On Tuesday the 17th of April I was at the Leeds Testing Atelier running a workshop about Agile Learning. For anyone not familiar with this event, it’s basically the best testing event out there, and run by some awesome people. Here’s a link:

http://testingatelier.community/

As part of that workshop I said I’d blog about what was discussed, so here goes!

The workshop

The workshop was all about Agile Learning with the goal of creating some principles and a manifesto for Agile Learning. I do have a habit of running workshops that are basically impossible, and this was no different! I’m not going to go through the content in detail, but essentially it was about looking at formal and informal ways an organisation can approach learning with the premise that informal learning is much more beneficial to the organisation and that this is generally how adults like to learn. There was also some ranting about forcing processes and timeboxes on people, both in terms of learning (Smart objectives and performance reviews) and Agile (Scrum!).

Jointly creating some principles and a manifesto was designed to stimulate some conversation and hopefully give people some things to think about when they return to work. We’ll probably never know if the latter happened!

As a side note, I’m always surprised at how many people use Scrum and claim to know about Agile, but haven’t heard of the Agile Manifesto. Frankly I think this is a massive shame.

Raw Output

Before trying to analyse what people discussed and wrote down, here’s a raw dump of the sheets of paper and posters people created.

Here are some of the posters mainly covering principles and one attempting a manifesto.

 

And here are a couple of the A4 sheets I gave out as a template to try to align this with the Agile Manifesto and Principles.

 

Here are some observations about these notes and some observations about the discussions that were taking place. I’ll try to analyse this further down.

  • Over half the room had smart objectives and annual performance reviews, which suggests some thought into learning is happening, but experience tells me it’s likely many of these are dictated and not all that valuable
  • Lots of people discussed and are using knowledge shares on a regular basis
  • People are familiar with the concepts of communities of practices, although the term isn’t used often and the practice is not very well understood
  • There was a fair amount of talk about Learning Styles, which I always find interesting (more about this below). Most of the conversation was along the lines of “I learn more by doing”.
  • Lots of the ideas relate to how we develop software – failing fast, feedback loops etc
  • People found creating Agile Learning principles much easier than a manifesto (understandably)
  • There was a range of organised / supported informal learning being discussed, from knowledge shares to dedicated time to experiment with new tools and ideas, but these
  • Not many people were involved in informal learning activities back at work, over and above basic knowledge sharing sessions (but that’s great) – isolated to a few people across the ~40 people in the room

 

Some Analysis and Thoughts

Analysing the output is a little tricky and is clearly going to be subjective and biased to my interpretation, but here goes anyway:

  • Some of the output was really encouraging and suggests as a group the ideas and values of informal learning are fairly embedded in people’s thinking. While some of the ideas written down were relatively basic, the discussions about these ideas were really well-considered. Being able to describe what good informal learning is is clearly not an easy task.
  • Some of the ideas and activities that people are involved in were aligned with specific practices / approaches, but were not defined using specific learning terms. Many of us can describe development practices and that’s useful so we can engage in dialog within and between teams – it helps us quickly describe how things are done and what the benefits are without having to actually explain in detail. If teams understood specific learning practices and the benefits the provide, they could use these to describe what they do more clearly.
  • The fact only a very small number of people were doing anything over and above lunch time knowledge share sessions suggests there isn’t an understanding of the overall benefits of informal learning. While knowledge shares are great, in isolation there is a missing opportunity to create a much greater meaningful set of learning resources that can be reused over time. I’d hazard a guess that managers don’t understand the value of informal learning so don’t commit any time to supporting and nurturing it.
  • Learning styles were discussed by a lot of people, and while this isn’t the place to get on a soap box about the validity of learning styles, this at least suggests people are aware of some learning theory. The interesting thing is that most people said they liked to learn “by doing”. A few people talked about preferring to read books. My view is that the “learning style” is more closely linked with what is being learned or the degree of competence of the learner, than how the learner prefers to learn (there, I got on my soap box); either way learning styles are largely seen as a myth but are still propagated by courses like Train the Trainer and even Ofsted. It seems the learning industry needs to help out by being more vocal about new ideas and dispelling myths often latched onto outside their communities.
  • Ultimetely, the things being discussed and written down suggest that people are much more aligned to an informal learning approach, and that formal learning approaches, although sometimes fit, should not be the main learning diet in an organisation. This is clearly my view though and the workshop was geared towards people thinking in this way, so feel free to take this with a pinch of salt. Assuming I’m right (feel like the right thing to do!) it’s clear we should be putting less emphasis on formal learning like smart objectives and performance reviews if we want to truly support people in their learning.

 

The next thing I want to do is attempt to create an updated Agile Manifesto and Principles from my previous blog on this topic. I’ll do that in another post, but for now, please feel free to comment and add your thoughts!

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