It’s late, too late for a small child to be up, but there are still jobs to do: pouring a saucer of milk by the fireplace, leaving a couple of carrots and maybe a glass of port and a mince pie. Slight concern that the chimney is quite narrow, concerns easily dismissed by parents, explaining that Santa has great experience in these matters. The rituals of Christmas Eve, staying up until eyes fall shut, form strong memories from my childhood.
Of course, they are contextual: grounded in Western Christian culture. Other cultures, other religions, other societies have different stories on different days, but they all share one thing in common. The stories are ways of building cohesion, sharing ideas, creating the myth around the event. They are oral and written storytelling customs that reinforce our membership of society.
Some of these stories are socially cohesive, drawing us together for protection or productivity: some, like stories about witches in the woods, stop small children from being too adventurous through fear and warning.
Communities shape these stories and benefit from their telling, reshaping and retelling.
We learn socially: how to cook from our mothers, how to drive (in my case, from my father, with many arguments), how to identify which mushrooms are edible, how to avoid making embarrassing jokes in our first job, how to do a great presentation for an important job interview, how to cope when we are feeling sad. We do this learning alongside and within our communities, not through formal teaching and exams, but through feedback and support.
Formal learning is always and inherently abstract, distanced from the real world by time and place: social learning is grounded within our realty, it’s the stories we tell around the campfire, it’s real.
There’s a great deal of interest in Social Learning approaches from organisations these days, probably a growing recognition that formal learning can’t always deliver what we want: social approaches fit more closely with how we learn in our real lives and how we best create meaning.
That notion, ‘creating meaning‘ sits at the heart of things for me: it’s about our ability to take pure knowledge (which used to give us authority and power, but is not just hiding on Google in plain sight) and create meaning from it. This is a process carried out within our communities: it’s the iterative mechanism of discussion, sense making, challenge and support that makes it work.
The move to Social Learning may be facilitated by technology, but it’s not about technology per se. It’s about conversations and stories. Because that’s how we communicate, that’s how we create meaning and share it. The power of Social Learning lies in the fact that it’s social: and we are social creatures. It’s about learning with communities, iteratively.