Blog Archives

Learning in the Wild

I grew up visiting the national parks with my parents on long road trips across the country. We live in Florida, so getting to see mountains was a rare treat that I always looked forward to. I got away from it in my twenties, but as I got older I felt the pull of the mountains calling me back. One of my friends has recently declared his life’s quest to be visiting every national park, so we took the chance to tick Bryce Canyon off his list in the days following this year’s Devlearn. Bryce isn’t quite as imposing as Yosemite, nor as famous as Yellowstone, but I’ve always been curious to see the bizarre little spires (the famous “hoodoos”) ever since I first saw pictures of them.

And they don’t disappoint. The rim of the canyon is on a bit of an incline, so as you approach it from the west, all you see is a fairly unremarkable forest (though if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a few deer).

Looking at some deer as we walk towards the canyon

Cresting the hill brings you to this view…

The Bryce Canyon Amphitheatre

And it’s hard not to have your breath taken away.

My friend and I immediately started searching for the trailhead, ready to dive headfirst into that beautiful canyon.

Another friend took one look and decided that an afternoon of reading and drinking hot chocolate in the lodge was preferable to anything that could happen in that canyon (in her defense, it was bitterly cold, about to snow, and the hike ended up being incredibly challenging – her choice was probably the rational one).

It’s amazing this place could contain such a variety of experiences. You can dive into an intense day hike or bum around and relax by the fire. There are deep wilderness backcountry trails that take days to traverse… or you can hire a tour bus from Las Vegas and get driven straight up to a paved overlook path.

If the excitement of being in this beautiful place isn’t enough, you can even get an extrinsic reward by playing the “Hike the Hoodoos” scavenger hunt.

Photo by Maria Andersen

Photo by Maria Andersen

After giving it some thought, I realized how the act of building and curating these experiences feel oddly parallel to what L&D professionals do in the workplace.

Performing well at work is wild. It is complex. It is no longer “show up and push this lever for eight hours.” It’s more like, “here’s a problem we don’t know how to fix – please solve it.” During his keynote, Neil Degrasse-Tyson spoke about the irrelevance of knowledge. The people that will succeed in our new economy aren’t those who remember the most, but those who can solve the most problems and create the best new ideas.

It’s an amazingly big ask for our learners, but trying to contain this challenge and complexity, dumb it down somehow, would take away everything beautiful and exciting about it. Instead we must provide the appropriate experiences within that wildness for each person. In the same way we can’t let a bus load of sedentary sightseers try to tackle the “Under the Rim” trail (23 miles one way), we can’t let an inexperienced new hire tackle a complex project without the necessary guidance and resources. The same way we can’t hold back an experienced hiker or ultrarunner by building only easy paved trails, we shouldn’t prevent the experts from achieving all that they can.

In one of the conference breakout sessions, Marc Rosenberg and Steve Foreman laid out the case (based on a recently released a white paper) for just how such a learning ecosystem might look. Clark Quinn’s book, Revolutionize Learning & Development, offers up a similar vision. It’s a big shift in thinking, and involves not just considering the singular learning experience (through an event or performance support tool) but all the things before, after, and two years down the line.

Building an ecosystem isn’t easy, and it isn’t something that can be accomplished in an afternoon. We’ve been discussing it at my company for some time, and it’s going to take a while before all the disparate pieces come together and all the audiences have what they need to thrive.

But that’s what it’s going to take to start learning in the wild.

As for the conference itself: I cannot thank enough the eLearning Guild and my company, who gave me the opportunity to speak and give back to a community that has given me so much. A big thank you to everyone who showed up and added to the conversation! Please contact me should you have any additional questions or would like to chat further.

Advertisements