Learning socially


In a world that is changing rapidly how do you keep up with everything?  The answer, for many people, is continuous education – which translates into a steady stream of seminars under the glow of PowerPoint presentations.  Keep drinking in the knowledge dispensed by experts, the theory runs, and you will always be on the leading edge of the changes around you.

Sad that it doesn’t really work.  Well, maybe it does for some people, but certainly not everyone.

The problems with the formal “seminar” model are more than the yawns of a darkened room.  A passive environment doesn’t reach everyone, especially those of us who can’t sit still that long.  The “experts” themselves are usually self-selected and have their own agendas in life.  But the biggest limitation is that the frame of the topic and the questions being answered are chosen in advance, the subject narrowed to one perspective before the laying on of knowledge has even started.  Other perspectives are left outside the room.

In a highly connected world few are limited by access to “experts” in a field.  What most people need is a way of digesting the flood of information off the ‘net, which Scott Adams described as “A firehose aimed at a teacup”.   What matters most are strategic organization and critical thinking skills.  Armed with those tools, a curious mind filled with questions can find the answers that it needs.

This is where a new approach has to come into the picture – or rather, the very oldest method.

Take the dark room and turn up the lights.  Remove the rows of chairs and replace it with a table everyone is sitting around.  Give everyone a meal and their favorite drink to loosen them up a bit.  More importantly, let them do the talking and express what they really need out of the moment.  If that sounds more like social media to you, the answer is that social methods of arriving at a plan, a truth, or simply a shared perspective are far more proven by time than passive formality.

This approach can work with nearly anything.  Barataria has shown how a group of people sharing articles and experiences can arrive at a working understanding of the something as complex as the economy that we all share.  It’s far from an idle problem, too, because as a Democratic-Republic we have to be able to understand the world around us to be able to participate in how it’s run.  Through our example we’ve asked questions and gradually arrived at an understanding that empowers us.  There is always more to be learned, but what matters is that we have the tools to absorb the knowledge around us, process it, and take it on to new questions.

Continuous education is not about chasing one class after another, it’s about learning how to learn constantly in every moment of your life.  That especially includes time spent in a pub talking with people you may never run into otherwise.  If calling it “learning” sounds like no fun at parties, you’re just not doing it right.  But if there is one thing that needs to be “taught” it is that skill.

Asking the right questions is far more productive than waiting for an answer that sounds good.

Without getting into details, that is the experience I’m working with a partner to shape this into a unified course of study.  It’s about putting “social” back into the system and recognizing that nearly all learning is about critical thinking and strategy.  Like this or any other successful blog community, people with a lot of good questions are far more knowledgeable than they might realize – if guided just a little bit.  More importantly, learning stuff about the world is not just empowering, it’s a lot of fun.

But I want to know what you think.  As always, there are links if you want more detail on the questions above.