I’m a huge fan of John Seely Brown’s work, and I read The Power of Pull last year and his newest collaboration, A New Culture of Learning, in the last week or so. The vision that the authors create in these works is truly inspirational – a world where passion drives individual learning and connectivity makes collaboration with like-minded others just a few clicks away.
As a learner, the new culture of learning encourages me to think more broadly about how I learn and what I might do to accelerate and enrich my own approaches to learning. As a learning leader, I want to be able to promote and support the new culture of learning by providing as many tools as possible and helping learners to see the myriad of ways they can learn and grow through their own efforts and through collaboration with their peers.
But I also quietly doubt that the “old” culture of learning has outlived its usefulness and that connectivity and collaboration will be the primary way we learn everything that we need to learn.
The argument put forward in The Power of Pull and A New Culture of Learning is that the world is changing too quickly for us to even attempt to reify and “transfer” learning to newcomers. But I think there are content areas and skills that can be learned in structured ways to brings newcomers on board even in the most complex and fast-changing professions. When I enter a space that requires new knowledge and skill, I’m careful not to annoy the people who live in that space with my newcomer questions – I seek more formal means to come up to speed before jumping in. I appreciate when others do the same in those spaces where I am an expert, and I’m happy to create formal entre points (dare I say training and eduction?) or recommend resources to assist them as well. Once we come up to speed on some baseline, participation and collaboration is absolutely the way we develop into experts, but I think structured learning and participation are still often the best way to start out. Does that ring true for anyone else?
Seely Brown and his co-authors also celebrate the idea that memorization of facts is no longer necessary in general education if we can instead provide students with the tools to access and explore information on the internet. But I think that our ability to make connections, to cross boundaries, to innovate depends on holding ideas in our heads – and some of that information comes from more traditional, structured learning. I have found my broad liberal arts education provides me with metaphors and concepts that I use all the time, and I’m betting I wouldn’t have those ideas in my head without the requirements of a formal education.
In addition, it has been my experience that many people struggle with accessing and using new tools for learning, despite their relative expertise in operating a computer and surfing the net. Identifying like-minded peers with whom to collaborate doesn’t necessarily come naturally. Resources aren’t marked with a seal of approval and determining credibility and accuracy takes a little bit of digging and a lot of good judgement. Because so many professionals and leading edge thinkers have been able to tap into the collective, they can make it sound easy – but it isn’t always, and everyone isn’t comfortable jumping in with both feet. In addition to getting everyone access to people and to information, we probably need to help people learn how to learn – and that is as true of grade-schoolers as it is of out-of-school people who are just now learning to take advantage of the net.
This is important because we still need to develop and apply expertise in the “old” culture of learning. We still need creative and skilled instructional designers and developers, engaging and talented learning facilitators, and great coaches and mentors. We need writers, graphic artists, and videographers who know how to support learning.
Those of us who work in the learning and development field shouldn’t be looking for new careers; we should be redoubling our efforts to learn how to ensure effectiveness and efficiency in creating formal training and education (especially in schools at all levels). And we should be learning as much as possible about how to take advantage of this new culture of learning – for ourselves, and for the learners we support.
I’m thinking that the new culture of learning doesn’t replace the old, it enriches it.
For more on the new culture of learning, I highly recommend:
The Power of Pull, by John Hugel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison (2010)
A New Culture of Learning, by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011)