ABC of learning theories

April 4, 2011 12:18 pm

Designers of learning, change or development programs – be it on the individual or organizational level – will at some point of time during the business case definition, planning or implementation be confronted with the question: what underlying learning theory do you apply or recommend for this project in our corporation.

It is almost certain that multiple learning theories or paradigms have already been put into play in the corporation and has actively or on a residual basis influenced leadership and organizational culture. And the reason is simple: over time, the different paradigms have all had their heyday-period, and almost all corporations have embedded elements from each paradigm into their management systems.

The overview of the major paradigms can be short listed as follows:


The basic idea is stimulus-response to generate an expected behavior, i.e. behavior can be largely explained by external stimuli without the need to consider internal mental states or consciousness.

The learner is viewed as a relatively passive object, which primarily responds to environmental or managerial stimuli, and a given behavior may result in positive reinforcement or punishment.

Founding researchers are John B. Watson, B.F. Skinner, Ivan Pavlov, and others.


Replaced behaviorism in 1960s as dominant paradigm.

The basic idea is that the mental function can be understood, and the learner viewed as a “rational” processor of information and input in general, i.e. people are rational beings whose action are a consequence of thinking – and if understood well enough and taking all circumstances into account one could map an input/output function.

Cognitivism hence generates the need for defining and understanding cognitive processing (thinking, memory, knowing, and problem-solving) on an individual level and processes on an organizational level.

Noam Chomsky is a founding personage.


An idea born early – but one of the most popular learning paradigms in the 2. Millennium.

The basic idea is that learning can only actively  occur in a constructive process. You learn as you construct, act, or create  – learning by doing are pragmatic approaches which adopt this thinking. The learner is viewed as an information constructor.

People actively construct or create their own subjective representations of objective reality. New information is linked to prior knowledge, which implies that mental representations are subjective.

John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Jerome Bruner are important sources and proponents.


The basic idea is that learning is triggered by an inner drive to reach a personal potential or mental state. Learning becomes a personal act to fulfill one’s potential. The learner is viewed as an individual with both affective and cognitive needs. Learning is individual and personal, facilitated by mentors or teachers, with the goal of developing self-actualized people in a cooperative, supportive environment.

The learning process is based on freedom, dignity, and the potential of humans.

Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and others are founding proponents in each their way.

Learning paradigms in the Enterprise case

Management bonus schemes and most of the enterprise KPI structures basically comes out of behaviourism.

Change- or Improvement programs that involve Business Process (re)Definition, is based on learning seen in a cognitive paradigm – more often than not implemented also with elements from behaviourism and systems thinking (the latter being viewed as an organizational-level parallel to cognitive learning on the individual level).

Nearly all the successful talent- and personal development programs of today build heavily on the constructivist paradigm.

Vision and Value based management take a starting point in the humanist learning paradigm, and most HR functions will end up leaning towards this paradigm for their leadership development. Some would even argue that any CEO who wants to hand over a viable successful organization which continues to outperform (i.e. does not collapse or need serious structural changes as part of the change process) must have endorsed and internalized (as Schein would say) humanist leadership!

Conclusion; Use what you need – intelligently ;-)

Trending challenges for digitalised organisations

November 24, 2010 10:50 am

Changes in the digital organisation

So many articles and opinions on the impact of digitalisation on organisations and business.

Most fail to address the organisational challenge in depth, but focus on the technological possibilities and changes.  IBM and McKinsey & Co have surveyed the question among business executives, and the overall conclusion is that approximately 80 % of the interviewees point to the digital paradigm as the greatest challenge with the highest potential – but less than 20 % have seriously started executing. What’s new ;-)

Went to a small workshop on the challenges of the digital organisation yesterday. 10 trends were identified (most were mutually inter-dependant, but that’s often the name of the game in surveys and trend-spotting). A vote was made among the participating business executives, the top 3 are listed first (credit to IFF);

1] Everything goes “Real Time” (think of web2.0 + unified communications and you get the picture) : Ideas and news, Expectations for very short response times, Impatience, Willingness and possibility to contribute – wherever whenever. The winner is more often the one with the fastest response – not the one with the best quality response (this is very interesting – probably over time the best response will win, but not until another “roll” occurs and the one with the best answer hits the right timing).

2] Un-controllability: How to manage crowd control?, What is good management?, What is chaos and what is innovation?, Prioritising. And which KPI’s do we actually deploy – should we measure and reward e.g. “Sharing frequency”.

3] Everyone is cross-over networked: One employee means access to 100 other, How big is my organisation? Who is friend who is foe?, Can we get more out of virtual employees or teams? Are we professionalising our private time and un-professionalising our professional time?

I think that the top 3 trends listed here actually reflect the human or organisational challenge in the current era of digitalisation pretty well if you really need to cut it short. The companies which get the above things right in their business processes will be ahead of the bulk. The key to IT-ROI (or perhaps ROITI – Return on IT Investment) lies in organisational leadership more than technology itself. Nothing new under the sun!

If you check this post from Gartner group or this presentation from Jennifer (with IBM) you can triangulate and decide for yourself.

Jennifers presentation is one of my all time favourites! It was given for the first time more than a year ago as I remember – but just remains pertinent and deep.

On-line publishing as digital learning

October 25, 2010 9:13 pm

What is a perfect video for your corporate CMS or LMS?

Perfect is perhaps too big of a word in the light of reality, since so much of what you can find on corporate web-sites really does not seem to live up to the anticipated vision or cause – it is just boring and makes you shut down mentally after 10 seconds! And that’s actually a great shame, because multimedia and video in particular holds an enormeous potential for impact for a long range of the most important leadership challenges of our time; change management, shared culture in dispersed organisations, efficiency in learning programmes, and so on and on……..   

However, if you want to close-in on something that works, you could choose to consider some of the following advice.

1. Establish clear key messages or learning goals.

2. Write out the (learning) stories.

3. Choose your editorial style.

4. Write out the story-board from an anticipated application pattern.

5. Shoot and edit for optimal impact by using empirical rules of optimised graphical and vocal composition – and not least learning strategies (this goes for marketing as well…!).

Concerning the latter point, here is some practical guidance if you are into video based learning objects;

  • A one-minute headline summary, telling the overview of learning points or stories, perhaps in an ideal sequence having the anticipated application pattern in mind.
  • A chapter per key message or learning goal – broken into pieces of around 1-2 minutes (and never ever more than 3)!
  • Enforce focus and energy and dynamics. Apply dynamic sound or pitch and considerations of the graphical composition. You can superimpose principles from still image to video with just a little creativity (but it takes a lot of practice….!).

If you are sincerely interested in studying what works for learning purposes, you should definitely read this article!

And if you get past the commercials, you can find lots of inspiration (also for other editorial styles like documentaries) and good stuff here or here and for basic production here or here.

Learning by doing is the best way to discover the secrets. Keep on learning!

Leadership 2.0

October 21, 2010 5:44 pm

Leadership thinkers have over the years now and then popped a formula or two in order to quantify or communicate good leadership.

However, from a learning perspective, most formulas have a tendency to generate negative associations by many of those who were supposed to process and reflect upon the matter. I have made no research on this subject, but I would argue that formulas tend to remind many people of a difficult math class years back….! So words and graphics can ease the pain for non-mathematicians.

Take the following example. It is a very simple formula articulated by Christopher Barrat, and it goes;

B = (ID+RV) + si + sk,

where B designates the leadership behaviour, ”ID” is inner drive, ”RV” is received values, ”si” is your situation, and ”sk” is your skills.

It is a simple equation (and I agree with it), but even so the three people I exposed to it all felt rather distanced by its mere form. I would argue that most people will find it much easier to process the statement when it is translated into words. Barrets formula states that the leadership potential is defined by:

  • Some personality factors
  • Social influence over time
  • Your situational challenge
  • Your skills


Rather OK I think. And others like one of my personal all-time favorites Edgar Schein would probably find it acceptable since it corresponds with most of the research and conclusions on leadership capacity also from a perspective of organisational culture.

I have been working on a simple formula which can be applied in practice without too much dificulty. And this is my preferred version so far:

As in many other cases, the trick is to simplify without loosing too much relevance.

I have had some excellent feedback when applying the model which is as much a mental picture as a mathematical equation.   

You can put it into words but it almost complicates things: Competence multiplied by Motivation equals Performance.

And of course this correlates to personality, social skills and intellectual capacity. But here we want to get on solving an issue with a person or team rather than making things difficult just to enable academic satisfaction!

Almost every time I have analysed a performance problem it comes down to either competence or motivation.

Just for the record: The model is an easy opening for the more difficult discussions or performance appraisals, but that is not the theme right now.

You can apply the picture on different organisational levels: The individual, The team, The function or division, or The Corporation.

One of the things I would like to show is that the picture relates directly to the power of web2.0 principles, multi-media, and enterprise2.0 technologies in organisations. I am convinced that these tools will play a vital role for dynamic leaders, because they have the power to radically influence both competence development and motivation.

 As a small example, you can increase the overall competence in a network or group by linking specialists to more average skilled colleagues or by helping them to publish selected solutions to the rest of the community. And the motivational part can come from increased leadership communication of vision and praise – or simply because individuals feel inspired and comforted by an increased community feeling.

So – assess the C and M and insist on the right to implement great enterprise communication tools and new media into your business processes. It will work!

Even if parts of your senior management has not yet understood the need.

Seth Godin agrees with me – read “Rework” and learn judo solutions

September 20, 2010 9:05 pm

Rework is the first business book that has really made me laugh in 2010! You must read this book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (founders of 37signals).

They wanted to write a book about how to succeed with your business. And they did. But in the same time they also wrote a most excellent book about change management.

I sincerely believe that the book would be a truly positive lethal weapon for any CEO who wanted to give the entire organization a well meant slap in the b..ack!

 I have read quite a few really good books about change management, and they all offered great advice and insight to tap into. But most are slow readers or sources of momental inspiration that makes you able to produce a good idea or solution. You just fly through Rework – and then you start thinking about the cause and effect behind their visions and statements. And how people work!

We could make a vote about which of the pitch-line truths should be the winner – but the choice is hard: Make a dent in the universe, Meetings are toxic, Your estimates suck, Good enough is fine, Find a judo solution, Pick a fight, Inspiration is perishable……and so on!

Read it yourself and tell your CEO friends or anyone who has an impact in a needing organisation. The work place will be inspired.

And you will definitely find time to read the more research based works later, right…?

web collaboration key issues for management

September 12, 2010 9:45 am

This instrument is really all it takes to implement a successful new business process into a change project in an Enterprise2.0 (or X.0) context. But learning how to play the instrument may take some time.

Nova Spivack web .0 overview illustration

September 10, 2010 12:49 pm

There are many who claim to tell the story, but my experience is that the illustration by Nova Spivack just works the best. I do not think this is the latest version, so check for yourself in the vast amount of very interesting stuff done by Spivack. Also check his bio in wikipedia!

It is pretty commonly aknowledged (also by himself I believe) that he was very optimistic/ambitious regarding the pace of development (3.0/4.0 starting too early)  when he first did the illustration, but I guess its forgivable that a guy like him behaves as if the Gartner hype curve has an additional inch on the left side…;-)

27 web based project management tools

September 6, 2010 2:55 pm

Huddle, 1time, ActionThis, ActiveCollab, Bananascrum, Basecamp, Confluence, Convos, CreativePro Office, Goplan, Intervals, LetsProve, PlanHQ, Planix, ProjectPipe, ProjectSpaces, Projity,, Side Job Track,, Tangentworks 550, teamwork,, Unfuddle, WhoDoes, Wrike, Zoho Project

Change the World or Go Home

June 3, 2010 9:29 pm

change the world Le blue monster un vieux truc dIBM ... mais jaime bien

Thanks to those who share. Shared clouds are fantastic for business and humanity!

Enterprise2.0 change projects

June 1, 2010 6:45 am

I’m often asked: “Is this Enterprise2.0 thing really so important and significant?” And my answer is a loud and clear, yes! Andrew McAfee from MIT gave birth to the term back in 05/06, and you could argue that if the vast promises really were realistic, we would have seen the wave a long time ago. However, I believe that the combination of more mature technologies, the freemium paradigm which have accustomed millions to the user friendliness of web applications combined with the hype around cloud computing will be the driver that makes many companies and individuals cross the chasm with regards to Enterprise2.0 as Geoffrey Moore would say.

You will get better motivated people and teams, higher overall productivity, and more rapid innovation in essential products and business processes. But only if the implementation and execution is handled properly.

The executives should pay special attention, because the companies which move first and make the right decisions will have an immense competitive advantage in the short and long term.

Most people are confused about the terminology in one way or another. Web2.0, Enterprise2.0, social media, etc. What is what? Some tend to associate Enterprise2.0 to web2.0 and social media only. Hence, associations to time consuming private facebook sessions or like create frowns on many executive faces. But it is essential to distinguish work focused applications and systems from the huge amount of leisure web sites that are usually thought of when speaking of “2.0”.

Enterprise2.0 is about using new ideas, methods and IT to solve age-old problems which somehow prevent the optimal benefit from the sum of company assets, e.g. working in projects that span across organizational boundaries, locating information, expertise or other resources, speeding up communication and decision making, quickly validating ideas or customer feed-back, etc.

More specifically, Enterprise2.0 solutions have already proven to facilitate paradigm shifting and performance boosting when applied to critical business processes related to :

  • Innovation and R&D
  • Strategy Deployment, Change Management and Human Resources
  • Big projects, e.g. LEAN or commissioning of new manufacturing systems
  • Best Practice Performance in Marketing, Sales & Service

Back in time, around 1965, a university professor called Harold J. Leavitt published a model which would become one of the most popular illustrations of how 4 important factors influence each other to define an organization and its performance. In his original work, Leavitt defined that you need to adopt a systems thinking view of 1] TASK, i.e. organizational purpose, 2] PEOPLE, i.e. those who carry out the task, 3] TECHNOLOGY, i.e. tools, methods, IT, 4] STRUCTURE, i.e. work-flow, procedures, decision making authority.

It’s a great model, and its general character makes it easy to accept and comprehend, even though it is very descriptive and gives little guidance on practical application. 

After having been part of variuos social media and enterprise projects, I have found it very helpful to elaborate on Leavitt and propose 5 important aspects which my experience shows that you MUST consider when designing or implementing a successful Enterprise2.0 or social media project in a people driven organisation;

Business process;  What business process are we talking about, how do you define and describe it, how does it (or does not) create value, what symptoms do you identify, which changes could be envisioned, which specific results are valued or in question?

Vision objectives; What are the objectives, results and perhaps behaviours you ultimately want to lock on to? Make a short-list of the direct and indirect objectives (and leave the means for the new business process). How do other systems or established business processes support or disturb the vision and mission of this project? How about internal and external coherence of the objectives listed and prioritised – do you observe conflicts anywhere?

Organisation; What are the behavioural changes implied or required? How will the existing leadership culture internalize a new business process (or not!), who are critical players or opinion makers you need to work with in order to succeed, how and when is corporate IT brought into play, are resources scarce or very scarce, how will formal decision making systems or authorities react to new practices, what training and implementation process is required?

Application; What are the ideal applications and characteristics (e.g. ease of use) needed to facilitate the optimal business process, what platforms are available, how critical is integration into existing internal and external platforms?

KPI dashboards; How may we capture and quantify data to produce a simple set of KPI’s representing all of the above online, real-time and in a single view designed for the specific team or situation.

It is all very simple – but you need a driving force from within and someone needs to take charge and do it!