#WorkingOutLoud on Learning Science: Learning Ecosystems

This week we are working on a section of the Learning Science Guidebook that deals with ‘Learning Ecosystems’. I say ‘we’: so far it’s mainly Sae and Geoff who have actually worked on it. I’m coming to it late and starting with an illustration.

The term ‘learning ecosystem’ is quite in vogue these days, but we will be exploring what Learning Science can tell us about what it actually is, and what it gives us. We will publish a draft next week), but in our notes we are considering what a Learning Ecosystem actually is, how can we structurally define it, which parts fall under our control, and what this understanding will give us in terms of the design and delivery of more effective learning. 

Sae wrote this as her definition, “a learning ecosystem is a diverse assembly of learning experiences – varying across time, subject, platform, institution, and scale – that are intentionally tied together to improve learning outcomes”

And Geoff added this, “Traditional learning platforms (LMS, VLE etc) only represent a small subset of these experiences. Which makes them poor guardians of the wider ecosystem of learning experiences. Instead, a future facing system would need to be able to support, and understand the many myriad of future learning experiences and activities that learners may need to include in their path, and build ever deeper insights on their impact and effectiveness.

I have not committed to a definition yet (and remember, this work, which will culminate in the publication of the Learning Science Guidebook is not about us finding one voice, but sharing our differences and discussions, emerging understanding and challenges as well), but i would tend towards the following:

The learning ecosystem is the landscape in which we individually and collectively learn. It has both hard and soft elements, which may include technologies, Organisations, and formal assets, as well as folklore, tribal structures, and aspects of belief. It’s not a landscape we hover over, but rather one that we walk through, changing it as we go.

More on this next week.

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Your Power

Today i am just #workingOutLoud reflecting on Power. We inhabit not one, but multiple systems of power: some codified, formal and visible, others hidden, or highly contextual. But all interacting in different ways with one another.

Power does not operate on simple gradients, from senior to junior, from rule based to anarchy: sometimes a gentle power can run around behind a formal one. Reputation can trump position, authenticity can trump expertise.

In general, the Social Age sees a rebalancing of power, and the Pandemic has fractured legacy models (largely based in space, ownership, and control). So power is all to play for.

Power and Potential is an enquiry framework for ‘Power’ in Social Leadership, available free here.

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The Meaning We Create

I’m working on a session on Storytelling in Learning for tomorrow. I’ll use some of the new Learning Science work, including this slide on the creation of meaning.

It draws on the idea that a core part of Social Learning is individual and collective ‘sense making’, creating the narratives that we then live within.

This informs a whole host of factors for the learning Organisation: how we architect learning, how we support community, how we earn trust, how narratives are fractured, evolve, or fail.

Stories are an important aspect of learning, but it’s more complex than the stories that we tell.

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Making the Enemy

I’ve been toying with an idea today: the way that we make the enemy. The ways that we find comfort in opposition, and how it can cause us to search out, and create, the ‘other’.

It’s easy to stand against something, even when we have more in common that we may realise, and especially when our lines of communication are cut.

In times of change, there is a comfort in togetherness, and a reassurance in otherness. But that does not help us to change.

It’s worth stopping to consider when, and how, we make the enemy, even when no enemy exists. And how, having done so, we find comfort in their contrary ways.

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Learning Science Guidebook #4 – Nested Contexts

This post is part of a series where i am sharing work from my collaboration with Sae on the Learning Science Guidebook. It’s early stage #WorkingOutLoud, and should be taken as such. Today we consider ‘nested contexts’ and how they may impact learning and learning design.

When we consider ‘learning’ it’s too easy to reduce the discussion to materials, learner, and (where applicable) a teacher.

Design it right, and distribute it right, and the learner will learn. Of course, the reality isn’t so simple – but why is that?

Part of the reason why we can’t follow recipe-like formulas for learning is that we’re all different. We each have varied and highly individual contexts, both internally (our personal psychological makeup, worldview, experiences) and externally (our physical environment, cultural overlays, and social contexts). These contexts are a mix of ‘real’ things, internally created and held constructs, and collectively co-constructed conditions. 

We can consider these to be nested contexts.

At the most personal level, we all have a unique individual context. At the small group level, we may share certain external contexts like a physical classroom or social learning cohort. We may also be influenced by contexts that are a gestalt of individual and group factors, such as the cultural context of the learning experience, which may not reflect a universal context for all learners but instead vary according to individuals’ seniority, power, or belief.

[By “gestalt” we mean an emergent property more than the sum of its parts. In other words, when the components are combined, they produce a distinct, evolved new outcome – like eggs, sugar, and flour into a cake. NOTE that Sae thinks these things make a cake. In our half-Dutch household, these things make pancakes…]

We recently wrote about mental frameworks and collective narratives as the lenses through which people understand the world, learn, and make meaning.

Consider these seven layers of nested contexts:

Individual Characteristics: Personal context may encompass everything from our structural differences (are you tall or short, have good eyesight or struggle to read), to our individual skills and personal psychology (expertise, anxiety, confidence), language (native or secondary), educational background (experienced learner) and so on. These personal attributes can be grouped in various ways, but we consider four categories: (a) capabilities such as prior knowledge, skills, and experiences; (b) traits, which are personal characteristics that are relatively stable over moderate timeframes, such as culture and identity; (c) abilities such as sensory and cognitive functions; and (d) states, which are short-term personal characteristics, such as fatigue and motivation.

Learning Activity: The structure of a learning activity interacts with our individual characteristics to produce a unique context. That is, the design, delivery, and artefacts that create the conditions for learning also create a context, but that context is interpreted through – and altered by – our personal lenses, expectations, and interactions. You can see why we used the word ‘nested’ now!  The characteristics of a learning activity include things like the instructional tactics used, level of complexity, and mode of delivery. These interact with the individual characteristics mentioned above. For example, someone with little background knowledge might struggle with a complex learning experience, even if it’s well-designed. In contrast, a more experienced person might be bored by and lose motivation when exposed to an oversimplified activity.

Human-System Interfaces: Learning activities typically involve artefacts, from textbooks and chalkboards to AI-driven immersive virtual worlds. The experience of using that interface – including its design, usability, technical performance, and fit for the personal characteristics mentioned above – all influence learning outcomes. Even the best designed learning experience, if delivered through an unreliable and frustrating platform, won’t succeed. Similarly, accessibility matters. If learners are meant to access online learning through a spotty internet connection or read a dense text written in single-spaced 10-point font, that will affect learning.  

Physical Environment: The space learning takes place influences its outcomes. From the temperature of a room to the comfort of your chair, the physical space can facilitate or distract from the learning process. This is especially true when considering social and collaborative learning and for learning ‘in the flow’ where we learn as we work. The physical environment is a part of the learning context, not simply the backdrop to it.

Social Environment: Like the physical environment, the social environment where learning activities occur affects their outcomes. The context may include obvious factors like the availability of mentors and quality of peer-learning interactions. It also includes factors that influence an individual’s sense of safety and wellbeing, including potentially complex factors like social dynamics and the tribal context. This takes us into considerations of power, consequence, control of narratives, and accountability as well as the effect of formal hierarchies and structures of control. (But those are topics to explore more deeply in a future post!)

Organisational Environment: The distinction we’re making between the social environment and the organisational environment involves both scale and formality. In terms of scale, the organisational environment affects a broader range of the people involved in a learning experience, such as the instructional designers, learning technology engineers, teachers, supervisors, and (of course) learners. In terms of formality, Organisations undoubtedly have informal customs and cultures that affect learning, that is, the social environment described above but at the organisational scale. In addition, Organisations have unique formal and structural mechanisms, for instance, leadership can create a context of trust or one of fear, learning outcomes can be rewarded (or minimised) in tangible or reputational ways, and individuals’ workloads may allow them more or less (insufficient) time to learn.

External Environment: Beyond Organisations, the wider world context influences learning outcomes too – as is evident in the pandemic’s effects on worldwide education. In addition to public health conditions, many other factors create this high-level context, from global affairs to the Dominant Narratives of a society (which, for instance, may favour certain groups). 

If we map out the context of learning – from generic to individual, from central to distributed, from ‘knowledge’ to ‘meaning,’ and so on – then it’s easy to see how so many factors affect learning outcomes.

And although we can’t necessarily control the learning context, we can bring to the surface the elements that comprise that context and adjust the design of learning activities to accommodate them – and, in some fortunate cases, even modify some of those contextual elements for greater benefits. 

As we consider the context of learning (let alone the complexity and dynamics of nested contexts!), it rapidly highlights one of the broad trends in organisational learning: shifting from the generic to the personal, from the fixed to the adaptable. If we wish to move towards learning that’s more contextualised to individuals and can adapt to individuals’ performance and behaviours, then we need to embrace the  complexity that this change demands.

People often debate “learning styles” – to the extent that it’s become a shibboleth. Hopefully this post helps explain one reason why learning styles are derided by most learning science professionals. The idea isn’t that learners are all the same! On the contrary, people are so unique, with so many different facets affecting their learning experiences, that trying to reduce those differences down into a handful of universal, arbitrary buckets just doesn’t work.

But we shouldn’t be too disheartened. Whilst individuals’ contexts are unique, we don’t have to cater to every variable in every way: rather, understanding these nested contexts gives us a palette to work with. They describe the canvas, brushes, lighting, texture, and other materials we have – both given to us to build upon (fixed factors to accommodate) or as resources we can choose to employ (adjustable factors for us to use as tools). Within the fuzzy boundaries defined by context,  we’re free to be creative.

Within Organisations, we’re always limited to some extent by time and budget. There’s no practical way to uncover, let alone adjust to or address every relevant factor, but even within these constraints, there are some clear takeaways about nested contexts that may help us design more engaging and effective learning experiences.

[1] Some understanding is better than none. Calculating the infinite number of interacting contextual variables is a fool’s errand, and there’s certainly a point of diminishing returns – but that point is a nonzero value. In other words, while it’s unreasonable to investigate the full context, it’s even more unreasonable to turn a blind eye. Small investments of time time to consider the relevant contextual components, conduct some informal interviews, develop shared language, have conversations about context, and observe stakeholders in action will pay dividends because the elements that comprise contexts are the building blocks of the individual (schemata) and collective (paradigm) lenses through which we make meaning – the lenses through which all successful learning takes place.. 

[2] Some action is better than none. Relatively small accommodations for, or modifications to, some contextual elements may have outsized effects on learning outcomes. For example, in a workplace context, creating space for individuals to apply their new learning – say, on a new project – and giving reputational awards for demonstrating learning – like praise in a meeting or the opportunity to teach-back to the team – may make the difference between a fruitful or a squandered learning experience. It’s also OK to ask learners and other stakeholders (like coworkers and supervisors) what they think they need.

[3] Look beyond the curriculum. When designing or shaping learning experiences, think beyond the design and delivery of material – and even  beyond knowledge retention and skills performance. Consider outcomes such as  attitudes, narratives, and cultures – these too can be affected through an intentionally designed learning process. In fact, when you are designing an organisational learning project, it’s useful to focus on the desired outcomes and consider which factors – across the broad context – offer the highest return on investment. For example, is the best investment…?:

  • Building  knowledge
  • Building skill, to include applying knowledge practically
  • Fostering  realistic confidence
  • Encouraging  motivation 
  • Building teamwork behaviours and skills

Or, perhaps, are there contextual resources missing or barriers in place that may prevent otherwise knowledgeable, skilled, confident, and motivated persons from acting? 

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#WorkingOutLoud on the Learning Science Guidebook #3 – Information, Knowledge, and Sense Making

This post is part of #WorkingOutLoud as Sae and I work together on the new Learning Science Guidebook. Last week i shared a post on Information, knowledge, and sense-making, as a note to Sae [it may be worth reading that note before you read this piece]. In this post, i include her response as well as my own evolving thinking. Please note that the work shared here is ‘behind the scenes’ – it’s a dynamic conversation and we are capturing our divergent thinking as well as shared narrative. Errors are my own.

The note that i shared began by considering the well-known data → information → knowledge framework. In it, ‘data’ are the raw facts, ‘information’ is data in formation (that is, assembled and organised in relative context), and ‘knowledge’ reflects internalised understanding of that information. Often ‘wisdom’ is added to the top, as an extrapolation of knowledge with, perhaps, broader philosophical principles and the ability to generalise knowledge to new contexts. 

That classic taxonomy seems to already implicitly incorporate ‘meaning.’ In fact, if we look to Information Processing Theory for a bit of theoretical help, we can conceptualise ‘knowledge’ as information that’s already been mentally contextualised against other internalised information and given meaning from our mental scripts (which are more formally called schemata, in case find yourself playing a trivia games with academics). In other words, once information transforms into knowledge, it’s already passed through the sense making cognitive processes. So, we don’t need ‘meaning’ as a separate bubble on our framework, as Julian represented it in his note.

But…that classic interpretation is unsatisfying from a Social Age perspective because meaning is often – if not always, as a practical matter – co-created. And someone’s personal interpretation and value-laden understanding can be changed (or at least challenged) by social influences and externally crafted narratives, that is, by co-created meaning. An individual’s internalised meaning is affected by collective sense making and vice versa, and those interactions happen iteratively, with knowledge evolving and new narratives of meaning emerging over time.

This can be a rapid process, which is influenced by a series of nested contexts – something that we will be exploring further next week!

NOTE that this is a draft illustration – work in progress – will share updated version next week

In my own work i describe how there is always a tension between individual ‘meaning’ (which i validate by my own rules, and which i totally own – although which is shaped by my personal context and worldview), and co-created meaning (which i can contribute to, but do not own, nor do i own the mechanisms of validation – and which is shaped by our common cultural norms and pressures).

Or to put it another way: co-created meaning is not simply additive of the individual perspectives. It’s a new narrative, containing both consensus, absence and potentially opposition.

Mental Scripts and Individual Meaning Making

Psychological studies, often classified under Schema Theory, have conclusively demonstrated how powerful mental schemata are when it comes to perceiving new information, building understanding, encoding knowledge, and transferring learning into practice. New information, such as the content of an organisational learning programme, is much more likely to be attended to, absorbed, and effectively understood if it aligns with someone’s schemata. Alternatively, information that falls outside of those mental frames may be ignored, confused, misinterpreted, or simply forgotten.

Or to put it another way: what we know may blind us to potential alternatives. Our sense of constructed reality is not simply a view from the window – it’s the very mechanics of the eyes that we see with, and the brain that sits behind them. It’s not passive: it’s structural.

This is something i have explored previously in work on experimentation, innovation and change, which considers how ‘what we know’ can constrain ‘what we may come to know’. May even prevent us from conceiving of the new.

Mental Scripts and Socially Constructed Meaning

The equivalent of ‘mental scripts’ exists collectively too, although they’re usually called ‘paradigms.’ Thomas Kuhn’s classical work on the philosophy of science is a model for understanding paradigms, and although Kuhn was writing about scientific movements, his model translates nicely to collective sense-making in the Social Age. We’ll draw from it here and expand it to our more generalised purposes. 

Kuhn envisioned a cyclical, four stage process for collective sense making:

Local narratives without social coherence: At first, the social collective lacks a shared vocabulary, set of assumptions, or established processes. They’re missing a coherent dominant narrative (or, if you prefer, a collective ‘schema’ or ‘paradigm’). As a result, individuals develop very different background assumptions and interpretations, and without a common lexicon, they struggle to communicate clearly. Individuals or small groups end up pursuing their own ideas, explanations, and methods. It’s a noisy, undisciplined formational stage – with everyone fumbling independently towards meaning.

Julian would argue that a Socially Dynamic Organisation will actively encourage and sustain this divergence, even though it’s less tidy and hard to read.

A shared narrative coalesces – a paradigm is created:  As local narratives coalesce around shared understanding and ground rules – around shared meaning – a paradigm is formed. And that framework gives the individuals within it the necessary context, vocabularies, and tools to function. People can finally work together and build upon one another’s contributions. Where progress in the first stage is sporadic and limited, the collective can advance ideas and products much more effectively in this stable stage.

Again, this is something Julian has been exploring in the context of Change as a Social Movement, to understand how the ‘mood’ changes, how the protest becomes a riot, how the idea becomes a belief, how waves of consensus coalesce around a new Dominant Narrative, and fracture the old ones.

Subversion, challenge, crisis, and change: Paradigms, like mental schema, are the lenses we use to view the world. We can’t create knowledge or meaning without these frames; they’re essential. But they also pose a risk. If the structure of a paradigm or schema is flawed, then it will cause us to ignore relevant information, make bad assumptions, or distort how we see the world. Initially, when flaws in our schemata or paradigms start to show, we tend to disregard those contradictions or move to silence the aberrant voices. In part, this is why innovation and change are so difficult in organisations: When new ideas challenge the dominant narrative, those ideas are rejected and minimised because of our established frames of understanding. Only when an unavoidable anomaly arises – one that challenges the paradigm in a way that can’t be derided or ignored – does that framework begin to change.

One way we can express this it to consider that there is a cost of difference: a cost paid in risk, reputation, power, or pride. All cultures have boundaries of shared belief, even clever and creative cool tech ones with pool tables and pinball machines. It’s always possible to have an idea that may cause you to be derided or excluded, irrespective of the value of the idea. Again we touch upon the notion that there is a space of creative divergence, and space of creative fracture. A place where the coherence of the shared belief, or shared meaning, is threatened, but perhaps without a new coherent alternative taking it’s place.

i’ve started to see this as a valley: we can see the value on the other side, but to get to it will require us to individually and collectively abandon power and certainty, without a clear sense of what will come in return. So we may pause. Staring across at the beautiful view, but unwilling to walk to it.

Paradigm Shift. Uncovering a flaw in our mental models or issuing an edict for organisational change aren’t enough to catalyse a paradigm shift. Even in the face of contradicting facts or an obvious need to adapt, the dominant narrative resists alteration. This often happens in established organisations and communities, where the entrenched codification of knowledge proves too powerful to overcome. Other times, the collective narrative will adapt, evolving to accept the new narratives or organisational changes.

And in the most notable cases, there will be a revolution – a radical change in the dominant narrative through which we understand, communicate about, and imbue meaning. When that happens, the old paradigm is abandoned and another replaces it. One lens of seeing the world is tossed away, and a new one is accepted. (And then we look at the old model and wonder why people ever believed it in the first place!)    

This is relevant in all sorts of contexts within Organisations: at a very simple level, it relates to culture, and change. And how they are achieved through either structural (formal and hard aspects) or social (belief and consensus – belonging and consent) mechanisms. Or, perhaps ideally, both.

But formal and structural work may only deliver a scaffolding: paradigm shift must be socially created and co-created.

It’s relevant to behaviours (which are highly socially moderated), which leads to relevance in innovation (which requires a deliberate fracturing of frames, or Dominant Narratives, as well as synthesis of new frames and beliefs).

Lenses for Learning

Schemata and paradigms are the internal and socially constructed frames through which we understand the world. They enable sense making and meaning making. So, to return to the knowledge taxonomy from the beginning of this discussion: We need to represent not only the internal sense making inherent within ‘knowledge’ but also the collective sense making, which is shown as ‘meaning’ in the illustration. 

From a Learning Science perspective, there are also implications. For instance, good educators use explicit techniques to help learners build accurate mental schemata. These have a proven track record of improving learning efficiency, retention, and transfer. A simple example is to use advance organisers, such as concept maps, at the beginning of a learning journey to show how new ideas and their components fit together.

Another implication is that effective learning necessarily includes a social component. This learning science tenet traces back to famed Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, working roughly a century ago. (His notion of the interplay between individual and collective understanding is sometimes referred to as the Vygotsky Space, and perhaps we’ll dissect it in a future discussion.) The gist of Vygotsky’s work is that we travel through both individual and social spaces in both public and private contexts, and by moving through these iteratively, we build knowledge, capability, and actionable meaning. 

Consequently, two takeaways for practitioners are that, first, a learning programme focused on individuals – without leaving space for the co-creation of understanding – will be ineffective at best. We need coaching, apprenticeships, discussions, communities of practice, collaborative projects, or other social interactions to learn deeply and effectively. Second, for an organisational learning programme to succeed, it needs to fit with – or, if necessary, seek to change – the collective paradigm. 

If we ignore the lenses through which people make meaning, whether individual schemata or collective paradigms, then it becomes difficult or impossible to foster learning, and by extension, to improve performance or kindle organisational change.

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Culture Explorers: Agility, Fracture, Failure

Sharing half a thought today with a sketch i drew earlier for the Culture Explorer programme that i’m currently prototyping. I’m using this to consider three questions: what ‘Agility’ means (and whether it’s about individual behaviours aggregated up to culture – or something given to us by culture), ‘Fracture’ in terms of the edges of systems (even highly culturally coherent systems have hard edges – you can always be excluded for something), and ‘Failure’ (considering the relationship between agility and failure, and the cultural realities (and costs) of failure.

I’m pretty sure this session is not right yet, but neither is it entirely wrong – i think where i want to end up is with the group identifying tensions – what amplifies or constraints the other – and how much is individual versus system.

I suspect the answer to pretty much any question i pose here will be ‘both’ – it’s both ‘self’ and ‘system’, but that’s to duck the issue: if we think ‘system’ plays a role, if ‘culture’ plays a role, then we have to believe that ‘culture’ is real (as opposed to an abstract narrative). But if it’s a more granular and pragmatic view, that the ‘self’ is all that really matters (and the individual decisions we make in the moment, and how they sit alongside those of others), then Organisational culture (and all the efforts that leadership groups put into it) is largely pointless – or at the very best provides simply a scaffolding for action.

I can tell this is relatively incoherent as i write it: you’ll have to forgive me, the baby kept me up half the night. So sharing this as part of #WorkingOutLoud. I have plenty of work on culture that is solid and confident: in this programme i’m testing out new ideas, new language and thought, in line with my broader development of ideas.

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#WorkingOutLoud on ‘The Learning Science Guidebook’ #2 – The Creation of Meaning

Today i am #WorkingOutLoud on the Learning Science Guidebook. This post is a fragment of an idea that i will share with Sae, and explore in our joint writing through this week – and shared as such – imperfect work, notes really, a fragment of thought, in this case about the taxonomy of information, or knowledge.

When we were talking last week, i described some of my recent focus (and language) around the creation of meaning. In this work, i’ve started to differentiate between the transfer of knowledge (as artefacts) into the creation of meaning (a narrative that we inhabit). This touches upon a broad range of other ideas that i’ve been deconstructing or reimagining as part of the broader Learning Fragments work: the mechanisms of creation, validation, ownership and transfer of knowledge, both formal and social, the notion of Dominant Narratives in both innovation and social change, the constraints of learning (occlusion by the known), and the mechanisms of individual and collective sense making, among other things.

Sae pointed out that there is already a clear and accepted taxonomy of knowledge, and that parts of what i describe may diverge from that – so we fell to talking about whether i’m just wrong, or using different language, or if we are exploring a new paradigm around learning. Or just confused (we also talked quite a bit about complexity, and how we have to wade through it…). Note that in this article (to reiterate, a note, part of my contribution to our collaboration) i am sharing one perspective – we will also be sharing our joint writing and draft output here on the blog as we go, hopefully with a new section later this week.

As i sketched the two approaches next to each other, i found myself adding ‘evolving’ and ‘emergent’ against the words ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Meaning’. In terms of knowledge, i normally say that i’m operating at a highly pragmatic level, not one of epistemology, but one of wikipedology… essentially to say that we are tending to interact with socially validated and distributed (filtered) knowledge, knowledge that is ‘just about good enough’, on an everyday basis, and that this knowledge is far more fluid and evolutionary than the types of formalised and codified knowledge of yesterday.

Or to put it another way: whatever ‘formal’ view we have of knowledge, today we tend to be learning in a sea of more granular, adaptive, and highly imperfect knowledge – but also more highly interconnected through the radical connectivity of the Social Age, and hence connected into more powerful (distributed and diverse) sense making community structures (note that i would differentiate between ‘sense making’ as a function, and whether they are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, which itself may often be a contextual judgement).

So as ‘knowledge’ changes (at least in this grubby and pragmatic sense), then the creation of meaning (put simply, ‘what we do with it’), the mental construct of how we believe that the world works, changes too. And emerges to be more important.

Hence why i would tentatively posit that ‘Meaning’ becomes as important (or more so?) than knowledge alone – which is really just an extension of the popular wisdom of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” – although in this case it would be “what you know and who you know, and the meaning that you construct between the ‘what’ and the community of ‘who’).

As a side note: if you are interested in the social co-creation of meaning, i am also exploring that in more depth over in ‘The Identity Project’ – one of which aims is to explore the impact of identity on learning).

A better developed part of this work is that around sense making, reflected here in the notion that ‘Meaning’ is created at both the individual and collective level. This is an interesting point for me, and i would note that collective (or co-created) sense made is not simply the aggregation of all the individual pieces – there is both loss from the individual account, and also a new layer of narrative – overlaid by power structure, social norms, and collective experience of the group. In this sense, collectively generated narratives of knowledge (or meaning) should not specifically be viewed as a truth, except to the people who find them to be true (!), but also that they are not even necessarily true then, at an individual level. It’s far from certain that i will personally align entirely between my sense of meaning, and the collective sense.

Which led me to this: that we operate within both an ‘Individually Constructed’ as well as ‘Socially Co-Created’ framework of meaning.

I say ‘operate’, but could easily have said ‘learn’ or ‘lead’, or indeed ‘fail’, ‘experiment’.

I think that a rich area for our Learning Science focus on this will be in the different mechanisms by which these two things operate: in this sketch i’ve shown ‘Individually Constructed’ as being held in cognitive schemas (which is really a placeholder for the right language about the individual neurological construct of learning), and the ‘Dominant Narratives’ of social co-creation (which is a whole pile of stuff about consensus, cost of divergence, social exclusion, reinforcement, belief, and everything else as a cultural and collective level – psychology and sociology etc).

This is then grounded into ‘space to think and operate’, which is actually a very pragmatic outcome: that our sense of meaning defines our space in broad terms within which we tend to think and operate.

I’ll give you an example of that: the notion of ‘money’ is simply a dominant narrative of society, and yet is so encompassing that it’s hard to envisage an everyday conversation that could escape it’s influence.

The final illustration starts to link out to aspects of learning that we may wish to consider further, such as the role of disturbance, how we handle and react to divergent narratives (which ties into questions of Social Learning and the Socially Dynamic Organisation), and our relationship with ambiguity – there is quite a lot in this one and i will build out further on this tomorrow.

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The Fragility of Power

All power has boundaries, all can be opposed. When we consider ‘power’ within our systems, we often think about gain, about strength, but equally valuable is to consider our fragility. Where do the edges lie, and what can split it down the middle.

Fragility may not be the same as weakness: a fragile power may be an important one. Perhaps power that is held through consensus is fragile, and yet worth having. The power to lead as given by others.

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Just sharing an illustration today: in the new Culture Explorer work i’m running a session around ‘Edgeland’ spaces. These are intersections (in this illustration, the space between the tides), spaces that are neither one thing, nor fully another.

They are neither formal nor fully social, neither rural nor truly urban, neither fully owned, nor entirely derelict. These are the spaces of graffiti.

I use this work to set up the conversation about ‘Cultural Graffiti’, the claimed voices within your system, the spaces where things are whispered. Spaces that can be creative, but are fragile.

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