We achieve more together than we ever can alone. Social learning spaces do not just bring us together to share what we have learnt, they bring us together in spaces where we co-create meaning, where we write a story together. I’ve come up with a map of seven elements, seven ways that we use our social learning spaces to create meaning. It’s not definitive, just a draft, but that what these spaces are all about, building knowledge through iteration and reflection in a community space.
The seven strands of co-creation are ‘refinement‘, ‘shared value‘, ‘editing‘, ‘reflection‘, ‘challenge‘, ‘tempo‘ and ‘vision‘.
In every village in medieval England was a tithe barn. The tithe was the percentage of the crop that went to the church and the tithe barn was where it was stored. As with all barns, it had two doors, the front ones very high, the back ones much lower. The fully laden carts came in the front, piled high, then left through the lower doors at the back, emptied. But the doors were not just to facilitate the passage of carts: with both doors thrown open, the space in the middle was breezy and is known as the threshing floor. The harvested wheat or corn was laid out and beaten with flails, to detach the grains from the heads. The resulting mass was scooped into woven pans, wide, like a scallop shell, and it was thrown into the air, into the breeze. The wind would catch the chaff, the fibrous husk that sits around the grains, and blow it out of the door, letting the grain itself fall back into the woven pan. Repeating this separated the wheat from the chaff.
Harvest and threshing were group activities, where everyone, from young to old, came together to carry out specific tasks. We use social learning spaces to refine our messages: to iterate our raw ideas into meaningful actions. To root out the wheat from the chaff. We do that by throwing our ideas into the wind and seeing what is left behind after the debate. It’s how we refine our messages in these spaces. It’s part of the co-creative process within the social learning community.
Communities share values, it’s what shapes them. If the values differ too far, the community fragments into new shapes. Shared value also sits at the heart of communication, we need to share value to understand each other and to develop more refined ideas. Social learning spaces allow us to share value and encourage us to do so by letting us understand the value of other participants. Shared value fosters cooperation and lets us build progressively more complex constructs, based on the foundation values, knowledge and understanding that we share. This is a co-creative process.
Part of refining our ideas and narratives in social spaces is that of editing things down. We can use social spaces in this function as we rehearse ideas. I’ve been writing about something called ‘co-adaptation‘ in music, it’s about how two people adapt to match a beat. But my ideas are still raw, my stories unrefined, so i’ve been rehearsing and editing them all week in various social spaces (from LinkedIn to Yammer and the pub). Each time i tell the story, i get feedback and i refine what i say. The process of editing makes my narrative stronger. As my ideas reach maturity i should be able to edit them to the point that i can explain them concisely and with clarity. This only happens with careful editing and is central to the co-creative processes at play in social learning spaces.
Within our learning methodology, our understanding of how people learn, reflection is a key but often neglected part. We need to take the learning and reflect upon it, to stand up the new learning against what we already know to be true and to develop our thinking accordingly. We may accept or reject new knowledge, but it’s an active process that takes reflection. Why have i listed it as a co-creative process? Because reflection is not simply about sitting in a quiet room thinking about whether we believe in something or not. It’s an active process that can be embedded in the community. I’m reflecting right now, sat in a cafe, sharing ideas with people through email, through Twitter, even through Facebook. These very ideas i’m sharing have dedicated time where i’m reflecting on what i’m going to say and i’m refining that message through (and with) my own social learning communities.
Challenge is a vital part of learning: it’s something that is done well, if constructively, in social learning spaces. We can challenge ideas, argue our case and co-create a shared narrative out of it. The fact is that some of our ideas are strong, some weak, and appropriate challenge helps us to work out which is which. So challenge sits here as one of the seven ways that we use our social learning spaces to create meaning, to learn.
Tempo has a role too: one of the ways to drive up engagement in social learning spaces is to restrict the length of time that a community space is available, to give it a definite end. This helps drive up the tempo. We can view the range of social media across a spectrum from synchronous to asynchronous. Twitter or forum chatter is often nearly synchronous, virtually conversational. Blogs are more reflective and the shared narrative that we may document and build out of the space tends to be highly asynchronous. It’s more broadcast than conversation. It’s easy to lose momentum in learning or creative processes. Writing the books has taught me that: i have to dedicate time and share my learning with the community to maintain my own momentum, to get the job done. For those reasons, tempo, the ability to give us momentum and take conversations forward, is included as one of the seven things we share in social learning.
Finally, vision. Not the vision of the individual, but rather the shared vision of the community. A desire to learn, a desire to share ideas and do something worthwhile. We come together in these spaces because of the vision, to be inspired by others, as well as to offer inspiration ourselves. It’s also about our field of vision being wider with more eyes: more people bringing a wider range of experience, a wider range of sources, creating more wisdom and meaning. The breadth and differences within community make it stronger. Vision inspires us.
So, seven strands of co-creation, seven things we take from social learning spaces: ‘refinement‘, ‘shared value‘, ‘editing‘, ‘reflection‘, ‘challenge‘, ‘tempo‘ and ‘vision‘. I’m sure i’ll refine this list over time, in response to feedback. It’s part of the way we work together in these spaces, achieving more together than we ever can alone.