We are in a time when continuous learning is becoming the accepted norm in life. We no longer get some schooling, find a job, and then work there until retirement. There are too many changes in the workplace and society for us to simply park after learning. We must constantly learn in order to maintain value in our occupation and in society in general.
So, if continuous learning is so important, why do we only pay it lip service?
What do I mean by lip service? Learning is a difficult, ongoing process. And yet, we find ourselves in a punctuated learning world. After college or university, everything we learn is learned in learn-bites (sound-bites of learning). An afternoon seminar, short online course, or weekend conference.
So, what’s wrong with this?
Learning this way is fine if you are simply learning what the new menus are to pull down on the latest upgrade to your software. This can also inform you about new organizational policies. You might be getting tips about how to make presentations or make your PowerPoint slides more appealing. You can even generate new ideas about getting new sales leads.
But, what is this learning really about? It is an extension of what we do in college or university. We are learning stuff. Stuff that we can immediately use to improve the efficiency of what we are doing in the moment. Stuff that we can memorize so we can keep ourselves out of trouble with the organization. Stuff that we can memorize and be tested on. Like my student who took a university class on creativity and was tested with a multiple choice test – stuff that can be tested.
Does anybody really think that learning stuff is the continuous learning experience that we need for the future of learning/work? Skills are what need to change in this new world of learning, not stuff.
Why, when the world is changing at rates never before seen, have the learning models stayed the same? Gather together in a group, sit in rows, or maybe around a table, listen to someone tell you some stuff, and then talk about how that might apply to your situation. The application of the stuff is the add-on that organizational training brings to the table.
Why? Because this is the right way to do it. Everyone is doing it this way, so it must be the right way.
Social herding is doing something for no other reason than this is what everyone else is doing. Social herding is safe. If everyone is doing it, it must be the right thing to do. Social herding can cause snowball effects – think anti-vaxers – or place insurmountable roadblocks in the way of changing how something is done. If the way something is done is right because that is the way it has always been done, how can we begin to move society forward? Is tradition a good enough reason not to change?
We have seen social herding in action for centuries. The institutions and institutional practices that rose to power during the medieval period in Western Europe maintained an iron grip on Western society for centuries and are still the largest single influence in the developed world.
Social herding means that there is a single acceptable way for seeing and doing things. Think of something as simple as the two phrases, “Can I go to the bathroom?”, and, “May I go to the bathroom?”. There is no way that the question being asked can be considered ambiguous, and yet, there is only one of these phrases that is correct. Social herding.
Even though the purpose of language is communication and in this example the communication is crystal clear, one form of asking is wrong.
Not only is it wrong, but a sizeable number of those reading this article will be filling their breast with righteous (yes, righteousness against wrongness) indignation. “We must have proper grammar or society will perish!”
This is only a simple example, but this is an example of societal norms becoming sacred because of social herding. Since this is what everyone does and expects, we face enormous pressure to conform.
Social herding means that there will be no distinct groups in our society. Conform to what we are and do or else go somewhere else.
What does this have to do with learning?
There is only a single acceptable way of learning. This method has been strengthened and codified by society until there is no acceptable alternative.
I have looked for years for an institution, a place, an organization, anything that actually uses what we know about learning to foster real learning in our society. I have looked into places that claim to teach advanced cognitive enablers (critical thinking etc.) and see nothing but desks or tables with someone in the front telling us what to do.
How can we learn the skills that will change the world sitting in rows?
Let me give you an example of a group that teaches a skill in a way that really works.
Toastmasters International is an organization dedicated to teaching you how to speak in public. There is no teacher. There are no desks. There is a table, but that is integral to the act of public speaking itself. In the Toastmasters program, there are set requirements that people work toward (speaking projects) and numerous other roles in place to support the learning. Every role is a verbal role, and in an ideal group, every person stands up and speaks to the group every week. This isn’t a single event, but a long-term commitment to improving the skill of public speaking that can go on for years and years.
So, why are there so few organizations that use real learning principles for people to learn how to do things? I know that apprenticeships are largely founded on these principles, but the principles underlying the learning of cognitive skills have crystallized around memorizing stuff. I have seen lecture based classes on speaking, writing, thinking and a host of other cognitive skills. Even most modern apprenticeships have a classroom (lecture) component filled with memorizing and tests.
Social herding. This is the way that learning happens.
Socelor, our new learning venture, may not meet traditional educational forms, but it is designed for learning. Learning that is based on The Science of Learning, not on the traditions of teaching. Watch my video explaining why Socelor exists. Read about why we need a campus and not just an online presence. Find out about the advanced cognitive enablers we focus on and why this is the case. Look into what makes us fundamentally different.
Socelor isn’t a part of the crowd and social herding makes what we are doing unimaginable to all but those who have been burned by the present system, realize that the way things are done isn’t enough any more, and are brave enough to break with the herd and do something that works.
Or, you can always be part of the herd.
Jesse is a world leader in the integration of the science of learning into formal teaching settings. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge and Director at The Academy for the Scholarship of Learning. Huge advocate of the science of learning, he provides people with ideas about how they can use it in their classrooms. Jesse holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wales, Bangor.