Chris Collison, long-time thinker on the idea of lessons learned, is Taking lessons back to school! He jokes that the title isn't something that should catch on, so I use it for fun.
I’ve been thinking recently about “Lessons Learned”, and how widely that term is used and abused, both inside and outside KM and Organisational Learning circles. How often in the press do we see Government departments, Football managers, Chief Police Officers et al utter the immortal words: “we will be learning the lessons from this…”?
I wonder what this really means. Is a lesson learned when it is identified by a reflecting practitioner, after a specific experience? Is it learned when it is codified and made available for others, in specific or abstract form? Or is a lesson learned when another individual has applied it, and experimented with it?
Collison goes on to discuss the classic Kolb's Learning Cycle. The point of this cycle is that learning is a process of reflecting upon experiences and (probably) doing something different as a result.
Kolb's cycle has been applied to organizations as well. If they don't change based on their understanding of past experiences, they aren't going to get very far. Of course, with groups of people, the path from an experience to new behavior bounces among many people and the collective understanding of what happened. One of my students at Northwestern looked at reflection within small groups, exactly following this model. She discovered that active reflection upon past experiences is a hard thing to pin down.
Back to Collison's article, he worries that the traditional lessons learned "document" spends too much time sitting on a shelf and never enables a learning cycle to get into true abstraction, which breaks the cycle. Thus, his "ignorance spiral."
I like his step back to primary education and lesson planning. Maybe that is something to consider when building the idea of translating lessons into new behavior for an organization.
Let’s take a primary school lesson as an example... [A] well designed lesson will have the following components.
Introduction - explain what you want them to learn; clear objectives.
Test past learning, build on the results of past learning.
Provide exemplar expectations - what would “good” look like?
Be accessible to different learning styles (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic).
Be capable of differentiate to multiple levels of capability.
Combination of activity-based learning and theoretical-based learning, individual and group.
Have a list of accessible resources.
Conclude with a plenary to summarise and test what has been learned.