Sustain/Disrupt Learn


Earlier this week I explained how we’d been looking for inspiration to find an alternative way to deliver our service faced with a significant reduction in resources.

I went back through the presentation that Charles Jennings produced for Trainingzone Live.  What struck me most that day was the obvious conflict between what I’d always been trained to deliver; my role was to push learning yet here I was being told it was about pulling, and 80% of learning was informal.

I looked up the work of the Internet Time Alliance (ITA) and was particularly struck with the challenges they were setting my profession, especially learning as the work from Harold Jarche.  I saw their work as challenges; for too long we’ve accepted the legends of L&D without question.  We’ve accepted learning styles, representational systems and Level 1 reaction sheets without modernising our thinking.  I found the ITA work to be thought leading and constructive but I wanted to find practical examples.  I accept their role is to help others find the right way but I needed to have a way of placing their ideas in my reality.

I searched again, looked at dozens of slidesets and videos.  After some time I found this presentation from Charles Leadbeater at TED. In it he talks about innovating education and proposes a model for innovation.  I searched for any reflection of this model and found this great piece by Catherine Styles from the National Museum of Australia.

What stood out for me was how the model could apply the principles of informal practice whilst taking into account the context of the learning.  I understood the sustaining element within the model within innovation so I set about applying those terms to learning.


Within the model as we apply it to learning,  this refers to learning activity that has a recognised standard of performance.  It is very easy for statutory and mandatory lines to become blurred and simply state that all activity needs to be mandatory.  This is where we started talking to our SMEs and outside to set about breaking some of the sustaining legends that forced people to complete mandatory content.  We understood the desire for SMEs wanting to add content to their activity.  What we realised was that we needed to challenge what happens if it isn’t sustaining; what issues happen if it goes wrong.  This is the biggest challenge we have found as the nature of L&D is to make the activity of a sustaining nature (using this definition).  If we recognise it’s not sustaining,  what else can it be?


Within this model, disruptive learning has no recognised standard of performance within the learning activity.  A brilliant example of almost complete disruptive learning would be around time management.  I wrote last year about time management courses.  I receive pingbacks on a regular basis from this piece where it I posted a link to it on this Trainingzone forum.   One of the contributors to the discussion asked what people had learned on a time management course.  Since February no-one has been able to reply.  It’s clear that the standards that relate to time management are not learning driven; they are activities that are measured through policies and management practice.  I expect (and have received) some resentment from others in L&D by suggesting that creating a significantly higher number of disruptive activities, we are effectively giving up our role as the internal qualifications team. We are no longer the governors of the mandatory learning.  And that’s scary.


Within the model this means simply managed by others.  There is a need to differentiate this from being managed by L&D, being managed by the line manager, etc.  The nature of activity that may be considered formal doesn’t just mean sitting in classrooms and using any other more specific definition means it can limit our creativity in problem solving.  I would expect that this is where we would see an element of recording taking place and the use of some form of LMS; this is L&D recording but fundamentally it is not about focusing on the ‘little’ and L&D created metrics; any measurement here has to refer to the performance standards.  It is also important to highlight that management doesn’t mean control; it’s about agreeing paths and activites that may need additional support from others.  Similarly I don’t see this as a curation role; I’m not convinced this is the best use of L and D time.


Within this model we mean informal to mean managed by the learner.  Too often ownership of development forced on learner by the manager, L&D or other third party.  How often has the phrase learners need to own their development been used with no clues as to what support is expected, offered, created, communicated, designed and made available?  Within our model we want this understanding of informal to mean individual priorities, supported by the manager. I wrote previously about how this can be as simple as creating to 52 minute spaces in a weekly calendar for learners to learn.

So, we put it together and came up with this:

In my next post I’ll show what it looks like in practice.

6 thoughts on “Sustain/Disrupt Learn

  1. […] Last time I wrote about a model that we’d been working on as we searched for a different way to do what we do.  As Napoleon Hill phrased quite succinctly above, we were keen to make sure this model could work, and put a lot of energy into testing, discussing and identifying its nuances. […]


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