Designing learning programmes to digitise workers

Recent political events as well as advances in autonomous driving have made me ponder, “how do we reskill all of these people whose jobs have gone or soon will go away?” It’s a concern for me because in Sweden we have recently experienced a huge influx of refugee migrants, which has been politically unpopular with a significant proportion of the electorate. Traditionally, lower-skilled work such as taxi driving has been a way to absorb new migrants as they get established in their new home. Additionally I read about thousands of lower-skilled manufacturing jobs being offshored whilst manufacturers desperately seek engineers and other workers able to operate sophisticated technology. There are a shortage of these people, and a surplus of people who didn’t finish high school. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates “employment of computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.” (2017) Where will the workers to fill these jobs come from? Is it even possible to retool say, a coal miner to be a web developer? This is one subject I am doing independent research on in the next few months.

It turns out it is more than possible to transform a coal miner to be a web developer! I read a case study on a company called BitSource in Tennessee, which hires former coal industry workers. (Thompson, 2017) The founder, Rusty Justice, mentions that miners “are accustomed to deep focus, team play, and working with complex engineering tech.” Deloitte’s outlook expects all workers, including blue-collar ones, need to master soft skills such as “problem solving, creativity, project management, listening, judgment, and decision-making skills.” (2017) Dr. Siemens (2005) also mentions that the impact of technology on our life and work have made deciding what to learn, mentally connecting what we learn to what we already know, finding the best ways to get new information quickly, and cultivating personal knowledge networks the key skills we need to develop. Coding and technical skills are just the beginning!

As a personal project I would like to come up with a framework for remodeling an existing manufacturing employee to translate their existing expertise into a new, digitised role. Additionally guess what, it’s not just technology skills this person will need. They will need to be more autonomous than before, managing their own work and potentially projects. I expect that this type of intervention would include ALL of the learning theories in some capacity in a fully realised Complex Learning Experience. This experience would go in several stages and take years as the learner grows and develops. Here are a few brainstorms:

Behaviourism: an excellent technique for someone who is just getting started with a new skill, say coding, and needs continuous confidence-boosts. This could include gamification e.g. how Khan Academy works.

Constructivism: a mentor or cohort leader who has more experience can guide the learner. These learners usually already use smartphones in their personal lives, how can we build that existing knowledge to generate enthusiasm for building and using technology at work?

Cognitivism: short practica in industry in the type of role the learner could expect to have in the future would be aimed to stimulate self-efficacy and further confidence. Technology naturally organises itself logically into building cognitive “schema.”

Connectivism: leverage the experience the learner already has with social networking platforms as a source of encouragement and help during the learning process, with targeted moderated learning communities.

Andragogy: continuously incorporate reflection on personal experiences and skills the learner already brings to bear. Again, short practica or real-world smaller projects provide the opportunity to immediately use what is learned and make mistakes. Seeing how real-life project work happens gives the learner significant perspective as they return to the classroom.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. (2017, October 24). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Computer and Information Technology Occupations. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

Thompson, C. (2017, February 8). The Next New Big Blue Collar Job is Coding. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

Deloitte. (2017, May). The Connected Worker: Clocking in to the Digital Age. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from p. 27

Siemens, G. (2004). A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved December 7, 2017 from

Source for image:

Davinci Coders. (n.d.). Coding Bootcamps. Retrieved December 14, 2017, from

Microlearning: Recording Degreed Using Jing

For this week’s assignment I taught myself how to use the Jing application (see to demonstrate Degreed provides a free platform for learners to record their lifelong learning from everywhere, which will be very useful for me. It was mentioned in the source article assigned by the instructor (Gallagher, 2017) , and the description “Learning Experience Platform” piqued my curiosity. Jing allows you to capture screengrabs or videos of what you are doing on your screen. This is right in line with the Microlearning philosophy of keeping content to a manageable length.

Jing imposes a limit of five minutes for your recordings and it’s meant to be a very quick, informal way to create content. The five minutes does impose a bit of discipline! I realised it goes by quickly, so you have to think about your demo in advance and what you are going to say.

To learn the application I watched one help video from Jing and read one help page, then I was ready to get started. After two false starts I finally came up with a good-enough recording. I’ve uploaded this to Screencast and here is my handiwork (NOTE: I found out you need to have Flash player to view the recordings as I’m using the free version. That may be an issue which one could avoid by buying the paid version or perhaps by buying SnagIt. In that case you can create an MP4 video, which is more easily shareable.) Demo Using Jing

I would say I used Connectivism and Andragogy as the primary learning theories to teach myself these two applications, for these reasons:
1. I evaluated options and decided myself what would be worth learning, consistent with both theories.

2. The items I chose were immediately useful to me in my work and life (Andragogy).

3. The items I chose to learn were conceptual “nodes” or an offshoots of materials provided by the instructor (Connectivism).

4. I looked at the online help materials to teach myself the basics. I had to experiment a bit and search forums to troubleshoot a couple of technical issues (Connectivism).

5. I was free to experiment and make mistakes. It took me three attempts to get a video I was reasonably pleased with (Andragogy).

6. I’m publishing my experience for my peers to review and provide feedback (Connectivism).


Gallagher, S. (2017, November 6). As Corporate World Moves Toward Curated ‘Microlearning,’ Higher Ed Must Adapt. Retrieved December 10, 2017, from

Connectivist Learning Experience

My latest professional role was as a Client Success Manager for a software company. At least half of the job involved being a deep subject matter expert on the product, and being fully aware of all implications of quarterly version upgrades for our clients. This monkey was probably smarter than I was after a quarterly release.

Our initial certification work on the product was well-designed but rather lockstep and focused on passing a certification exam as quickly as possible. This provided us just enough information to be dangerous. The real learning started once we started working with clients.

Our clients typically are trying to shoehorn existing complex business processes into a product which will only support about 85% of what they want to do. Part of our job was first, to understand what the business need was for the remaining 15% of requirements. If there was a compelling enough case or the client wasn’t willing to change, we had to figure out how to work something out in the system.

As we have several hundred practitioners globally, we leveraged several Connectivist ways to help each other and share knowledge:

  • Our EMEA team had a Skype chat, which enabled us to ask each other questions and provide answers in real-time. Unfortunately it was difficult to archive the great stuff coming out of this tool for later use.
  • Our client success team maintained a secure blog with discussion threads. Practitioners were expected to search carefully to check whether the answer already existed. If not, the question would go to a designated expert and we would normally have an answer on the blog within 24 hours. We could also answer questions if we had a better answer. Several times my colleagues reached out to thank me for taking the time to do this as it helped them out of a jam.
  • We were encouraged to provide corrections and additions to the product’s Online Help function. This benefited clients as well.
  • Finally for product upgrades, the product managers recorded short videos explaining the new features and impacts for clients. These were assigned to us through our learning management system. We could post questions, which showed up during the video. We normally got an answer within 24 hours and the answers were available to everyone.
  • During release testing, clients could post questions on a discussion topic and the product managers normally answered them within 24 hours. The answers then benefited all clients as well as us practitioners.

Dr. George Siemens (2005) mentions these Principles of Connectivism, and here is how this scenario compares:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.

Sometimes colleagues had an even more clever workaround than the designated expert. Additionally getting perspective from colleagues about what their clients did helped us tell clients when they were better off changing their business process.

  • Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.

We used several highly-specific sources to find solutions to our questions.

  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.

We maintained rich digital sources of information for maintaining and growing knowledge.

  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.

Agreed, it was not possible to know absolutely everything about the product “off the top of one’s head,” but it was critical to know where to find the answer quickly.

  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.

Contributing to the community made one more visible to colleagues and thus, someone who could more easily get help when needed. Although I was in Sweden and far away from the headquarters in California, a lot of people knew who I was.

  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.

Sometimes we could use a part of the system to support a business process, even if it was designed for something completely different! An example: After understanding the business requirements for a training nominations process, I could help the client use the Succession/Talent Planning module to support it.

  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.

Absolutely, which is why these very searchable, digital artifacts were so important to maintain. The product was upgraded quarterly and patched every two weeks.

  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

This is the nature of software today. Everyone working in the technology industry is trying to run a marathon whilst simultaneously undergoing open heart surgery. However  I think we had less scope for “deciding what is important to learn” in the specific context I mention here, and this principle may be less relevant to the scenario.


Siemens, G. (2004). A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved December 7, 2017 from


No photographer attributed. Retrieved December 8, 2017 from


Cognitivist-Connectivist Learning Scenario

I am not an artist but for some reason I could see these two learning scenarios as compatible with an art history subject at art school. For example the students are studying Chinese Art of a certain period, say the Song dynasty. The learning objectives are to understand what influenced the typical subject matter and techniques of that period. The students are asked to demonstrate their understanding through group work and practical artistic submissions. (See below for feedback from my brother, who is indeed an artist!)

One amazing thing I have learned in this course is that for group work to be enjoyable and educational, it’s absolutely critical to “form and norm” first. Please see this amazing paper from Dr. Donald R. Woods on this subject. So any Cognitivist or Connectivist group work needs to include as many of these techniques as possible before the group starts producing anything.

In a Cognitivist scenario, the instructor could assign some initial readings on the history and selected literature of that period, as well as an overview of the most famous artists and their work.

The students would come prepared to class to work in groups. They should summarise key themes from culture, politics and literature which are obvious in the artwork they had to review. The groups should present their findings to the entire class. Then the entire class agrees on the three or four themes they find most relevant.

Then the instructor can review some standard subject matter, symbolism, leading artists and relevant artistic techniques of the period, perhaps confirming what the groups have found, perhaps adding more. Then there is an individual assignment to create two original works– one a more traditional example of the period, and one including more modern subject matter and symbolism but still using the artistic techniques from the period.

The individuals bring their work to their group for discussion and feedback. Each individual has the chance to refine their product based on several rounds of feedback. In addition, there is a group project, which is refined over some time based on peer feedback from the rest of the class.

In a Connectivist scenario, this subject matter still probably works best for a group of people who are meeting in person regularly. However the instructor can be more free with the prework assignment, providing some background but encouraging students to seek out additional background based on their own research.

As part of prework before a class session, the instructor could ask each student to analyse a typical work of the period that they find online themselves. The student should summarise subject matter, symbolism and even some background on the artist, if possible. Students will be asked to review each others’ prework before class, give feedback and vote for the submissions they find most enriching to their learning.

In the classroom, the instructor can ask some individuals to present their prework and get feedback. The group activity would be much the same as in the Constructivist scenario, however there is a class blog available for each individual and group to maintain their portfolio. The work is digitised and available for the entire class to work with during the term.

In both scenarios, as is mentioned in Dr. Woods’ paper, it’s important for the students to do self-assessment and peer assessments, as well as a group after-action review.

Postscript: Feedback from an actual artist who went to actual art school:

“Overall it sounds fairly realistic, not insane,  well conceived,etc.
The Chinese art as a theme sounds great and the way it wraps in history, tools and technique is all good.
I guess the only thing i can add as an artist is that the reality is this- it’s good to make artists try varied subject matter and techniques for sure. But in execution it would be better served to try broad subject matters like abstract cubism, chinese watercolor, to have a real flow with a group. Too specific might be too limiting in execution.
If its about studying art instead of actually creating art in a group then anything goes!
But if it’s about making art in class then the scope shouldn’t be too narrow.


Woods, D. R. (2012, January 17). Having Students Work in Groups? 5 Ways to Get the Results You Want. Retrieved December 6, 2017, from



Learning Theories Compared

I understand this graphic may not be large enough to read unless you increase the zoom on your browser. You can download the PDF as a document to read more conveniently by clicking on this link Learning Theories Comparison Matrix

Here are the sources I found most valuable whilst I was completing coursework and indeed this matrix:


Keramida, M. (2015, May 25). Behaviorism In Instructional Design For eLearning: When And How To Use. Retrieved November 16, 2017, from

McLeod, S. (2015). Skinner – Operant Conditioning. Retrieved from


McLeod, S. (2014). Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from

McLeod, S. (2012). Zone of Proximal Development. Retrieved from

Author not attributed. Jerome Bruner. Retrieved from


Smith, M.K. (2002). Jerome S. Bruner and the process of education. The Encyclopedia of Informal Education.

McLeod, S. A. (2016). Bandura – social learning theory. Retrieved from

Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning. EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST, 38(1), 43-52. Retrieved November 16, 2017, from


Siemens, G. (2004). A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved December 7, 2017.

Downes, S. (2010, September 10). Connectivism and its Critics: What Connectivism Is Not. Retrieved December 7, 2017, from

Siemens, G. (2009, September 12). What is Connectivism? Retrieved December 7, 2017, from
Discusses how Connectivism differs from other learning theories.


Finlay, J. (2010, May 17). Andragogy (Adult Learning). Retrieved from

Pappas, C. (2013, May 9). The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – of Malcolm Knowles. Retrieved from
Cites Knowles 1984 but there are two sources in the list from 1984, not sure which one.

Constructivism-Connectivism Venn Diagram

Here’s how I see these concepts in my mind, hope it is interesting for you. I picture constructivism more as the individual learner being provided a foundation by the teacher, then building a house on top of it. If the learner is really motivated, s/he will decorate the inside and buy nice furniture too.

I picture Connectivism in a much less “boxy” way. The teacher provides some initial knowledge but encourages the learner to use that as more of a virtual knowledge “lilypad” to spring from. The learner is free to seek out connections and synthesise his or her own concepts, then come back to the community to share new learnings and insights. Their conceptual and social networks grow naturally as the quality of connections increase.

Sources for diagram:


McLeod, S. A. (2016). Bandura – social learning theory. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2004). A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved December 7, 2017.

Downes, S. (2010, September 10). Connectivism and its Critics: What Connectivism Is Not. Retrieved December 7, 2017, from

Siemens, G. (2009, September 12). What is Connectivism? Retrieved December 7, 2017, from

Discusses how Connectivism differs from other learning theories.


Grandjean, M. (2015, March 16). Social network analysis and visualization: Moreno’s Sociograms revisited. Retrieved from

BeWiser Business Insurance. (n.d.). Bricklayer Insurance. Retrieved from

Constructivism in Action at Business School


Aaaah, if only we got along as well as the Breakfast Club kids…

A classic Constructivism learning scenario I experienced (usually painfully) in my MBA programme was the dreaded group case study project. The intention was good: students took concepts we had absorbed in textbooks and lectures into a group context to work on a case study project. The final deliverable was a five-to-ten paged paper which addressed given learning objectives or specific questions. Normally the group would have to put themselves in the role of a senior business leader and propose a set of strategic recommendations.

Groups were between three to five students. The case materials described a business scenario and provided some context and a variety of graphs, charts, tables of figures, all of which might or might not be useful.  On two occasions I experienced, we did actual consulting projects with local businesses and presented our recommendations to the “client” and our professor.

I say these activites were “dreaded” for two reasons. First, due to heavy courseloads we students rarely had sufficient time to learn or reflect much. Group meetings took place outside of class in our limited free time, and were highly objective-focused. We aimed to achieve a good-enough submission to meet the requirement. Furthermore there were varying levels of motivation in the group. Inevitably one or two of the group members would wind up doing most of the work whilst the lazy ones coasted.

Inevitably we split the work into manageable pieces and some poor idiot was up all night trying to massage each piece into something coherent. Unfortunately the result was usually very little social collaboration, and the stronger members didn’t do much to enhance the learning of the weaker ones.

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) skills could be varied but often we were given “puzzle pieces,” such as parts of an annual report, inventory stock levels, personnel turnover statistics etc. We had learned the basic theory behind these types of data in the classroom. Using a combination of these clues, the scenario and creativity, we were meant to collaboratively come up with solutions with the understanding that they wouldn’t be perfect and we didn’t have all the information. This was meant to be good training for the real-life business world.

A scaffolding strategy to improve the experience would include planned meetings with a teaching assistant facilitating a small group. Even better idea: enlist a volunteer from the real business community could mentor the group in these planned sessions. This would force the group to have a real discussion and focus on the process and purpose of learning, rather than on the outcome of completing the assignment on time.

The entire teaching method of case studies in business schools is meant to be a social constructivist one, however it rarely worked as intended. Another idea could be to do the same exercise but in the classroom in a longer session, perhaps using a “world cafe” facilitation method. This method puts participants in rotating groups so that they all have a chance to discuss a topic. As the members rotate they share insights they have learned during their discussions with the other groups. Gradually knowledge builds during the process and there is a wrap-up at the end to share ideas.

As part of my outside research I discovered that my instructors weren’t executing the case teaching method as it was intended. The method is not designed to be completely student-driven with a “deliverable” outcome. Harvard Business School’s website on the method calls it “participant-driven learning” and the onus is on the instructor to first, know their students’ backgrounds and second, meticulously prepare and structure the discussion in advance (Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning, 2017) often with a large student audience. Students are graded on the quality of participation in these class discussions. With this in mind, the method my professors used seems like more of a shortcut and explains why it wasn’t a satisfying learning experience.

I’m reminded now of another business school lesson on cultures which was excellent! The Organisational Development professor had us come in on a Saturday so we would not be rushed. We were split into two groups and given standard behaviours for our group. One group was meant to ask several questions about the health of one’s family, offer refreshments, and get comfortable before starting a business discussion. This was meant to be a typical middle-Eastern way of interaction. The other group came in, started throwing money around and was impatient with the questions, wanting to “get down to business” immediately. This was meant to be a typical American or Northern European way of working.

After the exercise each group reflected on what the interactions felt like. Even though we had only been “wearing” these cultures for a few minutes, the emotional reaction was intense. I was in the middle-Eastern group and found the “Americans” quite jarring indeed!

In this scenario the instructor was a facilitator (“scaffolding”), giving us some resources to do the exercise and facilitating the discussion and reflections. The instructor challenged us to compare our experiences with the theories of culture we were learning, and what cultural dimensions were at clash with one another (ZPD because we were stretched to apply our recent experience to enhance our understanding of an abstract concept). We as peers encouraged one another to participate (“social constructivism”).


Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.). Teaching By the Case Method. Retrieved November 10, 2017, from

Image courtesy of IFC, no photographer cited. Ten Things You Didn’t Know About the Breakfast Club, from

Complex Learning Scenario- Project-Based and Service Learning idea

I would love to lead this project with some groups of students from my son’s school. (My son is ten years old.) Maybe I should speak with the principal? This idea isn’t from my experience but I could see it being very fun and useful for both the school and the community. It would be a project-based learning, with an element of service learning. The problem would be to dramatically reduce the amount of food waste in the participants’ school. I could see this project going on for a few weeks with a couple of sessions a week.
Our local council currently runs an annual competition to find the schools who waste the least food in the school cafeteria. The winning school receives a pizza lunch and ice cream. My son’s school displays a running tally of number of kilos of discarded food and how it compares with the year before.
As a facilitator, I’d like to put the children into two or three groups to work together, and have an adult to coach each group. The first task for the groups would be to run “norming” activities and discussions as described in the Woods paper cited below. The activities may need to be adapted for children but the initial outcomes would be:
  1. Each child would understand their personal communication and group member style.
  2. All group members understand the objective of the project and rights of all group members.
  3. Each group selects a chairperson.
  4. Each group member has a clear description of their primary role in the group.
As the sessions continue, the group coaches would help the teams to learn good techniques for communicating and handling conflict effectively. Each session would have concrete objectives and potentially a suggested meeting agenda, as this may be the students’ first time working in such a large-scale project.
Then I would structure milestones so that the students work through the steps as described in the Cornell University method, using some questions and available data to help the children ask more questions, ponder, research, and deepen their understanding. (Parenthetically, this is a classic method which we use in management consulting all the time.)
Examine and define the problem: 
  • How much food are we wasting in the school today, and how does this compare to past years?
  • Do we know which groups in the school are wasting more or less? What are the impacts of wasting food, to the school, environment, etc.?
  • What would be the benefits to the school if we wasted less?
  • Who else would benefit if we wasted less?
Explore what they already know about underlying issues related to it.
  • Same as above, with perhaps some tangents they want to explore further
Determine what they need to learn and where they can acquire the information and tools necessary to solve the problem.
  • Perhaps the students want to do some interviews with their classmates about what they are about to throw away and why. This will help them develop reasons why food gets thrown away.
  • Are there other people who might have ideas about why food is wasted?
  • Are students the only ones wasting food? Is there food wasted beyond what is visible in the bin? Hmmm…
  • Ask them to bring this to life by presenting the results in an emotionally-impactful way. First, the emotional reasons for the waster, then the impact on all of the other stakeholders involved in the waste (cafeteria worker, animal whose flesh was wasted, farmer whose product was wasted, refuse worker, etc.)
  • How much is the waste costing in money and what else could the school use that money for?
Evaluate possible ways to solve the problem.
  • Students can brainstorm ways to minimise waste.
  • Coaches can help the students come up for criteria to evaluate and prioritise their best suggestions for improvement.
Solve the problem and report on their findings.
  • Students have some time and several coached rehearsals to work on an emotionally-engaging, multimedia presentation of their findings and prioritised recommendations to a selected evaluation committee. I would imagine this committee including the principal, the lead chef, perhaps someone from city council’s waste management department.
The committee would decide which recommendations to implement. Potentially the students could make their presentations to the entire school as well as the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). In the longer-term the committee should track whether the recommendations had an impact and report it back to the students and the PTA.
As follow-up activities I would encourage:
  1. Students work with one or two peers to do a confidential peer review of their work in the group. We could use Dr. Woods’ group assessment scoring sheet as a guideline.
  2. Each group conducts a coached discussion on what went well in the activity and what they could have done better.
  3. Each individual student does a self-assessment and discuss one-on-one with the group coach.
  4. Seek to publicise the entire effort in the city’s “Kretslopp” (Lifecycle) magazine, which covers topics around city waste management and the environment. This magazine is distributed to all households in the city.
  5. As mentioned above, school leadership should report regularly on whether the project had a real impact on reduced food waste. This is the ultimate Authentic Assessment.
I’m convinced of the benefits of reflection in learning, particularly for such a long-term project. I looked for a bit of additional evidence to back up my conviction (Briggs, 2015). Even if the children are ten to twelve years old, a good coach can help them begin to master this important skill.
How this concept is student-centred: the students will have coaching and structure available to help them succesd, but they will do the research, decide on further areas for exploration, and develop the final presentation. Additionally, the process is just as important as the outcome, as they learn important emotional intelligence skills for working in groups, and how to structure a group to work effectively.
How this concept is authentic: Wiggins (1998) says an activity is authentic if it meets these criteria:
  • is realistic: The students are working on a real problem related to their daily life in school, which has a wider impact on the community and environment.
  • requires judgment and innovation: The students have to be creative to decide on the best places to conduct research, as well as their methods and how to summarise their findings.
  • asks the student to “do” the subject: The students will be asked to conduct field research as part of the project.
  • replicates or simulates the contexts in which adults are “tested” in the workplace or in civic or personal life: This one may not be quite as applicable but see the first bullet.
  • assesses the student’s ability to efficiently and effectively use a repertoire of knowledge and skills to negotiate a complex task: The project will by its nature be multidisciplinary, including: arithmetic, communication, emotional intelligence and scientific reasoning.
  • allows appropriate opportunities to rehearse, practice, consult resources, and get feedback on and refine performances and products: The groups will get ample support from coaches and time to refine their presentations.
Rice, D. (2015, October 8). Southern California wasters, listen up. Retrieved from
For image
Woods, D. R. (2012, January 17). Having Students Work in Groups? 5 Ways to Get the Results You Want. Retrieved December 6, 2017, from
Cornell University Center for Teaching and Innovation. (n.d.). Problem-Based Learning. Retrieved from
Briggs, S. (2015, July 5). What Meaningful Reflection Can Do For Student Learning. Retrieved from
Wiggins, G. (1998). Ensuring authentic performance. Chapter 2 in Educative Assessment: Designing Assessments to Inform and Improve Student Performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 21 – 42.

Andragogy: Formal vs. Informal Learning as an adult

Our course materials define learning environments as:
Formal: some institution or instructor sets the learning objectives
Informal: the learner sets the learning objectives
Non-formal: someone besides the learner and instructor (e.g. manager or mentor) sets the learning objectives
Our assignment was to describe and analyse one formal and one informal recent learning experience in light of Knowles’ theories of Andragogy.
Formal learning example
Recently I signed up for a day-long course in Vietnamese cooking at the local community school. I was feeling drained from work and felt like getting out of the house to learn something new. My family loves Vietnamese food and I always found it too intimidating to do what I usually do– google recipes for what I like to eat and try to make it myself.
The instructor started the day asking us to introduce ourselves and explain why we signed up for the course. Then she delivered a short PowerPoint presentation about Vietnam’s regions, how the cuisine varies regionally, and common ingredients. She explained the three dishes we would prepare that day and handed out recipes, and we put ourselves into groups. (I worked with two retired gentlemen and they were amazing!)
The instructor took us out to the kitchens and explained what all of the ingredients were. Then she told us to start with the pho broth and get started. That was pretty much the formal part of the instruction.
What ensued put me slightly in a panic, but with the brave help of my teammates, we “learned by doing.” The instructor floated along the teams to answer questions and make corrections. Somehow after several hours of following recipes and asking questions, we managed to produce a delicious lunch of pho, spring rolls, and Vietnamese pancakes. See the photo of our beautiful pho above. (By the way I finally heard a real Vietnamese person say it and it is pronounced sort of like, “feouh.”
This experience analysed in light of Knowles’ Theory of Andragogy:
Motivation: The instructor asked us to share why we had signed up for the course. Everyone’s reasons were really interesting, including a vegetarian couple who wanted to learn more exciting recipes.
Experience: The course catalogue did not state you needed significant experience and confidence in the kitchen to participate. However this was certainly the case.
Readiness and orientation: Only a few minutes were devoted to theory and the class was very hands-on. Although the students had basic cooking skills we essentially learned in real time with support from the instructor.
Informal learning example:
In 2015 I set a development goal with my manager (so I would be externally accountable) to prepare a study of theories and trends in performance management. The reason was there was more and more discussion about changing practices among HR professionals, particularly after Deloitte collaborated with Marcus Buckingham and published the results of their revamped process in the Harvard Business Review. In my role I was trying to present myself in a more strategic, business-advisory light, so having some deeper knowledge was important for me.
I started by asking one of my colleagues who headed up our thought leadership practice, whether she had any good scholarly articles I could start with. She sent me a few things to get me started. From there I decided which concepts were key to cover and developed an outline of my paper for future research.
In the european HR world, leaders seem to be shy of being a first-mover. Theories and new practices need testing and proving. My clients typically want case studies of other companies who have tried something. So I finished my paper off with several summarised case studies of companies who had transformed their processes and what were their results.
I submitted the paper to my manager and during our weekly catch-up call I reflected with her on the experience and takeaways. She challenged me to think about what I was going to do with it now that I had prepared it.
I used this paper as a springboard for presentations with my clients, client user groups, and internal training days. It was an enjoyable and valuable use of my time and helped position me as a thought leader in my organisation.
How this experience was in line with Knowles’ theories of Andragogy:
Need to Know and Motivation: I defined why I needed to know this material and why it was important to me professionally.
Self-concept: I had the self-esteem to believe I could structure my material completely independently and learn something relevant for my job.
Readiness to learn:  My manager did not support the authoring process at all except reading the finished product, asking me for reflections, and challenging me to use the work in other contexts.
Experience: The research resonated with me due to my own experience with performance reviews, both as the reviewee and the manager. I read the research with that lens in mind. Later in presentations I tried to bring the “outdatedness” of current practices to life emotionally.
Selected Principle of Andragogy from Pappas article:
Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance and impact to their job or personal life.
This principle resonates with me as a person who is a passionate learner in her free time as well as at work. I would incorporate this principle in learning design as a part of the “before, during, after” method one of my clients uses. (See Gutierrez article for a great summary and infographic.) Specifically I would ask the learner to spend time reflecting with their manager or coach on what they expect to take away from the learning and use it in their work later. After the training the learner should have a follow up session with the same person as an after-action review and plan for how the learner will practically integrate the new information into his or her work. Additionally I would provide (if appropriate) social learning communities for graduates of the course to interact with the instructor and with each other over time. Perhaps they would like to ask questions as they deepen their understanding and apply their learnings in their work. In my experience, asynchronous social support can be a powerful tool to help people in real-time.
Buckingham, M., & Goodall, A. (2015). Reinventing Performance Management. Harvard Business Review,(April). Retrieved November 24, 2017, from
Pappas, C. (2013, May 9). The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – of Malcolm Knowles. Retrieved from
Cites Knowles 1984 but there are two sources in the list from 1984, not sure which one.
Gutierrez, K. (2016, July 12). Before, During, and After Training: Improving Knowledge Transfer in Your Organization in 3 Stages. Retrieved from

Andragogy Summarised: The infographic

It’s a lot of text but I don’t have statistics to go on. I hope the images illustrate the points effectively.


Finlay, J. (2010, May 17). Andragogy (Adult Learning). Retrieved from

Pappas, C. (2013, May 9). The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – of Malcolm Knowles. Retrieved from
Cites Knowles 1984 but there are two sources in the list from 1984, not sure which one.

Fink, D. (2010, November 1). American Academy of Neurology Recommendation. Retrieved from

Several: (n.d.). Retrieved from, all licensed under Creative Commons