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

18 September 2009

The 7 c’s of natural learning

Clark @ 8:01 AM

Yesterday I talked about the seeding, feeding, and weeding necessary to develop a self-sustaining network. I referred to supporting the activities that we find in natural learning, for both formal and informal learning.  The goal is to align our organized support with our learners to optimize the outcome.  In thinking about it (and borrowing heavily from some slides by Jay Cross), I discerned (read: worked hard to fit :) 7 C’s of learning that characterize how we learn before schooling extinguishes the love of learning:

Choose: we are self-service learners.  We follow what interests us, what is meaningful to us, what we know is important.

Commit: we take ownership for the outcomes.  We work until we’ve gotten out of it what we need.

Crash: our commitment means we make mistakes, and learn from them.

Create: we design, we build, we are active in our learning.

Copy: we mimic others, looking to their performances for guidance.

Converse: we talk with others. We ask questions, offer opinions, debate positions.

Collaborate: we work together. We build together, evaluate what we’re doing, and take turns adding value.

With this list of things we do, we need to find ways to support them, across both formal and informal learning.  In formal learning, we should be presenting meaningful and authentic tasks, and asking learners to solve them, ideally collaboratively.  While individual is better than none, collaborative allows opportunity for meaning negotiation.  We need to allow failure, and support learning from it. We need to be able to ask questions, and make decisions and see the consequences.

Similarly in informal learning, we need to create ways for people to develop their understandings, work together, to put out opinions and get feedback, ask for help, and find people to use as models.  By using tools like blogs for recording and sharing personal learning and information updates, wikis to collaborate, discussion forums to converse, and blogs and microblogs to track what others think are important, we provide ways to naturally learn together.

Recognize that I’m taking the larger definition of learning here.  I do not mean just courses, though they’re part of it.  However, real learning involves research, design, problem-solving, creativity, innovation, experimentation, etc. We absolutely have to get our and the organization’s mind around this if we’re going to be effective.  So, look to natural learning to guide your role in facilitating organizational learning.


  1. I wrote just this week that the intersection of 1) self-organized learning and 2) online collaboration is what I consider should be a primary focus of organizational learning professionals. Your seven Cs align with this. The first four reflect self-organized activities and the last three require some form of collaboration. Even copying is collaborative because you need someone else’s work to copy. Common web 2.0 practice is to link back to what has been copied, a form of collaboration or perhaps cooperation.

    To crash while learning is important. I remember learning to cross-country ski as an adult and I fell a lot. I asked a friend of mine, who was on the Canadian biathlon team, if he crashed during training. He said yes, and that if he didn’t fall, he wasn’t trying hard enough.

    Comment by Harold Jarche — 18 September 2009 @ 1:21 PM

  2. Crash is a little drastic I think. A crash is a tragedy and is different from a fall. I would suggest Correct, if you need the ring of the 7 c’s – I am a little sceptical of this kind of mnemonic list, it reeks of rote learning and runs the risk of a lack of real engagement with what is significant IN the list, are there other ways of structuring and presenting the ideas?
    That said, I think there are 8 elements!! I miss Collate, this is not the same as Choose, it is about organising anbd structuring what we learn, (constructing our emergent uderstanding) as opposed to the selection of a direction.

    I am also uncertain that what you are trying to do here is not just to create a kind of ADDIE for informal learning, the list makes it palatable, makes it possible for your audience to see it, and sell it on, as manageable. But it might well be a chimera. Unfortunately, informal learning is NOT, by definition, manageable. And if your job desription has the word “manager” in it, then that idea is profoundly disturbing! It might be more appropriate to try to create contexts that wouldl nourish it, though that in itself might be highly subversive!. I would suggest that it is not a question of how it is presented: to achieve acceptance and adoption means transforming perapectives relating to the mind, knowledge and learning. A substantial challenge, as it involves reframing deep-seated understandings. As you say, getting the organisation’s mind around it. I am not sure a list of this kind will do that, or even whether it would be a helpful stage in that journey.

    Comment by Nick Kearney — 19 September 2009 @ 8:33 AM

  3. Harold, exactly: self-learning and social learning are critical, but we shouldn’t take them for granted. My friends and I always said while (downhill) skiing that if we weren’t falling, we weren’t pushing ourselves enough.

    Nick, I’m not claiming this is an exhaustive list (e.g. no ‘reflection’), just trying to raise awareness that what we typically do formally is not well aligned with how people really learn, and that supporting some of these activities is the key to unlocking organizational innovation. And I don’t mean the typical top-down ‘manage’ these, but instead to provide a conducive environment and encourage them (if that’s subversive, consider me an agent provocateur!). I’d welcome hearing more about why you think getting awareness of natural learning isn’t helpful, it seems to me to be one of the major components in the transformation of organizational learning.

    Comment by Clark — 20 September 2009 @ 9:43 AM

  4. No objections to raising awareness. My comment was more relating to the device of a list, which might, I am not saying will, be interpreted as a blueprint that must be followed. (Which is why I mentioned ADDIE, which can be useful, or a straitjacket, depending on how it is used and interpreted).
    A list may suggest to some that informal learning can be managed and planned and structured, I am not sure that this is possible. Indeed one of the difficulties can be that if you try to plan it you can stifle it. For example when certain workers are acting as informal mentors as part of their work, it can prove counter productive to try to structure that, as some do it spontaneously, or not at all. You may be able to create conditions that make it easier to learn informally, and increasing understanding of the value will help with that, and I think that is a useful thing to do. I just wonder if a check list may not sometimes provoke misinterpretation. With the kind of radical transformation of understandings you need to provoke, it may be necessary to devise new tools.

    Comment by Nick Kearney — 26 September 2009 @ 8:57 AM

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