Can paragogy help technology production?

A sticky idea…

Howard Rheingold has thrown up a new idea – Peeragogy – which has found a sticky resting place in my brain.

In a blog post written as a pre-cursor to his 2011 Regents’ Lecture at the University of California, Berkeley he reflects on his experience to date with collaborative learning, and sets out the stall for his next project – to collaboratively create a guide to collaborative peer-to-peer learning:

I’m calling it “peeragogy.” While “paragogy” is more etymologically correct, “peeragogy” is self-explanatory. In my lecture, I’ll explain the evolution of my own pedagogy and reveal some of what I’ve discovered in the world of online self-organized learning. Then I will invite volunteers to join me in a two week hybrid of face-to-face seminars and online discussion. Can we self-organize our research, discover, summarize, and prioritize what is known through theory and practice, then propose, argue, and share a tentative resource guide for peeragogical groups? In theory, those who use our guide to pursue their own explorations can edit the guide to reflect new learning.

This idea has definitely struck a chord with me – and slightly tongue in cheek I tweeted:

Is it me, or is #peeragogy about doing learning in the way a lot of “real” work is done?

More going on

As is so often the way, I then read further to discover that someone else had not only spotted the connection but grounded it with references. Rheingold acknowledges the work of Joe Corneli and Charles Danoff, who have termed this area of study Paragogy, have co-authored a paper on it, and are writing a book. In their paper Corneli and Danoff make an explicit link between Paragogy and Peer Production.

Relating this to technology production

When I tweeted, what I had in mind were the complex loops of idea exchange implicit in any kind of technical product development (either for external customers or internal company users):


Most, if not all, of these conversations imply some sort of mutual learning:

  • what sorts of things might surprise, delight or downright disappoint the customer/user
  • what sort of product and business model might work
  • what are the technical options
  • what does the industry provide
  • how can we adapt the current technology to meet the needs
  • what would we like the industry to develop next
  • and so on…..

If the future of work is learning, or more bluntly work is learning- so what, how can we exploit the developments in paragogical theory and practice to make such work work better?

My questions

it’s turtles all the way down, but a few starter questions that spring to mind are:

  • does treating these processes as learning exercises lead to better performance? (and how might we measure that?)
  • what support do teams need to surface learning goals around their work?
  • what team and organisation culture will best support rapid learning?
  • how beneficial is it to make the learning explicit?

Right now this is mostly a “lightbulb” – I need to do more thinking and have some dialogue to explore further.

if any of this strikes a chord with you, please comment.

Patterns for Change

Lilia Efimova points to Introducing New Ideas Into Organisations, in particular the collection of patterns [PDF, 454 kB].

This is 123 pages, so I’ve only just started to work through it, but on first reading it’s fascinating – you know the “ah ha” moment when someone codifies stuff that you’ve been doing intuitively…

Certainly I recognised many patterns here as things I and others have learned the hard way as ways of introducing our ideas into the daily life of the organisations we work with – and I think many of us will also be able to learn from it.

The patterns are grouped into the following categories:

* Roles
* Events
* Keeping the Idea Visible
* Dealing with Sceptics
* Early Activities
* Reaching Out
* Convincing Others
* Teaching and Learning the Idea
* Long-term activities

I’m sure this will be a great resource for coaching – an inherent assumption of the NLP approach is that if you can identifiy the patterns under a successful piece of behaviour you can teach it to others.

Applying the Theory Of Constraints

Real life processes are messy and complex – changing them can be risky. With this in mind I’ve started a project in the organisation where I work looking at how we can understand better the problems in our area of the business and find out where to focus our improvement efforts.
We’re using an approach based on the Theory of Constraints. Lots of people have written more eleoquently than I on the details of TOC (See links at end of article) but although labelled “theory” this is a very practical approach that helps you answer three ‘Big Questions’:

  • What are we going to change?
  • What are we going to change to?
  • How are we going to do the change?

We are still at the early stages – understanding how the area we are looking at really works – but already we’re finding that the approach is a great help in seeing what is really going on. As one of the team put it:

When you used to ask me why something didn’t work I could only say “well it’s everything” – now we understand things much better. I don’t think anyone has ever looked at these processes in this way.

That comment illustrates the double appeal to me of these methods – the diagrams and hard logic please the analytical part of my mind but beyond that there is the human benefit from working with a team to help them understand and express their issues in a systemic and systematic way. OK some of that might just be Hawthorne effect but I also believe there is something fundamentally empowering in helping people improve things that matter to them and express their issues in logical ways that can be used to influence others
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