I had the pleasure of two interesting conversations today with two organizations as different as one could get. The first was with one of Canada’s major financial institutions concerning online training for some of its employees. Institutionally, the organization is quite satisfied with online, distance education – cyber-ed, as I would call it – delivering content to employees in small, individual modules, and testing them to ensure “compliance” – that the material was indeed consumed. The problem with all of this? The focus of the exercise is on demonstrating that information is transferred to employees, not that the employees have actually learned anything. There is no opportunity for employees to learn from each other, or from experiences that they have had in live situations. Although the organization is technically compliant with training requirements, later checks of actual encounters in the live work environment, not to mention employees’ own feedback demonstrate that no actual learning has taken place.
What the organization has yet to realize – and hopefully will thanks to the initiative of the two people with whom I met – is that education is not merely about transferring information. It is about contextualizing that information in the real life experiences of the learners, and in relation with the experiences of other learners. Technological delivery may make training efficient. It does not necessarily make for effective learning. It is the relationships among people and sharing contextualized experiences that create emergent knowledge that is the basis of education.
The second conversation was with a relatively young agency whose aim is to provide funding, guidance, mentorship, and access to more traditional institutions for youth-led organizations. They are especially oriented to those who are marginalized and typically excluded from more traditional access. The challenge they are facing is how to incorporate some of the more important aspects of traditional management practice among their member organizations – things like budgeting, expense control, decision making practices and so forth – without becoming subsumed in the very traditional corporate management paradigm. This is especially important for the youth organizations that are based in non-Western cultures, practices, and communal decision making.
This organization found my ideas of Valence Theory quite compelling, as it provided them a non-hierarchical way of considering the organizations for which they are providing inspiration and incubation. For them, Valence Theory provided a way to minimize the traditional power relations between their organization, that provides funding among other things, and the emerging community organizations that they nurture. When one thinks about it, the last thing you want is to take marginalized youth, and further entrench systemic marginalization through the overall organizational model. Valence Theory gives them an alternative way of conceiving their network of organizations, preventing the dominance of the traditional corporate governance model.
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