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The unbearable lightness of organisation

Cloud GateAfter listening to Dougald Hine’s presentation on ‘unexpected transformations’ at the Learning in a Digital Wales event, I have been pondering the concept of the lightness of organisation where 100s of people are mobilised through social media as exemplified in Dougald’s current project Space Makers and the opportunities and challenges this presents to educational organisations.

There was a powerful synergy to be drawn with Dougald’s experiences from the world of journalism. A transformation of media production has seen the rise of hand-held digital devices, home editing software and content sharing sites available to all. This has necessitated a new relationship to mature between the media and user-generated content. Whereas the mid-20th Century journalist often disseminated news through prepared statements asynchronous, the 21st Century journalist must often interpret user-generated first hand reports such as videos captured on mobile devices.

A parallel effect can be seen in education where the passive receiver of knowledge that characterised 20th Century education is being supplanted by the participatory 21st Century Learner. The role of the education organisation functioning as the source of knowledge, is transforming to organisations provide spaces for learners to create, negotiate and explore their own understandings of knowledge. The ‘Sage on the Stage’ role of the 20th Century tutor or journalist, is transforming into a mediating and guiding role through the contrasting and conflicting perspectives of situated experience as these change over time..


James Ballard, ULCC

Technology is providing affordances for an efficiency and flexibility that offers exciting and creative approaches for emerging consumer and ‘consumer as producer’ modes of participation, but are naturally uncomfortable to existing organisational cultures that see their role as the transmitters of knowledge. This creates the ‘unbearable lightness of organisation’, where providing the light facilitating services required to motivate and engage learners requires a transformation of education that many are struggling with.

Other remarks from the day also had me thinking about how we might assimilate some of the successes of social media and the lightness of organisation they might promote.

Dougald raised a valid point about the inability of society to predict which technologies will boom and which will fail giving the example of the popularity of SMS over Video Calls, despite the latter generating considerably more hype. A similar phenomenon is seen in the growth of Twitter and Instant Messaging, which like SMS share the attributes of short text based messages. One, as Dougald proposed, may draw a conclusion that thriving communities are based on giving less information rather than more where this allows us to keep in contact with more people and broader information readily and easily. It may also prove easier to filter out white noise where feeds are concise and easily ignored, unlike for example email where it is increasingly difficult to filter spam.

In his presentation on ILPs, Kevin Lawrence at The College Ystrad Mynarch, highlighted how they were approaching learner support through greater development of the ‘learner voice‘. In their response to the challenge of learner as producer they recognised a need to transform tutorial interactions. Traditionally during the ILP process targets had been set for learners during induction, which for school leavers entering their first year of an adult learning environments is a daunting period. Induction is also the first time a tutor will meet their learners and in implementing their new ILP programme it was raised that setting targets during this period did not make sense as the learner has no experience of the course or college and the tutor has no understanding of the learner’s needs. As the system moved on-line a simple yet elegant change of focus was implemented whereby induction afforded the learner time to record their ambitions, strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears and expectations on-line and in their own time over the first weeks. Once the tutor has had a chance to review and discuss these with the learner the first learning targets are set immediately building a more equal and negotiated dialogue.

Putting these together I started thinking, about the implementation of ‘tutorial twitter’ as an extension of the e-ILP. Within the ILP and tutorial process information can be confidential and must be maintained across transitions, for which Twitter’s functionality is limited. However the concept of being able to keep in more regular contact with learning communities would seem appealing to tutors and learners alike. A simple vision would be our favourite learner, Oliver Twist, posting up ‘Struggling with homework’ on the VLE. This could be picked up by tutors or peers to provide immediate support, replacing or complementing the organisational legacy of the detailed 12-weekly reviews.

Reflecting on these, it is reassuring to find that although necessary transformation doesn’t always imply radical change. While the campus of 2050 may be unrecognisable from that of 2010 it will often be implemented through gradual yet effective steps. More importantly it will only come from having a better understanding of our learners and through coming to terms with the unbearable lightness of organisation that may represent the 21st Century.

2 thoughts on “The unbearable lightness of organisation”

  1. Ian McNeill says:

    hi I have tried to download instruction for iLP Download the e-ILP User Guide Documentation (PDF) at: – See more at:

    Not found ?? do you have a good working link for the documentation


    1. Frank Steiner says:

      Hi Ian

      Sorry for that. Details about the latest release and documentation can be found here:


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