Learning in suspension

Chaos as a “moment in suspension”. Since my last post on tactical serendipity, life has served me some strong tasters of these kind of moments I must say.

Like Maha Bali wrote in one of her first articles related to #Rhizo14 back in January : “Anyone who becomes a parent is forced to embrace uncertainty. […]” Clearly, parenting has become an important part of my learning path recently… Certainly a good topic for another post one day.

“If only I could convince my students that uncertainty is actually a good thing in formal (and informal) learning! Maybe thinking of it as serendipity instead of uncertainty would put a more positive spin on things […]” added Maha in her post.

I was too late for D. Cormier’s Rhizomatic party at the start of this year unfortunately. I will certainly try to attend next time as it looked like an interesting cMOOC – where “c” stands for connectivism, but also for chaos apparently. A sort of “tribal gathering” for social learners and bloggers interested in the future of education.

Chaos is the 3rd rhythm in 5Rhythms : the dance of unpredictability. Chaos means more than looking for a sort of ecstatic trance. Actually it’s not looking for anything; it’s all about releasing. Releasing our head, starting with the rest of the body. The foundations of Flow and the drive of Staccato help us create a safe space where to gradually dissolve into the dance and surrender. Chaos is that moment of suspension (freedom?)  when the dancer becomes fully present. Less ego, no more talking heads or judgement. That moment of nothingness is when something new can emerge…


Image credit : David Wyatt  – “One False Move” in http://www.onyamagazine.com/

The “moment in suspension” mentioned at the end of my last post came from biologists/philosophers Humberto Manturana & Francisco Varela. Their theory on change is detailed by Peter Senge & Co in an interesting book called Presence – Human Purpose and the Field of the Future.

“Most change initiatives that end up going nowhere don’t fail because they lack grand visions and noble intentions. They fail because people can’t see the reality they face”, write Senge & Co.

The authors illustrate with a story about US engineers from Detroit who went to Japan in the early 1980’s investigating why Japan car industry was outperforming US. These engineers came back complaining that their Japanese peers had not shown real plants “because there were no inventories”. Actually they didn’t realise they were in front of a just-in-time production system – totally new for them!

Seeing our seeing is only the beginning of the change process and that moment of suspension can be of big discomfort say Senge & co. They also insist that suspending does not require destroying our existing mental model of reality (like Chaos in 5R is not about looking for the trance). We only need the ability of removing ourselves from the habitual streams of thoughts, by creating a safe container – where we feel safe to put things into questions.

Easier said than done. When we begin to develop that capacity for suspension, we almost intermediately encounter the “fear, judgement and chattering of the mind”.

“Anxiety is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility” Søren Kierkegaard

Senge & co say there is nothing inherently wrong with collective voice of judgement or internal censor. Its problematic when it goes unrecognised. The difference between a healthy group or organisation and an unhealthy one lies in its members’ awareness and ability to acknowledge the fact that they feel needs to conform. Enhancing that awareness does not require a search and destroy mission against our internal fears or judgement, it only requires recognising and acknowledging them.

New learnscapes

Last month I had the chance to meet up with Andrew Jacobs, L&D Manager at Lambeth Council and active social learner and blogger. Over the last few years, Andrew has managed to transform the way people learn in his organisation – from a push to pull model, aka 70.20.10.

Like in the story of US car manufacturers in Japan, I was wondering what would traditional L&D practitioners & formal trainers think after their visit to Lambeth Council ? Would they complain they were not shown a real Council ? Personally I was impressed by Andrew’s story and the digital learnscape he has been building up there. In one of his recent blog posts, Andrew listed 50 big ideas to change L&D, crystallising his non-conformist approach. I have picked up 10 here :

  1. Make connectivity and sharing a catalyst for all learning.
  2. Don’t require people to come to a course.
  3. Make any space in the workplace into a learning space.
  4. Make people accountable to one another, not the L&D function.
  5. Help your business understand what training, learning and development are for.
  6. Promote learning through networks, not curriculum.
  7. Use social media and ESN instead of email.
  8. Design your learning function as a think tank to understand and address your business problems.
  9. Create support based on the ability to self-direct and design their own learning pathways.
  10. If people underperform, hold them accountable. Find a way to make support meaningful, social, and knowledge-based.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ” ― Alvin Toffler.

In 21st century learnscapes, new technologies are only the enablers. The first challenge is to (re)create a safe container for new ideas and unvarnished views to be exchanged in the workplace and trust to be the main pillar of a more collaborative learning culture. L&D is too important not to be taken seriously.  Seriousness doesn’t need to mean ultra-linearity, infantilising and spoonfeeding though. Leaving some space for a slightly “chaordic” –  tactically serendipitous – approach will probably help empower learners by increasing their sense of ownership and critical thinking. In an open and self-directed learning environment where one has to learn how to “learn in suspension”…


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5 Responses to Learning in suspension

  1. tanyalau says:

    Hi Cedric – lots of interesting ideas here! Really like Maha’s re-pitching of ‘uncertainty’ as ‘serendipity’, the importance of acknowledging fears and internal judgements, open, trusting culture, and the idea of encouraging self directed learning and holding people to account for this too.

    • cedbo says:

      Hi Tanya – thanks for your comment! yes that shift is an important one. I liked the idea of “tactical serendipity” as it includes a notion of ownership (vs overwhelming chaos) Re Self-directed learning first step is to engage our passions and dreams I guess but also finding balance btw the strengths we want to develop and what we are ready to change (improve/let go…) what do you think?

      • tanyalau says:

        Yes – great point Cedric. You are right, it’s always a balance. Between what you want to develop / achieve / where you want to get to vs what you’re ready to change / let go AND what you’re willing to sacrifice to get there. I think achieving lasting change is always a compromise and balance of priorities. Certainly something I’ve felt and considered recently – I am constantly balancing my drive / desire to develop and participate in my own learning (e.g. which includes reading and commenting on blogs, news, posts, blogging myself, Moocs etc) and balancing work commitments and home life. I don’t necessarily feel I’m very good at it; certainly not doing it consistently – more like hopping wildly from one to the next and occasionally dropping the ball ; ) it’s a work in progress…

      • cedbo says:

        Yes Tanya – I can relate to that… lifelong learning; challenging, though sometimes, rewarding, exciting, boring or flowing… reminds me a comment from a teacher at unie who said : we become old when we stop learning. ..

  2. Pingback: Surrender into complexity : a move towards self-directed learning |

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