Self Directed Learning (SDL) is arguably the best learning of all, if pursuing it is the result of personal choice. Spending your summer vacation reading a good book for no instructional purpose can lead to life-changing decisions. But this essay is about the kind of SDL that is actively managed. The key to understanding the distinction lies in the word intervention.
At school or work, intervention can be positive (advanced placement or promotion) or negative (the result of poor grades or a demotion through remedial education). Either way, intervention demands a schedule. The student or employee must produce, improve, show quantifiable results. As one website devoted to SDL says, Keeping a journal, setting goals, planning and taking action are key tools. Indeed they are, but positive results obtained from a negative SDL intervention are not the same thing as positive results from a positive SDL intervention. Teachers and managers must be aware of the difference and its importance.
This problem is evident when trying to determine the need or potential value of an SDL intervention for a group. One approach is to select a group for SDL and compare its progress to a control group. The difficulty is going to be in the selection of the SDL group: are they being, or will they be, promoted for the extra effort expected of them? If not, SDL may just siphon off the effort that would have been applied to individuals’ regular work, for no net change.
SDL is educational outsourcing. There are dangers, costs — and benefits — for all.
I think a key element of workplace design centers on the need (or lack thereof) for creative collaboration. In considering a new design or a redesign of your workplace (or someone else’s), the best thing to decide is whether or not you in fact need creative collaboration. Not every place does. Think of any conventional office space, whether located downtown or in some exurban or suburban industrial-park. Inside you will typically find what is known as a cubicle farm. Employees in such places may not need personal, onsite collaboration on an ongoing basis, and resent or resist any effort to foster it. This would be because there is no need for creativity. Workers sitting adjacent to each other may not even know each other personally, or have any kind of social or professional interests in common, save location. Temps come and go. Nods and genuine-enough smiles and chit-chat pass for daily socialization. Invisible but rigid departmental boundaries that jealously guard private cubicle-spaces may hold fast even in the lunchroom.
Contrast that with a typical internet startup or artists’ cooperative. Here there are few if any boundaries between public and private space at work, and everybody likes it that way. But don’t be deceived. An open floor-plan designed for collaboration has just as many rules as a closed plan designed for outward efficiency and minimized personal interaction. Let’s imagine that we were to take these two opposite workspaces of equal population and magically switch the personnel. What would happen? Arguably it would not be the end of the world for either group, but neither space would be optimized for their own work. Even creatively chaotic collaboration demands its own kind of efficiency. So the old ways would reassert themselves, and walls would appear in one space and disappear in another. Question: how far would the process go? Would both places revert completely to form, or would hybrids arise? This is a good point to consider when designing your own workplace. Will it hold together by itself, or must it be forced to?
Strategic Alignment and Human Performance Technology
Strategic Alignment (SA) has various definitions of various degrees of sense and comprehensibility. I approach such programs skeptically, as the business world has seen many such inspirational ideas and gurus come and go, examples being TQM (Total Quality Management), Six Sigma, and Tom Peters’ bestseller In Search of Excellence (1982). In a nutshell, strategic alignment is a systems-oriented intervention theory of achieving strategic goals that an organization has set for itself. The idea is to ‘align’ units and personnel of the firm. Think of it as exercising managerial discipline to resist Balkanization — business units focusing unduly on their own goals and needs. Balkanization can be found even in small firms.
Human Performance Technology (HPT) is yet another current intervention-based theory. It may generally be seen as a way to detail or blueprint the need for a specific alignment or process improvement plan. An umbrella term, it encompasses many instructional and educational disciplines. Although it may be hard to tell where the common sense ends and the snake oil begins, it is probably true that any program that induces managers and owners to systematically reevaluate their goals and processes and how to improve them serves a cost-effective purpose.
Both SA and HPT necessarily emphasize that strategic decisions be aligned to strategic objectives when integrating the Information Technology (IT) department with the sales side. This of course is the result of the growth of eCommerce, which both new and old-line firms have embraced, either by vision, choice, or necessity. It is an old problem, going back to time-sharing mainframes, Xerox PARC, and Kodak’s early digital technology. Intervention theories like SA and HPT are validated when the feedback derived from them provide the data and the consensus necessary to empower a CEO to align decisions with strategy. That can only happen at the top.