This week, i’m in Singapore and have taken the opportunity to explore learning, knowledge and meaning from a variety of angles. Yesterday was all about feedback and reflection: today, i want to close the chapter and think about narrating my learning.
We learn continuously: taking on board new knowledge and building meaning, evolving our understanding of the world around us and how we fit within it. This week has been a process of discovery for me, personally as i walk the streets of Singapore and find my feet, and also as a metaphorical journey though knowledge and meaning.
But now it’s time to close the chapter: time to narrate my learning and see what i can take forward. Just as all things start, so they finish and there can be value in closing things down rather than leaving them to wither or grow out of control.
We see this in social learning spaces, where they can become top heavy, weighed down by dialogue and debate. As communities of learning develop and mature, they can become unwieldy and harder to join: as the weight of learning and writing accumulates, it’s harder for new starters to see the wood for the trees. There is no common foundation. Of course, this can be a good thing, bringing in new blood, but often it’s time to have a clear out, to narrate what we’ve learnt and move on, changed by the experience.
At the start of the week, i reflected on meaning: looking at how things have physical properties, but also associated meaning. We used the example of a Starbucks cup, an object with physical, measurable values, but also cultural associations, then went on to look at an ancient language where the meaning between the physical sign and the associated meaning had been lost. So much is dependent upon our understanding of what something signifies that we can be lost without it. To us, an iPad has meaning, but without an understanding of it’s imbued value, it’s just a shiny object. The meaning is not intrinsic to the form, it’s associated. Weight is intrinsic, meaning is not.
Next i looked at how we tease meaning from chaos and how important our perspective is. Whilst walking around the docks, i was struck by how every crane, in isolation, seems without purpose, or rather it just has one specific purpose. Without having a broad enough perspective, the view from above, i can’t get the whole picture. From ground level, i can see a container moved twenty metres, from a broad enough perspective, i can see a pattern of global trade.
On the third day i explored foundations, using the example of Sentosa Island. I’ve been based here at a conference, stuck within the complex, surrounded by buildings where i can’t read the meaning. Everything is artificial, everything the same, with just tantalising glimpses of conduits and backstage areas. It’s a performance, written in stone and glass. The meaning is elusive, detached from cultural connections, or, rather, a product of cross cultural influence. We looked at how to pull away at the cracks, to develop our mental tools to deconstruct the environment to build knowledge and, ultimately, to create meaning.
Yesterday i took on board some feedback. I needed to broaden my perspective. Feedback is essential in learning: it lets us know what we have right and challenges us when we get things wrong. If i don’t listen to feedback, i can’t learn. In this case, the feedback was about broadening my perspective, the very thing i’d explored the day before: judging Singapore by Sentosa is just part of the picture. I need to get out, which i will be doing as soon as i finish writing this piece! The broader our perspective, the better our ability to discern meaning, although our view is always subjective, meaning that the ‘truth’ is always something to chase.
So, as one chapter closes, my focus is about next steps: what do i take out of this learning experience to help shape the next? How am i different as a result?
Taking the time to think about knowledge and meaning is important: they are terms that i use almost every day, but have never stopped to reflect upon. I am fascinated in how the world is changing, how knowledge is no longer enough, how our ability to find things out and synthesise new meaning is a key survival skill. It’s important to take the time to reflect.
I think my main observation is about how far our perspective affects meaning. Something can look very different from a different angle, and we have to remember that not all meaning is visible; so much sits within the cultural associations.
So i have three days to relax now, to get out and explore. I’ll use it to take my learning forward, to see how the real world changes my view of Singapore. Time to move on from this chapter and look towards the next.