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Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Important Learning Occurs in Groups

Source: External Link Connectivity: Spike Hall's RU Weblog

By Spike Hall quoting Denham Grey

Summary: External LinkDenham Grey has made important observations about learning within work-groups. Some things are best learned together.

The following is extracted from Denham Grey's Personal Learning Blog.

Toward Principles

Bullet The importance of cohorts

You may obtain information from the 'sage on the stage' a book or CBT, but you learn on the playing field, where your identity is forged, opinions are validated, values mediated, beliefs formed and assumptions are tested. Social mediation is key, and this is where cohorts help you make meaning and gain understanding. We own a social brain and apprenticeship is the natural way to learn. We need cohorts and community to build a shared repertoire of key concepts, evolve tools, craft language, gather stories and highlight sensitivities. This is where learning products reside.

Bullet Sharing meaning

Shared meaning is the difference between personal knowing and acquired understanding or social knowledge. This is the power behind language and communication and points to the essential role of sharing critique, alignment & reflection in learning. Meaning is established through patterning, emotions play a key role. To make meaning explicit and ensure alignment, it is essential to test assumptions in a group situation.

Bullet Crafting distinctions

Creating new knowledge comes from bringing forth new worlds, from agreeing and naming subtle signs, symptoms, patterns and perceptions that enable alternative courses of action. Mostly this happens as a natural byproduct of conversations within groups. New knowledge is recognized by the issues, the values, the beliefs and in the language of a community of practice. Often encoded in the 'slang' and group talk that sets the community apart. Distinctions are closely related to ontology's and to making meaning. They contribute a large measure to identity.

Bullet Deep learning, identity and dialog

Knowing is an act of participation, knowledge is more a living process than acquisition of an object, it is closely tied to who we are and emerges in dialog or through copy and practice. Lasting knowledge is knowing more than definitions, concepts and relationships, it is a feeling for what is right in a particular situation. Lasting knowledge requires personal engagement, passion and a community to emerge. Learning and knowledge require an ecology to thrive and evolve.

Bullet Generative learning

New insights that arise at the boundaries between communities, connections and reflections, are key to synthesis and access to new ideas. The learning potential of an organization lies in maintaining a tension and a balance between core practices and active boundary processes. Identity and meaningfulness are the wellspring of creativity, sharing is a natural by-product of belonging. Learning is more about community than content

Bullet Creative abrasion, high challenge and safety

Dorothy Leonard struck a chord talking of creative abrasion. To change your mindset you need to raise the energy levels, increase the attention and focus. This is difficult to achieve in a placid conversation. Exposure to alternative assumptions and frames, some advocacy, deep dialog, strong engagement and a pure clash of ideas helps to unsettle, and resettle meaning. Prior beliefs are difficult to change using classroom instruction and teaching as telling. Taken too far, increasing stress levels (caused by conflict) will reduce the learning opportunity, there is a fine balance to be maintained.

Bullet Boundary hopping and busting prototypes

The sweet spot for learning is at the boundaries of individual and community. Here you are less sure and secure , core rigidities are lower, you can be flooded with new thought forms, alternative analogies and metaphors. Making connections is key and often follows trusted relationships.

Bullet Language as generative learning

One of the major paradigm shifts made at I-Bus was to view language not as informative or descriptive but, rather, as generative. This means that language has the power to create reality . Through language we have the ability to bring forth a different future. As linguistic beings, we individually create our reality in language . We dwell in, and live out of, our public and private conversations. It is through language that we interpret events and it is through language that we build shared interpretations and understanding among community members. Therefore, as people living within a workplace community, our workplace reality is constructed by our social conversations . It is also through language that we are able to shift the reality of the community.

Recognizing the generative nature of language and that conversations create reality provided a major shift in our organizational thought processes. Conversations, both public and private, provide the access to both assess organizational mind sets, mental models and belief systems, and to intervene by reshaping the existing conversations. Viewing an organization as a network of conversations and commitments that bring about a set of results provides a powerful basis by which organizational interventions can be achieved. Key questions of inquiry within the organization can now be identified, such as, which conversations are opening up possibilities and which conversations are shutting down possibilities ? Which conversations are creating the results we are achieving and which conversations create barriers to changing those results? These become key questions of inquiry within the organization and necessary to capture.

For communities to build shared interpretations and understanding, community members must give voice to their unspoken ideas and beliefs . For this to occur, community members must build trust, intimacy and create a safe place for full expression to occur. True dialogue requires the disclosure of mental models and a wider expression of private conversations. Here again, groupware technology and tools can create valuable communicative support structures. Groupware plays a significant role in supporting community-wide dialogue, advocacy and participative decision-making. Groupware also allows us to communicate outside the bounds of time and space.

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