Making meaning – meaningful learning

Org Learning: Reflector Post 1

One thing that struck me when reading Dixon was that when we speak, we ‘tend to cognitively organize what we know.’ This was under the dialogue topic when referring to hallways of learning. This really resounds with me. I know that I speak up in my graduate classes much, much more than my earlier experience of formal education. I think the reason is that when I do speak out, it really helps me sort out when I’m thinking on the subject at hand. I think it’s often trying to relate prior knowledge/experience with the topic – something I have an understanding about with something new. Not only is it speaking out in class, but also whenever we have small group exercises and sometimes when walking out to the car after class with a classmate. These scenarios are much closer to the hallways Dixon refers to. I think it’s not just having the chance to speak and sort out my own ideas, but I also find that listening to others’ perspectives also helps me to check my own and perhaps reconsider my views.

Learning seems like such a journey! And it’s fascinating to stretch from individual to organizational learning. It seems that for an organization to become a learning organization, it (or the leaders) need to let go of the old systems of control and trust in the process. I could see that it doesn’t, and couldn’t really, mean that things are just let go of, but rather there would need to be conscious efforts made to facilitate learning – setting up systems, structures, values, visions, norms, etc. that encourage dialogue, creativity, innovation, even risk.

Mapping concepts

It will be interesting to explore meaning making with concept maps. I have used something called a mindmap. However, it’s slightly different than how Novak and Canas present the concept map. The main difference that I see is the use of linking words between concepts that describe the relationship between the two respective concepts. What I have used is really a graphical sort of outline with boxes/circles that can be linked hierarchically. This has helped me find some clarity and organization when starting new projects or getting some ideas out of my head. However, I can see that specifying the relationship between each item/concept could help with gaining more clarity.

It’s also interesting to consider how using concept maps may help us relate prior knowledge to new knowledge. One thing that struck me as I was reading about the concept maps was how the main focus is on words. Yes, there is the possibility to add images, videos, etc., however the basic structure of a concept map seems to be words. Novak/Canas say that the brain ‘organizes knowledge in hierarchical frameworks’ and that these are primarily concepts and propositions. He acknowledges very little is known about how memory works. However, I understand the human mind/memory primarily stores knowledge in images. Do we translate concepts/propositions into images? Or associate concepts/propositions with images?

There’s more that I found interesting in our beginning exploration of organizational learning, but there’s only so much to write in a post! One thing in the preface struck me that we didn’t talk about in our class discussion. It was that originally the term corporation ‘implied an organization to whom the government granted special status because it clearly served the public interest.’ Wow, that’s interesting! It seems like with time we have strayed far from that concept. Imagine if there was an internal commitment within all levels of a corporation that an essential value and strategic goal was to serve the public interest. And how would an organization reach such a state? It would seem to me that applying the principles of a learning organization would be essential to move in such a direction.

My reflections

I am finding this process of reflecting and blogging valuable. I felt stuck at first when starting to write this entry. There is really so much to write about that’s meaningful so far, but I didn’t know where to start and nothing really stood out. So, it helped to review the readings and recall some of the discussions we had in class. Then a few things started to pop out. I also felt this review, reflection and writing really helped me to get some clarity. I guess it’s a bit like speaking in the hallways – perhaps a blog and mirror partners are a bit like virtual hallways…

Hallways of sorts…


5 Responses to “Making meaning – meaningful learning”

  1. 1 yovhane 6 September 2009 at 9:54 pm

    The inferences in class and the reflections here definitely help. When I first started doing reflection papers in my first grad program, I questioned their effectiveness and value. Now, however, I find it helpful to link the theoretical to the applied. My initial apprehension stemmed from a very traditional, teacher as the “sage on the stage” undergraduate classroom. I don’t believe my cognition was as developed as an 18 year old freshman student; however, it is difficult to develop a mature cognition and independent thinking skills within this traditional model. Much of the literature from Dixon highlighted these stifling practices as antithetical to developing a learning organization. Specifically, both Chapparral Steel and WHO gave their employees the tools to trust themselves and develop their own skills in addressing issues within their control. From the initial reading, I have evaluated my own organization to judge its potential as a learning one. I feel that being able to apply these theoretical ideas to a very concrete experience for me has been of the maximum benefit.
    A documented benefit of concept mapping is also to allow the fleshing and identification of valid ideas and misinformation. Unfortunately, I get very uncomfortable speaking in front of a classroom of peers so I’m much more comfortable in text format. Being able to collaborate with my class on this model, one that does not favor those who are verbally strong, excites me because I feel I will gain similar benefits as a verbally conscious student as well as a highly visual, photographic learner.
    Glad to hear someone else is feeling similarly about the cMapping and reflection.

    • 2 bluesky55 7 September 2009 at 12:17 pm

      The reflective practice has evolved for me since my first grad classes a year ago. I consider myself a reflective person – I used to keep a journal for a number of years – and I would say that I have reflected in my work life as well, but not usually through writing. I’m comfortable with reflective practice and really find that when I add this practice to my field of study, it deepens my learning. It seems a bit like if conscious efforts are made to set up ways that an organization can learn, then the benefits are more clearly evident. So, with my blog and reflective practice, I think it helps me deepen my learning. I’m also interested to see how the mirroring contributes to this practice. It seems more like the opportunity for asynchronous dialogue…

      I’m interested to explore the concept mapping too and see how it supports valid ideas and helps straighten out faulty thinking.

  2. 3 yovhane 6 September 2009 at 11:31 pm

    I connected your statement “others’ perspectives also helps me to check my own and perhaps reconsider my views” with the collective use of the concept map for this course. I do benefit in much of the same way by listening to the perspective of others in order to judge my own and assign values and significance to theoretical concepts. I look forward to collaborating on the concept map online because it will allow me to see the thought processes of others and the connections and relevance they allocate to certain points. We all have different preferences to processing information; I have to make a concerted effort in order to verbalize my thoughts in a classroom (as a student anyway). I look forward to using the cMap as a nonverbal discussion of propositions. Overall, the construction of this class seems to value self-directed and communal learning. Granted it is an “organizational learning” course, the readings and theory in practice have allowed me to compare my concept of an effective organizational learning environment to my own experiences in the classroom as a student and teacher.

    I’m glad you also picked up on Dixon’s inference to a key component of organizational learning as the release of hierarchical, top-to-bottom control. In order for the cyclical process of organizational learning to occur, it has to be a process-oriented approach. Organizations such as Chapparral Steel and WHO are/were living examples of the benefits of investing in the process and the people who affect the ends. So often, it is about the end goals or bottom line, especially in corporate or political culture. I wonder how this approach would affect change in a smaller, community-based organization.


    • 4 bluesky55 7 September 2009 at 12:39 pm

      When I was in primary and secondary school as well as undergraduate, I rarely ever spoke out. I was quite ‘shy’ you could say. I think various life experiences have helped me feel a bit more confident to speak out more now, when I feel to. It’s still not always so easy, especially in a large group. I find it easier to verbally exchange information in small groups or pairs. However, I see the value of a whole class discussion at times to get us all on the same track. I also look forward to the various ways the class seems to be set up to exchange perspectives – the project teams, blogs, concept map… and whatever else will Dr Carter pull out of her sleeve! I know one of the ways of learning that Dr Carter has researched is ‘communities of practice.’ This is along the lines of social mediated learning. And using things like blogs, concept maps, wikis are ways to encourage this using technology. I find that I learn a lot when in exchange with other learners or teammates, etc.

      I’m also interested to explore how to develop/enhance a organizational learning in a community or nonprofit org. It seems that it needs to start with a vision from some of the leaders and the willingness to questions their own assumptions. I found it quite amazing how the CEO of Johnsonville Foods initiated the change/transition to a learning org. It really seemed like he had to give up a lot of the traditional concepts of leadership, power, etc. (quite like a ‘sage on the stage’ in essence, it seems) and move to more of an empowering role. I think that many community-based/nonprofits may still operate on the traditional model of command/control because that’s been the prevalent model for so long and that’s what we know best. The principles of a learning org have been out there for some time, but maybe they’re still in the process of filtering down. It seems to really take a very conscious and continuous effort to keep an organization on the learning track…

      thanks for your feedback and sharing your ideas.

  3. 5 Ed Howard 7 September 2009 at 10:34 pm


    Sorry for the delayed reponse. I am back from my 4 day weekend and hope that you’ve had a nice weekend as well.

    Thanks for having such a thoughtful blog.

    One of the concepts that you bring that I really agree with and enjoyed…was the diverse concept of ‘hallways of learning’ and the many ways that can be interpreted. Much like you talk about walking to your car after class, I find that many of my most meaningful conversations happen on the sidewalks around campus when I’m on the way from one place or another for work. I find when I run into these folks, the dialogue is much more open and that these informal setting are far more conducive to sharing info that leads to meaning making.

    I too was not a talking in my classes during my undergraduate degree, but find myself talking much more in graduate school. It makes me wonder if I was just more shy, or if I didn’t trust that my thoughts would be considered valid or interesting?.. I’m not sure.. but I too have found that in grad school I’m sharing more and that is contributing greatly to my learning.. the teaching myself through talking to others, so to say.

    I’m interested in your thoughts about how we each make meaning. You mentioned using image representations as opposed to words, as Novak and Canas believe. I also wondered if the, ‘how’ of meaning making information storing had to do with being more right or left brained, more creative or more analytical, left handed and right handed? I know I got trough my undergrad creating acronyms by the truck load…but these words that I created…even though they were works…when the time came to recall the information, I could picture the acronym as I’d jotted it down in my studies. It’s all a very fascinating concept.

    Hope you’ve had a good Labor day weekend!

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