In this final extract from my new book on ‘music in learning’, i’m looking at learning communities and exploring how we come together to learn. I have completed the first draft of the book this week and now starting the (for me, harder) process of editing it and refining the messaging…
I’m very interested in learning communities: they serve various purposes, primarily challenge and support, but they are not static. Just as the lineup of a band changes over time, reflecting it’s current priorities and style, so learning communities evolve. And just as the Beatles broke apart in a blaze of creative tension, so too do learning communities. These things are not permanent: nothing lasts forever!
I guess one can view a band as a journalistic endeavour, one that looks to make sense of the world around it. Let’s just think about that process, about how we experience the world, shape our thoughts and then tell a story about it.
We come together in social learning spaces for a variety of reasons, but we see patterns of behaviour. We bring knowledge, facts, figures, we bring experience and we bring desire. Within the boiling pot of these spaces, we try to create meaning. This is an iterative process where meaning is emergent. Meaning is not like a gold ingot, hidden and waiting to be discovered, but rather it is like a song, crafted through effort, created from nothing, informed by the inputs, but more than the sum of the parts. There may be a sociopolitical background the John Lennon writing Imagine, but the song itself is more than this. It was not inevitable that the song would be created, but it couldn’t have been created without that background.
Musicians put themselves into their music, it’s part of who they are and deeply personal. We see this in writing too: first novels are often about the personal experiences of the author, indeed, i start this book with a personal story (because i know that we connect with stories: i cynically assume that you will connect with me more closely through a story than you would if i started it with a series of ‘learning objectives’. I am trying to pique your curiosity to learn how the story turns out).
So it’s a complex dynamic: songs are certainly creative affairs, moulded by experience, gestated over time, but rarely constructed in isolation. They evolve, especially through the retelling (one reason why the live performance of music is so important to it. Indeed, there is a very interesting debate about whether live music or recorded music is the most powerful form.
Songs are stories and stories are songs, hence their power. The community is part of this: the community of musicians that shape and craft the story and the community of fans, the audience, who listen to it. But the audience is not passive, they are part of the wider community that includes both band and spectators. The roar of the crown spurs the musicians on to ever greater feats of storytelling.
So there is commonality between the types of social learning spaces we use at work and the community of music: both are dynamic spaces, both are used to create stories and to share them. Both are subject to the creative tensions inherent where groups of people learn together and both can thrive or explode dramatically around creative tensions!
All of this starts to take us a long way away from the traditional and (in my view) highly outdated model of learning where the teacher sat at the front with all the knowledge and tried desperately to drum it into you sat at the back of the class. The difference between the old, static and staid model of education like that and what we experience in the very best social learning communities is the same as the difference between a live performance of the 1812 overture, with cannons, in the Royal Albert Hall and the same piece of music listened too on my new headphones whilst driving the car in a hailstorm: its a pale imitation.
The model of learning that i aspire to professionally is more akin to the gig experience: energy, feedback, a story created by the community, shaped by the musicians, but experienced by us all.
But is this fanciful? of course: but why not dream. The important part is this: music is a communal activity, music is powerful, it’s a language of learning that draws us together. Music is more powerful than text or just the simple spoken word, so why don’t we try harder to bring it into the space of formal learning?
At at time when interest in the role of the personal learning network is growing, at a time when social learning, continuous learning, is becoming the norm, at a time when our relationship with knowledge is changing, we need to be bold, to think in new terms about how we communicate and how we learn.
“Not sure if it’s changed me as a person as I’ve been playing in bands for 20 years but it’s certainly made me a lot of amazing friends and given me opportunities to do things I would never have ordinarily done.” [Mike Hamling]