Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

5 December 2008

Organizational Learning Infrastructure

Clark @ 4:22 PM

In one of my reflection sessions (aka shower), I was thinking what it is I do.  I’ve been branding it ‘elearning strategy’, but it’s really more than that.  It’s about looking at how organizations develop competence, move to excellence, foster innovation, collaboratively problem-solve, etc.  I’ve had a tagline: “making organizations smarter”, and the inevitable (and desired) follow-up is “how do you do that?”.  However, then the easy, and uninteresting answer, is to fall into talking about elearning, performance support, mobile, portals, knowledge management, all that stuff that makes people’s eyes glaze over if they haven’t seen the light.

What I realized today was that what I’m really about is improving organizational learning infrastructure.  It’s Not About The Technology, as Jay says, though that’s a component of it.  It’s about culture, policies, processes, procedures, tools, templates, incentives, and more. It includes courses, and community, and more.  It’s about assessing the current state, identifying some long-term goals (and values), establishing metrics, prioritizing short, medium, and long term term steps, and executing against them, with regular checks.

With culture, it’s about willingness to share, trust, take considered risks, or developing that ability.  It’s about knowledge and skills how to learn alone and together, using the infrastructure.  It’s about populating the performance ecosystem with support.   It’s about identifying competencies in learning through tools and collaboration.  It’s about providing the technology infrastructure that supports finding or making answers. It’s about experimenting, looking for feedback, and iterating (perpetual beta).  It’s at the individual, team, unit, and organizational level.  It’s about being strategic first, then tactical.

There are frameworks, instruments, best practices, and more to move, but it’s definitely time to move.  I think a survival strategy right now is to invest in capability to you’re poised to move once opportunity comes around again.  So, my answer to the question “how do you make organizations smarter?” and new meme is: improving organizational learning infrastructure.  Are you improving?


  1. You need a different word than infrastructure. That word implies technology.

    Comment by Tony Karrer — 6 December 2008 @ 7:33 AM

  2. Tony, I do want it to include technology, but other things as well. Do you reckon it implies *only* technology?

    Comment by Clark — 6 December 2008 @ 8:04 AM

  3. I hesitated to publicly disagree with the esteemed Tony Karrer…but not for long.

    The meaning of infrastructure has been morphing in my mind to include exactly the items Clark mentions above.

    Yet, this change is not a “done deal” and until it is perhaps there is a better word to consider? Does “improving organizational learning architecture” work? I myself have been using the phrase “learning architecture” to house these things that connect, support, frame, enable learning organizations.

    Comment by Stacy Doolittle — 6 December 2008 @ 11:52 AM

  4. Stacy, I like learning architecture, though I wonder if it includes culture as much as ‘infrastructure’ does. I think they’re pretty interchangeable…tho’ I might stick with infrastructure just to have an alternative and see where people resonate. We do need a term that’s beyond ‘training’ for sure!

    Comment by Clark — 6 December 2008 @ 2:09 PM

  5. Another, slightly overused, term is ecosystem – improving organizational ecosystems (but is that redundant?)

    Comment by Harold Jarche — 7 December 2008 @ 11:40 AM

  6. Well … if learning architect can be used … why not infrastructure? I’m been telling people I concentrate on the infrastructure of online learning for some time now. It is the machinery (technology), conduits (network), road rules (policies) etc. to continue the construction analogy. Anyway, to me, infrastructure is everything “under” the content from the established ID processes, development templates and techniques, delivery technology, and learning environment for the users. I really like how the policies and incentives of online learning were mentioned. The learner’s motivation is a long forgotten component to any training initiative.

    Comment by Michael — 7 December 2008 @ 10:03 PM

  7. Harold, I’ve been pushing the performance ecosystem (parallel to Jay’s learnscape), but that to me is an endgoal of improving the infrastructure. Yes, they can mean the same thing, but I’m *thinking* (and willing to be wrong) that the ecosystem is the goal, and the infrastructure improvement is the process.

    Michael, I want to move to more than courses and training: performance support, eCommunity, culture, etc. Does that fit with how you’ve been thinking of it?

    Comment by Clark — 8 December 2008 @ 9:14 AM

  8. Clark, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Sounds like you are on track to the good old ‘Learning Organization’. For this concept the term infrastructure is too limited in my opinion. This is one important aspect, but you would also need other conditions for learning to take place. Maybe a look at the recent work of Garvin & Edmondson (HBR) interest you. Still the question: How do we get there? is very complex to answer.

    Comment by Daan Assen — 10 December 2008 @ 12:36 PM

  9. Daan, yes, but despite INATT, I do mean to specifically include technological acceleration, which I didn’t feel much from the ‘Learning Organization’. Working very actively on the ‘getting there’, and seeing some patterns, but it’s still embryonic. Will definitely look up Garvin & Edmondson. Thanks!

    Comment by Clark — 11 December 2008 @ 9:04 PM

  10. So what did you decide? I’m wondering if Learning Organization isn’t a good way to go given that this was pounded into C-level a few years back – they just didn’t have good ways to do it before.

    Comment by Tony Karrer — 22 December 2008 @ 6:35 AM

  11. Tony, agree that Learning Organization has legs, bu don’t know that the C-suite ‘bought’ it. Still, Organizational Learning Infrastructure, for me, does tap into that but also goes beyond. Fingers crossed…

    Comment by Clark — 22 December 2008 @ 4:16 PM

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