Architects as we usually know them

An architect is someone who creates the plans from which others build.

An architect of buildings designs environments for living. Only rarely will they be designing an environment in which they themselves will be living. More typically they will be responding to a very specific brief that reflects very particular requirements. Before they put pen to paper, the architect simply has to know the following:

  • What type of building is required – a home, an office, a factory, a school, a hospital? What functions must this building perform?
  • How many people will be using this building? What activities will they be carrying out? What are these people like?
  • What constraints are placed on the design of the building in terms of budget, time, quality, regulations?

The architect of buildings has a professional responsibility to their client. They are expected to be up-to-date in terms of current materials and methods, and in the latest developments within science and engineering as they relate to construction. They use this knowledge to provide their client with a building that will be safe, durable, maintainable and efficient, while meeting the requirements of the brief within the given constraints. They could be swayed by other motives – their own desire to experiment and innovate, allegiances to current fashions and philosophies, perhaps the prospect of winning an award – but if they do, they risk compromising on their duty to their client.

Meet the learning architect

A learning architect designs environments for learning. Like the architect who designs buildings, the learning architect will be responding to a specific brief:

  • What is the nature of the learning requirement? What knowledge, skills and attitudes is the employer (the client) wishing to engender in the employees working within the business, division or department in question? How will this learning contribute to effective performance?
  • What jobs are carried out in the target area? How many people are doing these jobs? What are these people like in terms of their demographics, prior learning, ability to learn independently, their motivation and preferences?
  • Under what constraints must this learning take place? How geographically dispersed is the population? How much time and money is available? What equipment and facilities can be deployed to support the learning?

The learning architect also has a professional responsibility to their client. This requires them to be fully conversant with current thinking in terms of learning methods, acquainted with the latest learning media and up-to-date with developments in the science of learning. As none of these is intuitive and obvious, the client cannot be expected to have this expertise. And for this reason, it is neither sufficient nor excusable for the learning architect to act as order taker.

The responsibility of the learning architect is to their client. As with the architect of buildings, other motives can come into play – the desire to experiment and innovate, loyalty to the latest fads and fashions, the glamour and glitz of the awards ceremonies – but should they be tempted, they risk failing to meet the requirement within the given constraints.

'Architect' might sound like a grand title for someone other than a head of learning and development or what the Americans like to call a Chief Learning Officer, but remember that architects of buildings tackle small jobs like extensions as well as office blocks and whole housing estates. They start off working with other architects and they gain experience over time.

You don’t become a learning architect by calling yourself one; you also have to behave like one. An architect of buildings does not carry the bricks or paint the walls, although they do keep a watchful eye on these activities in case their plans need to be revised or updated. They don’t have to supervise every activity, but they do need to watch the numbers, so they can react if budgets and timeframes are being exceeded.

The learning architect does not need to directly facilitate learning or be present in all those situations in which learning might be taking place. However, they must know whether or not the learning that is occurring is in line with their plans and their client’s requirements, and that all this is happening at an acceptable speed and cost. And because the only constant in the modern workplace is change, they must be agile enough to respond to shifting requirements, new pressures and emerging opportunities.

Clive will be sharing his thoughts on the role of the new learning architect at his session on June 14th.

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