Crazy. Stupid. Learning. The 2 types of learning and their consequences

To organize for complexity also means to organize learning and development for complexity - on the individual, the team and the organizational levels.


Much has been said about learning in orgs and business schools, in recent years. And much of the talk has been based on flawed assumptions. Applying one of the thinking tools from the Organize for Complexity book may help to figure out how we can improve conditions and settings for learning, and maybe even create the  high level of learning that Peter Senge and many of us have been dreaming of for decades.


The "thinking tool" I would like to use for this offers a distinction that many of you have probably heard about. But I believe the consequences are frequently misunderstood. Let´s use the distinction shown here - between Data, Information, Knowledge and Mastery - to reflect on how the transformation from one into the other works:

  • The first is transforming Data into Information. This is in the domain of "IT“ (not learning). To do this, you don´t need humans, nor are they necessarily involved.
  • Transforming Information into Knowledge: It is here where things get interesting. as Knowledge involves humans, and human activity. This "I2K" transformation is the domain of "personal, or individual learning“. Some call this "basic“ learning. Learners or students can practice this kind of learning individually, from home, online etc. When you look up something on Wikipedia, watch a TED video, read a book or article, or search for something on Google, it´s this kind of learning that occurs.
  • Transforming Knowledge into Mastery is a second way of learning: the domain of "collective learning" so to say. One that requires learners to practice with each other, or to practie together with "masters“ (i.e. someone with mastery). One might say that here, you need at least two learners! This "K2M" transformation can happen in the classroom, "on the job", by practicing problem-solving, by seeking advice, or in direct online interaction.

While the first kind of learning, "I2K", is sufficient to make sense and to solve known problems, the second kind is key to solving new problems, and to deal effectively with complexity. It is "K2M" learning that is needed for innovation and problem-solving in dynamic markets. Unfortunately, of course, today´s MBAs mostly offer I2K learning to their students - case study method and business simluations notwithstanding. Corporate conferences, leadership development programs and org development activities are loaded with de-spiriting I2K presenting and contribute nothing to the development of mastery.


What´s the consequence of all of this, then? In order to create effective development and learning spaces, we should leave "basic" Information to Knowledge learning to where it belongs: pre-readings, online courses, MOOCs, YouTube etc., And create space for Knowledge to Mastery learning in classroom and in our firms. This combines well with multi-faceted learing and classroom techniques, settings and methods. For example:

  • "Flat" classroom settings, instead of the "sage-on-the-stage" approach and lecturing.
  • "No PowerPoint, no presentation" - focusing live learning situations and classrooms on dialog, questioning and peer-to-peer exchange and using flip charts and other devices to let the content emerge throughout the interaction.
  • "Knowledge acquisition ahead" - pre-readings, online learning, and online media complement the presential settting, ideally ahead of the live learning encounter.
  • Reflection on learning" at the end of each cycle, not knowledge testing, knowledge grading, or exams that get in the way of learning.
  • ... and more.

Let´s liberate the college classroom, the MBA, corporate gatherings and the Organizational Development from the boredom of lecturing, presenting and frontal teaching! Let´s put the technology to good use where it belongs (which is often I2K), and use valuable face-to-face time for high engagement settings, socially dense interaction and peer-to-peer learning. Technology can help us to liberate the workshop, the classroom, the course and the conference from I2K learning - so that we can make way better use of the live encounter.

I  have found only few practical and theoretically sound approaches that are in sync with this insight of two-fold learning, unfortunately. Some that I found are those by

  • José Bowen (now president at Goucher College, in the US), in his neat book Teaching Naked. The approach is also well-explained here in this video, for example. Highly recommended!
  • Peter Lorange (owner and president of Lorange Institute of Business Zurich, where I also teach) in his many publications on how to reinvent the business school.
  • Jay Cross, Harold Jarche and others from the Internet Time Alliance, who are focusing more on corporate learning or learning in organizations.

Write a comment

Comments: 1
  • #1

    Ian Randall (Friday, 21 April 2017 07:50)

    In business schools and organizations, we learn some basic things about learning and skills. And while implementing these things, we can definitely success in our life. Most probably, learning is a never-ending process we can refine our skills through positive learning methods. Here in this article also, we can get some graphical information about learning and their positive advantages. Thanks for this wonderful overview.

Upcoming events


See the Red42 event agenda with many different kinds of workshops - online and offline.

Niels Pflaegings event agenda on his personal website

Follett on social media


Twitter: @FollettPub

LinkedIn: Follett Publishing





Follett Publishing is a Red42 brand.


Get in touch for more on Follett Publishing: