Systems, Silos and Learning

Systems, Silos and Learning

The SPICE Framework emerged from research related to people, organisations and decision-making. A whole ecosystem of tools has developed around the SPICE Framework that can be applied face-to-face or in the digital environment of the ‘metaverse’.

I was fascinated by a response to a blog/article I posted very recently.  A very welcome comment from a reader who encouraged thinking and operating in human systems as opposed to operation silos.

Questioning the benefit of Conventional eLearning

In fact, this reader was in direct contrast with the person I’d been in correspondence with early last week, who I doubt will have the motivation to read this article.  The person I am referring to runs an eLearning business, with a nice shiny website that is well resourced.  He’s doing well in his business and, truly I am glad for him.  Without dragging this illustration out, he runs a business that delivers eLearning and supposes there’s been evidenced knowledge transfer and an impact on a business, simply because someone completes one of his programmes and the relevant data is processed through the associated learning management system.  Of course, any learning and development professional worth their salt, would rightly throw their hands up in horror at this.

eLearning is Great for Compliance and Mandatory Learning

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I think eLearning and its use in keeping track of compliance and mandatory training can be great.  In fact, in part of my own life I am undertaking a programme of eLearning at the moment and valuing the experience.  So, I am not saying it isn’t useful.  I am just concerned that, at its best we have nice shiny, programmes that give people a good experience but little discernible effect in changed behaviour or business impact.  Or take this mundane example which is slightly different.

An Example from Face-to-Face Learning

A few years ago, I did a formal teaching programme.  On the same programme there happened to be another participant with a track record in learning and development.  During one of the practical exercises, he and I, along with other participants had to prepare and deliver a ten-minute presentation.  I remember, his was excellent.  It was enjoyable, funny, engaging.  His style was attractive.  He knew how to hold attention.  He was given lots of positive feedback.  But I remember thinking at the time that the presentation, excellent though it might have been, was more presentation over substance.  At the time I did the training, I wondered what the real benefit was, even though I’d enjoyed the session.

Learning and Being Entertained

So here are two examples, the nice, shiny, well-presented eLearning and the engaging face-to-face programme.  Each has their presentational benefits.  They’ve kept the participant entertained – more of that word, ‘entertained’ in a moment – but in neither experience was their evidence of or motivation to change.  Perhaps there doesn’t need to be?  Perhaps some learning and development is just functional and of little more benefit than toilet training.  Perhaps that kind of learning and development can happen in a silo, away from real business life.

Learning in the Midst of the Everyday

However, personally, I consider that substantial learning and development happens in the midst of everyday life, putting into practise what we are learning.  If you want to think more technically, substantial learning happens within human systems.  Thus, I argue that learning and development has to happen primarily within the context of those human systems.

Context is Everything

In fact, in the part of my world that includes lecturing business students, in more or less every lecture with a new group the phrase ‘context is everything’ would be used.  In this regard, every learning experience needs to be reflected on – contextualised – in the real-life of the everyday.  This is why I am with the person commenting on my article/blog in thinking that learning and development has to be within the context of human systems, the every-day of our working lives and not in the silos of the training room or eLearning programme (much as we might benefit from both from time to time).

Learning in Context

It is my own contention that one of the benefits of emerging learning technologies, is that they can enable learning and development to be delivered to people outside of silos and within the human systems of their working life.  Certainly this is what we have created in the SPICE Ecosystem™ in technology that can be used to deliver sophisticated targeted learning and development in the everyday of people’s operational context….where they live and work and have their identity.

What does it mean to be Entertained?

But to come back to that word ‘entertained’.  Let me ask what you think might be meant by the word?  For sure, to be ‘entertained’ is about enjoyment, pleasure and all those ideas that might come to mind.  There’s nothing wrong with being ‘entertained’ in this basic way, just as there’s nothing wrong with laughing at a good joke.  However, there is a deeper meaning.  To be ‘entertained’ is also to be drawn in, to identify with those entertaining us and the subject of their entertainment.  In this fuller sense there is a kind of empathy between the entertained (you and me) and the entertainer, in their performance.

I wrote a book a year or two ago, partly reflecting on this theme of entertainment and empathy. In it I wrote this phrase that stuck in my mind: ‘Empathy isn’t over there watching’.  What I meant was that empathy and entertainment, are with us and we with them as we learn and develop through practise and reflection.  So for me, in that fuller sense of the word learning and development should be about development through practise and reflection.

Resources for Developing People in Context

This is what has been created in the SPICE Ecosystem™, resources for ongoing learning and development in the midst of people’s lives, enabling ongoing change in people’s operational context, without the fuss, flash and fandango of something as ephemeral and superficial as something that’s simply nice and shiny and of doubtful benefit.

We’d be happy to be in touch about the emergence of learning and development technologies or SPICE Ecosystem™.  Visit for more information or contact us at [email protected]

Written by Michael Croft

August 8, 2023