I’m in the midst of reading John Thackara’s excellent In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World, which will eventually warrant a full review. Today, I want to pick up on one particular observation Thackara makes on the role of learning in organizations. He makes the point that
…the most important skills of all are so-called metacognitive skills–an understanding of guiding principles, of what really matters, and the abilility to filter out the growing flood of stuff that does not. “We need to be able to formulate new questions, ” [Howard] Gardner argues…”and not just rely on tasks or problems posed by others. We need the ability to learn in new ways, to evaluate our own progress, to be able to transfer knowledge from one context to another.” [pp.136-37, In the Bubble]
What makes this particularly important is that virtually no corporate training and precious little other training/education addresses these metacognitive skill issues. That’s partly because developing good metacognitive learning skills diminishes the relative importance of the training department. If you become adept at identifying and monitoring your own learning, you may well conclude that the organization’s curriculum bears little relationship to your needs.
As individuals, we need to assess whether our learning mix includes sufficient attention to the metacognitive. Do we have a good sense of how we learn? How well can we identify gaps in our skills or knowledge and map those to useful learning opportunities? How accurately can we monitor our level of mastery of a new skill?
If we have the appropriate organizational influence, we should be asking similar questions of our organizational training and development programs.