I’ve been trying recently to tease out the lessons we can learn from music when it comes to learning design and the learning experience. We communicate in so many different languages in our social lives, but so very few in our formal work ones, that i feel sure some lessons can be pulled across: ways to structure our communication better, ways to engage in the richness and colour of some of these wider languages of learning. In poetry, through song, in art, we use a richness and depth of expression that transcends anything we do with the spoken word alone, so it makes sense to explore how we can capture some of that energy at at practical level.
Engagement is everything and we know that the richer the communication, the stronger the stories we tell, the more engaging the experience, so it makes sense even at a pure commercial level.
Music is about more than just songs. It’s an act of co-creation where people take different roles with specialist skills and, if they do it right, it creates something special. If done wrong, it’s just noise. Musicians create within frameworks, the framework of the song, just as within learning we structure the knowledge within frameworks of meaning. Social learning is a process of conversation and co-creation, an exploration of the potential meaning that exists within a subject, and as such it has much in common with the co-creative environment of music.
I should be clear that my purpose here isn’t to encourage you to play songs at the back of workshops or to grow your hair long and play guitar (although all of those things are fine). It’s to get us to think about what makes the other languages of learning so powerful and how we can refine and strengthen our own communication as a result.
Today i just wanted to think about the power of coordination: when a band ‘pulls together‘, when they are fully rehearsed and ready to perform, they produce a better result. The apparently divergent instruments produce rhythm and harmonies, the lead vocals and backing vocals come together with added strength and meaning. The rhythm is the beating heart of this, and one reason why drums are important to music! Social learning communities can come together with rhythm and energy too: but we have to support and moderate the experience. The band manages it through sideways glances, through furtive hand gestures, through rehearsal and the careful counting off of repetitions. Even though the music feels free, it’s operating within a structure.
We can design the scaffolding of social learning experiences with an appropriate rhythm too, ensuring that no part is too long, none too short. We can do this through the syllabus design and through the moderation, ensuring that engagement is spread through time and not in one burst at the start and a flurry of panic at the end.
Think about how musicians give each other cues, how we give cues in verbal communication (an uplift of tone to form a question). Now think how that rhythm and pattern is formed in words, in written communication. It’s harder, we lack the visual or aural clues that we get in song and speech. We have to think about how we use questions, how we engage people more proactively and the narrator is a key part of this, the way that the moderator creates a narrative that involves the group, that draws them in.
Narrative is the story that the group is co-creating, it’s our shared song, and it only builds through shared effort within a structure. Coordination does not stifle creativity, it does not block the conversation in social learning spaces, it enhances it.
The point of exploring music is to understand better how we communicate, how we learn, then to see how we can improve all our communications as a result.