of the lecture. A presentation solely produced by the leader. Of course the students or employees are given the time to ask questions to be absolutely clear on what is presented.

The traditionally conception is that the employees or student shall remember the presentation to be able to recall the plan, the process or the subject to support the “right way to do it” or to achieve a good grade at the exam.

An approach very few are critical towards as we all hold memories from basic school; memories of how “learning” and presentations must look like. You can say that this memory of traditional approach installs some kind of safety in our minds. We just have to sit down, lean back and take in what is presented in order to be able to recall later.

Further, in situations where we have to work together in small groups, I have often experienced that one or two persons in the group take control and formulate “the right” answer. Also in situations where a change agent (manager or teacher) is present as they unfortunately have no insight in modern learning process and lacks the competence to facilitate and support a social learning process. The result is that the rest of the group never delivers elements to the solution. It becomes a one- or two-man answer. From my point of view a limited answer.

The leader as a “pouring” person
Generally I would label the traditional approach to learning as “Behaviorism”; the picture being that a teacher or the manager “pours” his plan into the minds of the employees. This idea dominates our approach to all that involves presentation, cooperation and learning. Deep inside though I think most of us know that the behavioristic approach do not correspond with reality, but the case is we do not have an alternative. Further, the many books on management, leadership and organizational theory, many of them lack, or at best briefly, touches on modern learning processes.

Before I present a practical approach to modern learning, it is important to answer the following question: “When working with teaching, problem solving or development – then why is it not sufficient that only a single person defines what is ‘right’?”

The complex and changeable reality
The short answer is that no one can survey reality alone. The logic is we are all massively connected to the world around. Through these connections run huge amounts of data. Data which get obsolete faster and faster. And data that demands more attention to survey to be able to pick the most relevant.

Further you should add to this logic, that we all perceive reality different. The explanation is among others: Every person is an unique genetic mass with an original growth (childhood, adolescence and adolescent growth) and therefore a unique set of experience. When we look at reality with our unique pair of ‘genetic/growth’ glasses, we all perceive a see a unique picture of reality.

If you use this explanation in a traditional learning situation you can say that the manager or teacher represents an insufficient perception of their area because they look at reality through their unique pair of ‘genetic/growth’ glasses. This way of leading and managing probably made sense until the beginning of the 20th century where you can say that reality was less complex than it is today. Today, no person can survey reality and make sense alone to produce results that exploits the many possibilities that e.g. a specific market holds.

Then what?
If the understanding of modern learning processes are the take-off for all we do in the company, then I would argue it will transform the way we communicate, how we lead the employees and how we plan and manage structures. This whether we work on problem solving, develop things, work on standard areas with firm structures and procedures, if we have plenty of time, are short on time, if we work with different cultures or working with teams.

I have tried to picture this thinking in the model above. You can look at the model as a pair of special glasses that you put on together with your own pair of ‘genetic/growth’ glasses.

Understanding modern learning processes then becomes a special perspective of reality. A special understanding about learning processes: How learning processes are started and how they are supported. An understanding that make employees, leaders, managers and teachers choose a different behavior towards reality and each other.

By obtaining an understanding about modern learning praxis, the teacher or the manager approaches work processes and tasks differently, especially the way she,
– Communicate.
– Lead people and manage systems.
– Organize.
– Support processes.
– Formulate goals and evaluate the results.

Now would be the time in this post, to explain exactly what one should do.

Listen, think, speak…
I will however not reveal an answer but only offer a base from where to reach your own answer. An answer that corresponds with your own pair of ‘genetic/growth’ glasses.

The reason for this is that the creation of any answer (from a modern learning perspective) starts inside the mind of the involved persons. Unfortunately you have to think, and this comes as a surprise to many because it flips the conception that you just can’t lean back and have somebody else pour the right answers into your head.

Another precondition is that you should be given the opportunity to talk about your thoughts. It is my experience that if you speak your mind, this action also supports the learning process that takes place inside your brain.

A praxis oriented and simple approach to the basics of learning processes can be listed as:


To “start up your brain” learning process, you usually listen to another persons briefing or you read a paper. When listening you could ask yourselves the primary question, “What do I find interesting?” The answer is produced as you think (reflect). Then you turn towards a friend and colleague and tell about your thoughts. Your friend has also thought about what is interesting. And now both of you exchange thoughts. You listen, reflect and tell about your thoughts. You are now participating in a dialogue that creates an individual perception on the subject and at the same time developing a common idea.

The described process rests on some basic assumptions. But first some comments on the described learning process above.

“Start up your brain learning process” frames what happens when a person is not activating mechanisms to be able to imitate and repeat the ‘just presented’. The expression is a picture of a person that permits one self to think with a ‘take-off” in own genuine interest. A “take-off” from own mass of unique experience and a genuine interest that emerges out of the situation. That is why is it imperative that the question answered is, “what do I, and I alone, think is interesting among the presented?” Through this question you create a relation to your own motivation, based on your personal curiosity or wonder. If you already have tried this approach you may have experienced that personal curiosity and wonderment can develop a fierce motivation, dynamic and drive in the ongoing learning process.

More persons constructing the picture together, is a way to reduce differences to reality. That is why it makes good sense to talk about your thoughts. It both nurtures your own learning process and at the same time presents interesting views that can inspire new thinking in the brain of your listening friends. “Talking your thoughts” brings firewood to the social learning process.

The teacher or the manager obviously knows best
I have often met the counter argument that the teacher or manager knows best. They know what areas are the most important within the branch of knowledge or field of study. My answer is that the teacher or the manager only represents a limited position of experience of the surrounding complexity. This points towards the understanding that more persons together better will be able to expand and deepen the insight contextual.

Sure, but the teacher or the manager – they knows what is relevant and right! E.g. the teacher can look up the right answer in his books! My answer is that absolutism and truth only exists within the individual in accordance with the argument about the pair of ‘genetic/growth’ glasses. As I see it the challenge is to recognize that we better can make sense together. Alone we do not know much.

Besides the specific position I have presented above, modern learning praxis is supported by some personal basic acknowledgements. Here they come.

Nothing is 100% reversible. Nothing can be repeated exactly. If you could “freeze” a situation in all details (place, movement, tempo, rhythm, sound, light, smell, persons, gear and more), the involved persons would hold experience from the first run. They would not be “pure” inside their minds. But changed.
As I see it reality is irreversible. In praxis it means that every situation is totally unique. When a challenge is solved the solution is unique. It is characterized by the unique timeframe (time and date), the environment at the time, the tools and their condition, the participating persons and their mood, experience and relations. In a learning process, all learning is unique and contextual. The learning process is formed and influenced by the context.

Working with plans in general, I think it is sufficient to produce 50-70% ready plans. The reason being that the planner or planners are unable to predict the context when the plan is carried out.
The persons who actually carry out the plan will deal with the context and the challenges it brings at the exact time of execution. Together they will develop the appropriate measures that fits the context and solves he challenge.
I admit it may sound abstract, combined with my lacking ability to explain ☺.

You cannot decide what others shall think
This understanding seriously settles with the traditional position on learning (“pouring”). In the traditional conception learning has happened when the student repeats what the teacher has presented. In reality, repeating is just a picture of the student’s ability to imitate. Nothing else. Therefore you cannot learn someone anything. You can at the most force, coerce or invite someone to repeat or imitate.

Build into the modern learning position lays also the key to handle the process in praxis: Learning can only be supported – not dictated. As a teacher or a manager you need to present the plan or the subject as a position and then ask open questions to make the students or employees start up the process: Listen – think – speak. This to widen and deepen the knowledge and be able to make better decisions or make better sense.

How and where the learning process ends you will never know. In return it is my experience that the started learning process keeps on long after the lecture is over. The explanation is that due to a question supported process the brain works in such high tempo that it lasts long after, both conscious and subconscious. Which is why you may suddenly acknowledge something new long after e.g. while driving or talking a walk.

You are only a position
This position is described many places before in this text. But the understanding and acknowledgement of this view supports that the world comprises as many different conceptions of reality related to the number of people present. This also means that more persons represents a wider and deeper conception of reality. It also means that every person is right regarding his or hers position but also that nobody owns the truth. It all depends on the eyes that look.

“Right” or truth emerge contextual any given second between those who solve the problem together.

Next step…
You have just reach the ending of this blog post. If you seriously want to understand better then you need to think about what you find interesting and maybe tell your reflection to somebody: Listen – think – talk.

Especially if you decides to reflect on how a changed view of learning may affect your behavior and decision-making process.

I cannot tell you the behavioral or mental consequences if you shift from traditional to modern learning understanding. You have to think for yourselves.

Listen – Think – Talk © are a new modern learning praxis of mine and part of my social technology:

Collaborative Man®