Monday, 29 July 2013


This is the second post in my summer 2013 series designed to help people in the business world who have little understanding of modern learning and how it has been influenced by the connectedness of the internet

Over 15 years Andy Murray, the 2013 Wimbledon Men's Tennis Champion, honed his skills through endless hours of practice, analysis, experimentation, conceptualisation and incredibly hard work. From being a little boy he has had a burning ambition to be the best and above all, to win Wimbledon. He is exceptionally talented, a magnificent athlete and fired by a burning and passionate desire for success. That he has everything needed for success would be the conventional wisdom.  However since his emergence in a generation of tennis players that includes some of the best the world has ever seen he has struggled to reach the pinnacle. Now he has achieved it, so what has changed?

Actually nothing - but everything of course!   Murray's story is one of single minded and at times ruthless pursuit of everything that could lead to his excellence. Over the years he selected, fired and replaced a team of people to support him, seeking all the time for people in whom he had trust and with whom he developed a chemistry that bound them all together towards a single goal. Family, coaches, and experts came and went as Andy built his own Personal Leaning Network. The final step (to this point in a still evolving story) was the appointment of the unlikely, ice cool, hard man of tennis in Ivan Lendl. No previous coaching experience, out of the sport for 20 years, but an example of the chaotic and unpredictable journey that is learning. Something in Andy said "this is the man, someone in whom I can place my trust". Lendl meets Murray infrequently. He sits stony faced at court side at some tournaments. Apparently he says little, but the bond between the two greats is there for all to see. And as they say "the rest is history!"

What does this have to do with learning and especially leaning in the workplace?  Andy Murray's early tennis life was traditional. Lessons and coaching at school and the local tennis club, accelerated development through regional structures once his talent had been noticed, but then a break with the normal. Andy left the system - a system in Britain that has failed to produce anything like a Wimbledon Champion over 75 years - helped by a supportive mother who, despite being a part of that very system, recognised that it was not going to do what was needed. Overseas living, coaching regimes and relationships of varying lengths and quality, relationship turbulence with those around him that inevitably led to change, all of it a true example of the rhizonomy analogy of what is happening in learning.

Andy is an individual, and that is the point. Through his phenomenal will to succeed, he has done everything that he has seen as necessary to get to where he now is. He did not go to a conventional coach - he went outside of every established structure to find what he needed. He took in, used, discarded and moved on. He is a living illustration of modern learning, acquiring what he needed at the time he needed from whatever source he could find.

Murray is a special talent but his story has relevance to all of us involved in supporting workplace learning.

First we need to recognise that every one of us is an individual and all of our learning needs are different. We also need to recognise that they change over time. Formal training is important for some things, rigorous (but relevant!) assessment for others, but the basic journey has to be in the charge of and aligned to the individual to obtain their complete commitment to it. It is much more about the context, culture and environment than it is about the content. One size does not fit all - so a rigid curriculum, timetable, methodology, learning group and everything else that goes with our institutional learning is unlikely to lead reliably to exceptional performance. With the new external culture, constraints on organisations on their resources of time and money, new ways of thinking are required that enable the "Lendl factor" to become a reality for each student.

Learning is now, more than ever, a partnership if it is to be successful. It is centred around the individual but has to include management, peers, and experts at the workplace, tutors, mentors and coaches in institutions and an open culture that allows the freedom and access to information from whatever source that facilitates absorption, reflection, conceptualisation, experimentation and the devoted pursuit of skill.

In the future a continuance of rigid institutional regimes whether school, tertiary provider, commercial training company or workplace training function, will see them at increasing dissonance with the culture, drivers and actions of the learner. In today' fast moving, instant and unpredictable world institutions will need to demonstrate an agility, flexibility and real desire and commitment to listen to what learners want. Towards Maturity's 2012 study reveals just how far our provision is from understanding the needs of learners. What is needed at every level is a learner centred thought through strategy and new operational and business models to provide information and support that is needed.

Where organisational and cultural taboos hinder the implementation of change, they need to be swept away. Some examples would include unnecessary firewall protection of information and access to the Internet and the media, adherence to traditional assessment methodologies that are at best outdated and in many cases meaningless, functioning through attendance based curricula, the promotion of the "course" as the means to learning, demanding payment for content that is in the public arena and freely available. All of these frequently observed blockages are at variance with the modern learning world. They need to be challenged, reformed and re-designed to meet the needs of the individual who is the customer. New revenue streams will need to be defined, skill sets of the learning community upgraded and supported, management of information bases re-designed.

(readers of this post might also find it interesting to read Dan Coyle’s discoveries about learning )

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