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The Learning Layer as a Phenomenon

I am not one given to mysticism, but one of the key points I try to make in the book is that the learning layer is somehow more than just a computer-based system, and more than just a different way of working together. Although it is both of these things, it seems to be more than just both. It has a distinctive nature—different from what has come before it that is born of its capacity for social awareness and its co-evolution with us. It learns and changes as we do.

I call it a “phenomenon” rather than some other label because although the learning layer has a unique nature, “phenomenon” connotes a fuzziness of boundary that is inherent to the learning layer. Where does it end and the non-learning layer begin? Is it just the system part or does it comprise both the system and the people with whom it is coevolving? Yes–and not because of any desire to couch it in mysticism, but because the reality is that emergent phenomena invariably defy a precise dissection by our intellectual scalpels.

As with anything qualitatively different, it certainly has precursor concepts, and the boundary between it and its precursors are likewise fuzzy. John Hagel and his co-authors discuss “pull systems” in their delightful new book, The Power of Pull. And the learning layer is surely a pull system. Andrew McAfee coins the category, emergent social software platforms, in his book, Enterprise 2.0, and the learning layer surely also fits within this definition. But the learning layer seems to go a bit further—and yet it is hard to pin down exactly at what point it goes beyond. Perhaps like some other kinds of phenomena, you just know it when you see it . . .

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