This article is based on our experiences at Open Päivitys (Teacher Update) staff training sessions during 2011 – 2013, the respective participant feedback, and experiences gained in the AKTIIVI project. Long-term work in staff training and networking has made us see the significance of peer work among colleagues. Peer work supports us in learning new things as well as in applying our learning to practice. At the same time, peer work increases positive interaction among people and helps them learn from oneanother. We find that together, it is easier to bear the anxiety awakened by changes.
Because learning is becoming more and more significant as a success factor, we need competence management and new types of learning methods. When learning is challenging, we need peers with whom we can share experiences and build our knowledge. To a greater degree than before, learning must form a part of our daily work, in which working and learning new things intertwine.
More and more often, work is project work in character. We work under stress and more and more often face problems that nobody has been required to solve before in that particular form. We need the experience and competence of several individuals in order to resolve such issues. Renewals that take place at a quick tempo are rarely accompanied by sufficient training: we need new ways to cope, and peer support seems to be an excellent aid. We can find peers at our own workplaces and among the different parties with whom we network. Telecommunication networks make it possible for us to find peers further away than our immediate circles.
Social learning is emerging
Today, social media tools make it easy for us to make our learning visible and they also make it possible for us to exchange thoughts with one another irrespective of time and place. Many of us already know how to find networks to make our learning visible and thereby gain interlocutors from among the members of these networks.
Various e-learning methods provide significant forms of study at many workplaces. ICT solutions enable new types of learning environments founded on social interaction. These environments support knowledge creation and the formation of shared understanding while they also provide the means to externalise thinking, investigate and test alternative solutions, ask, explain, give grounds, self-assess, collectively assess work, and communicate with experts (Häkkinen, Arvaja & Mäkitalo, 2004).
According to Jane Hart (2013) social learning includes social training and social collaboration. Social training refers to the use of various social media tools in learning situations that have been purposefully set up – this means the systematic building of learning communities. However, these learning environments do not guarantee social learning. In addition, we need social media work environments to support the collaboration of study groups, work teams or projects. These environments allow the participants to continuously share what they have learned through the work and to structure knowledge together; in other words, the participants are able to build team- and project-specific communities of practice.
Social learning consists of open discussion, cohesion among individuals and groups, and strong, emotional personal experiences. Meaningful discussions can be initiated in such communities only in which discussion is open and learners feel that they are able to confidentially bring up incomplete ideas to thereby extend their own expertise. Social relationships create a sense of belonging, support free expression and maintain cohesion, but this is not necessarily enough for any professional development to take place (Garrison and Vaughan, 2008).
Social interaction does not suffice to maintain a goal-oriented approach to learning. High-quality learning requires reflection and expert support as well as the application of the learning to problem solving. We need different kinds of study paths and possibilities to test our learning in genuine problem situations.
Your peer near you
When we at the level of our work community recognise the fact that we all have weak points in our competences, we can also realise that similarly, we all have certain competences, and together, we can cope with anything new.
A new work culture involves us in many changes, and different people proceed at different paces in change processes. Finding a common direction and will are crucially important – we are managing change and the creating a common work spirit.
The following diagram of the phases of change, by Juha Arikoski and Mikael Sallinen (2011, 71), is eloquent. They combined the stages of commitment by Kurt Lewin to the key phases of change processes. Changes travel from resistance and unlearning to learning and the implementation of change. At all times, participant commitment varies as to its degree and form. Participants’ states of minds and attitudes are not always visible, or they may not be correctly interpreted. At times, it may be difficult to communicate with other individuals simply because they are experiencing the wave of change at a different point in the process. Some people may even become stuck at certain points, unable to proceed. Therefore, it is important to find the right words and a common language as well as the mental state that together allow the expression of pain and inertia relating to changes. We all proceed at our own pace.
The objective of staff training is to promote the key objectives that have been agreed on together. Training can support the wave of change and the respective change management activities, but training cannot dictate the direction or implement any real changes. Any real change will require that the work culture of the work community move on to a new phase. Staff training often faces the same problem that new, eager employees face when they enter working life: one single, eager individual cannot change the working mode of the entire staff. Eager newbies are integrated into the old patterns.
Personal learning environments, learning networks and communities of practice together with open educational resources enable learning to be blended with work. Social learning will make room for itself while we commute and also in the weekly routines of our work communities. Stopping to meet one another and to reflect will open surprising new vistas for us.
When we collaborate, change becomes associated with meaningful future goals. Instead of compulsory change, we are allowed to encounter genuine visions and a desire to change. We may work to clarify issues together with those that are walking the same road with us. We find ourselves empowered when there is a plan and a shared goal. Collaboration among colleagues also strengthens our professional identities, our mutual trust and our trust in ourselves. It fortifies our motivation and endurance in the face of uncertainty and obstacles that are, nevertheless, normal parts of our lives.
Arikoski, J. & Sallinen, M. 2011. Vastarinnasta vastarannalle. Johda muutosta taitavasti. Helsinki: Institute of Occupational Health.
Garrison D R – Vaughan N D (2008) Blended Learning in Higher Education. Framework, Principles and Guidelines. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Hart, J. (2013) 12 steps to successful social learning. http://www.slideshare.net/janehart/ lt13-ss. Accessed 23 March 2013
Häkkinen, P., Arvaja, M. & Mäkitalo, K. (2004). Prerequisites for CSCL: Research approaches, methodological challenges and pedagogical development. In K. Littleton, D. Faulkner & D. Miell (Eds.) Learning to collaborate and collaborating to learn (pp. 161–175). Nova Science Publishers: New York.