Learning History

The Learning History is a dynamic research intervention that helps in the implementation, adoption and acceptance of change in organisations and systems. It puts together a variety of qualitative data that reflects the thoughts feelings and experiences of those involved in a particular change programme.


Learning History– Developed by MIT with Art Kleiner and George Roth

The Learning History was developed by MIT with Art Kleiner and George Roth as a way of seeing and understanding the learning of an organisation. It was developed in response to the realisation that often in organisations the learning that happens around significant events or processes is lost. The feelings and thoughts, both negative and positive, are internalised by the organisation and along with that any learning that happened along the way. What that means is that any learning that did occur isn’t actually useful at all. Instead organisations will carry on doing things the way that they always have and carry on making the same mistakes. The learning is wasted.

That means that the organisation isn’t able to adjust the things that aren’t working, or avoid things that simply can’t work, or embrace the things that do. It really doesn’t know what people are thinking and feeling, that’s left to speculation and rumour. The Learning History was developed as a tool that captures what really going on.

• It generalises the learning.

• It enables organisations to learn and develop how they do things.

• It allows them to see what’s happening and makes changes as they go along.

• It allows’ the learning’ to be transferred both within that organisation and across other organisations.

• It provides a way for places, systems and people to see how they ‘fit’ into what’s happening in the change event or process.

• It raises issues and questions about what’s happening and why.

• It enables individuals to reflect on their own experiences and learning, and it enables organisations to do the same.

It does this by simply telling the story. A story that is made up of a variety of voices, from across the hierarchy and across different parts of the system. That’s because no single voice knows everything. Everyone sees and experiences and feels in different ways, to hear the whole picture you need all the voices. The Learning History isn’t a formal process of assessment. There is no expectation, or right and wrong. People are invited to talk through semi structured 1:1 interviews, privately and anonymously about what they think and feel. It provides an opportunity for voices to be heard that would otherwise remain quiet or ignored. This makes people feel that what they have to say is important, that they matter and allows a reflection and unleashing of feeling that’s recorded and shared with others. These voices are represented in the narrative of the Learning History report.

The narrative is presented as a series of anonymous, word for word quotes that represent the thoughts and feelings of those involved and represents both the things that people thought went well and the things they thought could have been improved upon.

The Learning History’s simple layout means that the narrative tells its own story. It includes information about the change event such as the decisions made and specific things that happened so that the reader can ground their reading in what was happening at the time.

This narrative is accompanied by a commentary that highlights important points and recurring themes, but is not judgmental or analytical. The Learning History in this way provides an accessible way of seeing and understanding and using the learning that happens in organisations.

Extract from The Art of Change Making. Freely available at http://tiny.cc/TheArt

An example of a Learning History can be found at http://cc/CornwallLH

contact Emma Loftus at ejlresearch