Re: Emergent Learning LO2226

Tobin Quereau (
Tue, 25 Jul 1995 09:28:41 -0500 (CDT)

Replying to LO2192 --

On 23 Jul 1995, Doug Seeley wrote:


> I too am wondering about the necessary ingredients for emergent learning
> and whether it can be supported and applied in the learning
> organization...
> In Michael Polanyi's explication of Tacit Knowing, he described a
> necessary stage of "indwelling".... it was a stage wherein the learner,
> using some tool, technology [or conceptual framework] became familiar with
> what the effects were of using tool in its intended domain (the "distal"
> component of tacit knowing). Normally this is thought of as practice or
> gaining experience.... its just that, as in acquiring the skill for riding
> a bicycle, what was being learned in this stage was not consciously
> articulated [indeed, that could bring a degree of "self-occupation and
> judgment" which would sabotage the process] in a linguistic manner. As I
> recall, it also assumed a degree of "freedom to explore and make
> mistakes", this freedom really accelerating the indwelling stage. I see
> this now as a kind of rapid prototyping stage of emergent learning, where
> one has the freedom to try out the validity of various patterns and
> connections, without fear of judgment.
> So, could it be that freedom, a non-judgmental stage, and the wherewithal
> to rapidly prototype are necessary ingredients? Nowadays, I would also
> suggest that this stage has to be long enough for the various workable
> connections to "take hold", so that a distinguishable whole could emerge
> from these explorations.

> > While formal instruction may be important and I am not denigrating the
> skills involved, the whole context of learning I believe is more
> important. In a supportive, loving context where learning is valued and
> help is available, she could not not learn. I believe learning is
> something we are all naturals at, it takes a great deal to squash this
> talent, but many succeed, unfortunately. Sometimes the skills of formal
> >instruction are needed and so valued precisely because of the lack of
> >supporting context."
> With the experience of my children learning maths and reading emergently,
> We also felt that in the environment it was not so much the available
> modelling by us that was necessary [e.g. my son was perhaps aware that I
> did a little math at home from time to time, but he never witnessed what I
> was actually doing... working with the Poisson distribution], but rather
> the openness to their natural processes as conscious beings. This
> openness involved lack of judgment, freedom and lack of time pressure.
> This suggests to me that learning organizations need to provide such
> indwelling stages, wherein teams and individuals are provided with lack of
> judgment, mutual openness, freedom to explore and sufficient time for
> emergence to occur. These indwelling stages may be needed when the
> organization confronts structural changes and transitional shifts in
> operational practice and in visioning. The fact that traditional
> performance measures would not measure the real value of such periods
> should be consciously acknowledged by senior management. This would
> liberate people to work around utilization issues without being blinded or
> constricted by the use of conventional financial and efficiency measures.
> Can anyone else amplify some of this or find some things missing in the
> development of my argument??

I would say, Doug, that the elements you outline are very important to
creating the environment for learning. What I would point out is the
similarity in these descriptions to the experience of "play" which we all
knew as children. The play environment is one in which there is freedom to
act without the fear of actual harm (since it is not the "real" world) and
yet the engagement is real and passionate at the same time. If I may be
permitted a quote from my book, _The New Game Plan for Recovery:
Rediscovering the Positive Power of Play_, it will be clearer perhaps.

"...let's just summarize by saying *play is a voluntary activity
that is at once invigorating and relaxing, challenging and rewarding,
unpredictable yet unthreatening; and above all it is a process we

"Play brings us into 'present time'; it teaches us flexibility
and responsiveness; it encourages creativity and inventiveness.
It stimulates body, mind, and spirit and increases their
integration and coordination. In short, it revitalizes us and
brings us in contact with that intrinsic joy of living so essential to
learning and growth. By watching the lives of children--and our
own 'inner child'--we can learn that most powerful of lessons,
*that life can be its own reward*. (page 17)

And I am speaking here of adults, not kids--they have not yet lost the
wisdom of their experience. So I would add to your account the freedom to
choose one's direction as much as the freedom to act on that choice. This
is not intended to be anarchic, since there are many reasons why one might
need to focus in a general area while in an organization, but the option
of pursuing a path which one is drawn toward, intrigued with, curious
about, and rewarded by would also greatly increase the level of
learning--both tacit and explicit--I would think. In a learning
organization, as in a learning being, I would want to make room for the
power and passion of playfulness.

I consider this list an excellent example of "high play" and while it
remains "serious" for the most part, that in no way precludes the benefits
which I receive from it. It just suggests that the playing field is of a
different sort than the ones I played on growing up....

This is a great neighborhood, too.