Transformative Learning and Agile

It seems to me that most people who have had any kind of success on serious projects, or in life, can probably point to a profound collaborative experience at the core of that experience. In my last posting, “tools vs. capabilities” I said that because Agile is fundamentally a process of collaboration and our culture is fundamentally is a culture of contest, we need to recognize that learning Agile requires a transformation at the level of character more than methodology. Despite the fact that we may have had profound experiences with collaboration, because we are also deeply influenced by our environment, there are limits to what we can understand about it. We need not look further than the agile disciplines to see how most of our working and social practices are not supportive of Agile perspectives. For example empowering the team and the concept of self-organizing team is a direct challenge to most of our social, economic, cultural, community and familial structures which are essentially hierarchical. The discipline of amplifying learning is a direct challenge to the practice of excessive specialization which manifests itself in the form of expert elitism. How can any one of us ever hope to have a culture of learning and innovation if we come from a culture of expertise and hierarchy based on that expertise?

This is where transformative learning comes in. Agile requires of us not just an ordinary, but transformative learning experience. When we learn, we take something new and fit it into an old category or assign an old meaning to it. Categories are ways in which we organize our learning, they can also be called frames of reference. If we encounter an experience for which we have no category it is hard to understand it. For example have you ever been in a conversation or taken part in a course where what you were learning was so foreign to you that you didn’t even know what kinds of questions to ask to help you understand it?

Our frames of reference are shaped through the influence of our culture, language, and experiences, which all interact to set boundaries to future learning. This is because outside of these categories it is impossible for us even to register something new, let alone seek out its reality in an unprejudiced manner.

How often do you find yourself in a new learning situation where you feel overwhelmed, frustrated or even angry? It is possible that at those times you may be at the threshold of a transformative learning experience. You can have two reactions: one would be to dig deep and try to figure out why you are disturbed and see what insights you are led to and the other would be to just give up on the idea and find arguments against it.

Another way to recognize a potential opportunity for tranformative learning is to reflect on the following question: have you ever had an experience where you were faced with some new learning and because you have had a similar experience or because for some reason you see yourself as an expert in that field you have not been able to derive the proper learning from that experience? You may have realized this at a later time after numerous interactions with a similar experience where you slowly started to recognize gaps in your own understanding.

In order to derive the full benefit of a new experience that doesn’t fit into the realm of our experience we must have a transformative learning experience. A transformative learning experience is an experience that requires of us to examine the values and limitations of our old categories and assign new meanings to them. This does not mean that all of our previous learning is invalid. A transformative learning experience allows us to expand our frames of reference to allow for more complexity and at times possibly to integrate two previously perceived dichotomous approaches.

For a detailed introduction to transformative learning theories, its thinkers and history check out this link: on Wikipedia.

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