Overview: Learnscapes

Corporate learning increasingly deals with groups instead of individuals, networks instead of silos, and impromptu instead of planned activities. Learning ecosystems create more value than learning programs. We need to shift our thinking from instructional design to environmental design.

Learning is about collaboration, coaching, and reflection, not just study and reading. Developing a platform to support learning is analogous to landscaping a garden. A major aspect of the corporate learning ecosystem is natural learning, the notion of treating people as organisms in nature. Workers are free-range learners. Our role is to protect their environment, provide nutrients for growth, and let nature take its course. Self-service learners are connected to one another, to ongoing flows of information and work, to their teams and organizations, to their customers and markets, not to mention their families and friends.

Because the design of informal learning ecosystems is analogous to landscape design, I call the environment of informal learning a learnscape.

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

Learnscapes are holistic. “It’s not my department is no excuse for suboptimal results or stressed-out workers. Helping everyone be all that they can be is not charity; it’s good business.

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

A learnscape is where learning takes place. Don’t go looking for one; it’s a concept, not a physical place. A learnscape is the context of learning.

A learnscape is not a network or a campaign. It’s the whole enchilada.

Learning is a process, not an event. A Learnscape is where that process plays out.

A learnscape is a learning ecology. It’s learning without borders. You already have a learnscape. It’s probably not all that it could be.

The designer must work to satisfy aspirations and values, not precise outcomes. Man plans; God laughs. No learnscape survives when the levee breaks.

The late Peter Henschel, former head of the Institute for Research on Learning, said that “The manager’s core work in this new economy is to create and support a work environment that nurtures continuous learning. Doing this well moves us closer to having an advantage in the never-ending search for talent.” How else could it be? Neither nature nor the workplace will cooperate by going into suspended animation so we can tweak the details without things changing all the time. Everything flows. You go with the flow or you are out of it. Every learnscape has a history and a future, but the present is a moving target.

Courses end; learnscapes persist. Organizations and their members are living things, and the landscape/learnscape analogy invites us to consider nature, symbiosis, interconnections, genetic make-up, adaptation, the change of seasons, and life cycles. People are not plants, so the analogy doesn’t stretch into self-expression, thinking, identity, personality, and collaboration.

In the mechanical world, I’d wrap this up with a conclusion. In the natural world, this is but one step on a long journey. Nothing ever ends.

SoL’s tour of organizational learning concepts
Senge’s ladder of inference