Collective learning

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This week’s topic in the Change11 MOOC — collective learning — captures my attention because it taps into a long-running conversation I’ve been having (primarily with my colleagues) about re-imagining the practice of learning & development and knowledge management. And along with that: teaching in higher education. It’s timely also because I’ll be talking about some of these same themes at the Oct. 11 meeting of KM Chicago.

Allison Littlejohn’s position paper on collective learning very clearly articulates the dynamics at play, and the questions we (as practitioners and researchers both) need to answer. To summarize Littlejohn:

  • Knowledge is becoming increasingly openly available for problem solving and learning. But we don’t have a good understanding of the ‘binding force’ that connects people while they are learning and building knowledge. (I would suggest that binding force is “practice” – in the sense of a common work practice or discipline).
  • The view of what constitutes learning is broadening – based in part on the way individuals interact in groups, networks and with technology and explicit artifacts. But we don’t have a clear picture of how knowledge workers learn and how collective learning can improve learning and development in the workplace. (This is where KM and learning practitioners need to collaborate).
  • New knowledge practices connecting people and knowledge are emerging. But exactly what new “practices, literacies and mindsets” do individuals need to best learn in this new environment? This is not a trivial question. Each year, we push very intelligent, experienced business professionals into just this kind of scenario in the Master’s Program in Learning & Organizational Change (MSLOC). Learning how to learn in this connected environment is challenging even for adept learners.
  • We increasingly rely on networked technologies, but we don’t fully understand how these networked technologies support collective learning. (Again – a great space for KM and learning practitioners to collaborate).

Littlejohn proposes a set of behaviors that learners use to make sense of collective knowledge in this new connected, open environment: connecting, consuming, creating and contributing. It’s a system of behaviors that both uses the network of knowledge resources and can refresh it as well.

I’m really interested in diving a bit deeper into her research (that led to this framework). It tracks well with the observed behaviors we see in some of our technology-supported graduate courses. But more than that – what I find compelling is how her definition of “collective learning” establishes an interesting perspective on the learning landscape, and one that KM, learning and higher ed practitioners can each contribute insight and expertise.

4 thoughts on “Collective learning

  1. I wrote a rather lengthy response, but I forgot to put my name when I hit the post button. So, it was erased. Since it saves, I’m going to reconstruct my comments over on my blog.

    What I want to say though is thank you, because you gave me one of the missing peices for Collective Learning.


  2. Hi Jeff

    Thanks for your interest in our research.

    A summary of our ideas on charting is at

    Here is a discussion on charting

    We’ve published the following:

    Littlejohn, A., Margaryan, A. and Milligan, C (2009) Charting Collective Knowledge: Supporting Self-regulated Learning in the Workplace, Proceedings of the 9th IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT 2009) July 15-17, 2009, Riga, Latvia

    Margaryan, A., Milligan, C., Littlejohn, A., Hendrix, D. and Graeb-Koenneker, S. (2009) Self regulated learning and knowledge sharing in the workplace, Proceedings of Organisational Learning, Knowledge and Capabilities Conference, April 2009, Amsterdam, Netherlands

    Margaryan, A., Milligan, C., & Littlejohn, A. (2009). Self-regulated learning and knowledge sharing in the workplace: Differences and similarities between experts and novices. In Proceedings of the 2009 Researching Work and Learning (RWL) Conference, Roskilde, Denmark.

    Another (more in-depth) paper will shortly be published in the Journal of Workplace Learning: Littlejohn< A., Milligan, C. and Margaryan, A. (2011) Charting Collective Knowledge: Supporting Self-regulated Learning in the Workplace, Journal of Workplace Leaning

    i'd be interested to know if /how these ideas fit with your work

    All the best



    1. Thanks Alison. Will be diving into this and keeping an eye open for the piece in Journal of Workplace Learning. And now that I have your blog on my radar, will keep you posted!



  3. I want to thank Allison for the links to the papers, and to Jeff for his comments. I finally realized that I’m not in the intended audience for the work published by Professor Littlejohn and her colleagues. Now I can go back to it with fresh eyes, and stop trying to figure out what lies under it.


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