I’ve been thinking recently about “Lessons Learned”, and how widely that term is used and abused, both inside and outside KM and Organisational Learning circles.  How often in the press do we see Government departments, Football managers, Chief Police Officers et al utter the immortal words:  “we will be learning the lessons from this…”?

I wonder what this really means.  Is a lesson learned when it is identified by a reflecting practitioner, after a specific experience?  Is it learned when it is codified and made available for others, in specific or abstract form?  Or is a lesson learned when another individual has applied it, and experimented with it?

That was the basis of Kolb’s learning cycle…

…but I’m not sure that I could point to many examples of organisations where this cycle of organizational learning represents the norm.  Not really.
The Centre for Wildfire Lessons puts it nicely: 

“A lesson is truly learned when we modify our behavior to reflect what we now know.”

What I do see a lot of is something more like this.
Let’s call it “Collison’s Ignorance Spiral” (I hope the name doesn’t catch on!).
Somehow, the “abstract conceptualisation” bit seems to wear a bit thin – too many motherhood statements in lessons learned reports which fester on electronic shelves.   Now it might be that a deliberate abstract conceptualisation step can be short-circuited completely, through storytelling and the rapid exchanges and collaboration available through social media.  Perhaps abstract conceptualisation is a personal, subconscious step, rather than a clumsy organisationally imposed process. I need to think more about that one. 
But I’m still left with a lingering doubt that we just aren’t very good at designing lessons with a (future) learner in mind. I’ve been in a number of lessons learned reviews where the intent of the meeting seems to be catharsis for the team or compliance with the process, rather than learning for the organisation.
So, just for fun – what does a well designed lesson look like in a school
Let’s take a primary school lesson as an example (especially as I have a primary teacher conveniently sitting beside me right now!). I am reliably informed that a well designed lesson will have the following components.

Introduction – explain what you want them to learn; clear objectives.
Test past learning, build on the results of past learning.
Provide exemplar expectations – what would “good” look like?
Be accessible to different learning styles (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic).
Be capable of differentiate to multiple levels of capability.
Combination of activity-based learning and theoretical-based learning, individual and group.
Have a list of accessible resources.
Conclude with a  plenary to summarise and test what has  been learned.

How do the lessons in your organisation measure up to that checklist? 
Perhaps I should spend more time in the classroom…