The value of networked learning – make it visible through stories

July 15, 2015 | Blog-Admin1 | Learning Elsewhere, Methods & Tools |


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For Beverly Wenger-Trayner, social learning- and network-specialist, social learning starts with negotiating what to learn. Therefore, the very crucial questions that a Community of Practice or a network has to answer for itself are: What is it all about; what do we want to get better at, and why do people join and engage? Learning creates value for the community and each member. ”Value stories” are best suited to make the benefit visible.

By Charlotte Nager, SDC

In the Annual Meeting 2015 of learn4dev, the donors’ network for collaboration in capacity-building, Beverly Wenger-Trayner gave an overview of her experiences with Communities of Practice (CoP) and learning networks. Beverly is an acknowledged social learning- and network-specialist from California. She considers CoPs and networks to offer unique opportunities to the members to learn from each other and to conduct peer to peer-exchanges.


BeverlyNEUPhoto by Pauline Girard, BTC. Beverly’s Input am l4d-Annual Meeting.

Social learning in networks starts with negotiating what to learn

The very special thing about CoPs and networks, as forms of social learning, is the negotiation about the learning. While in the vertical learning, trainings, courses, we assume, that we know what is needed to be known and that learning is about the transfer of this knowledge. While in the social learning, it might not yet be known what the members need to know.

What makes people feel at home?
Beverly Wenger-Trayner

Therefore, the very crucial questions that a network has to answer for itself in order to be able to use its huge potential are:

  • What is the network about?
  • Why do people join this network actively?
  • What is it that we want to get better at in the network?
  • Who belongs to the network?

Based on the development of the vision and the clarification of the goals and the community, a network needs to specify the activities that help the members to get better. These activities can range from debating key issues, negotiating guidelines, peer consulting on cases, role playing key practices, building shared resources up to creating models of practice.

Stories make the value created through networks visible

The crucial question regarding the learning activities is not only, how they are creating value. It is also the question about what kind of value needs to be created. To be able to recognize what value is created in what way, Beverly Wenger-Trayner refers to stories. Stories make plausible claims that the learning activities have an impact. They are first-hand experiences of how the activities created value and they raise the awareness about the values created.

Stories give a plausible account of realized values and they give at the same time a good feedback to the networks or CoPs from which they emerged.
Beverly Wenger-Trayner

Beverly and Etienne Wenger developed a value creation framework that differentiates between the different values that a learning activity can create. Participating in a face-to-face meeting of a network for example creates the immediate value of meeting people, of establishing contacts and getting inspired. Out of this, a potential value can follow: an insight is shared, a new approach is presented. This in itself, however, does not yet create value. Only if the insight for example leads to a change in the practice or in the procedure in the own organisation it becomes an applied value. Finally, the change in practice may not lead to a result and may has to be revisited. But as soon as the change in practice leads to the expected result, we can call it a realized value.

Valaue Creation Framework

The Value creation-framework by Wenger-Trayner

A good value-creation story is a story that cuts through all the four categories of values and describes the process that led from one category to the next one. And these are the powerful stories, stories that can convince people about the values that networks can create for getting better in their work.

Further materials and related stories


Comments to“The value of networked learning – make it visible through stories”

  1. Many thanks for this insightful blog post. What I take from it: learning starts with defining what we want to learn; stories are the vehicle of learning, from the immediate to the transformative level.

  2. The issue is how to create a storytelling culture in an organization or in a thematic network. Stories should be short, on the point, true, told with pleasure, and most of all: not boring. It would be great if SDC would give it another try; together with a competent network, including artists.

  3. Charlotte Nager says:

    Dear Claudia, dear Pierre. Thank you for your feedback and your ideas. Yes, I agree, Claudia, that stories are vehicles for learning. And that it needs an openness of mind or an attitude that gives the necessary attention to grasp these stories, to see the links between different inspirations, meetings, activities – to make them visible.
    Here, of course, your input, Pierre, with the story telling culture comes into play. We are just now engaged in digital story telling workshops, promoting the telling of stories that can then travel easily around the world. More about these stories will be seen soon on this blog!
    Best, Charlotte

  4. Value-creation stories! This article really inspired me, and I reflected on how the complexity of a networks learning process and the created value can best be portrayed.

    A mix of different media – transmedia – is best suited to create a compelling story narrative.

    Read my thought on this here:

  5. Nadia von Holzen says:

    Dear Hynek, thanks for taking the idea of value network stories a step further. Very usefull tips! And indeed many little stories make the big story. Many little changes make the change. I am fully with you that blogging is one great way to narrate our learning and our observations. Blogging allows us us to keep track of our narrations in a shared and accessible way. What we might have missed so far is going back to the collections of narratives and to tell the big story. Let’s do it.
    Best, Nadia

  6. Thanks for the post, Charlotte!

    We have found that a compelling story is 1) Told by a clear protagonist; 2) Focuses on a very specific case; 3) Traverses all the cycles (at least the basic four); 4) Refers to monitored indicators; 5) Establishes tight causal connection across cycles.

    The model that was published in 2011 has since been updated (which is why your slide looks different from the one in the current publication). Hopefully, the updated book will be published before the end of the year.

    If SDC does use the framework, we’d love to know how and with what effect.

  7. Charlotte Nager says:

    Thank you all for the interesting comments and contributions to the discussion. It is very interesting and also eye-opening to get some grasp of the potential that value-creation stories have. They can not only guide our learning (by reflecting on our personal or collective learning cycles from immediate to transformative value), but they can also be very powerful means of transmitting experiences of value created and entering into conversation. And in the end, yes, they may add together to the big story …


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