Collaboration as Learning? Collaboration IS Learning (or certainly should be!)

9 Jul

I’ve discussed in earlier posts my strong belief that learning is based in discourse. Through conversation, examination, doubt and reaffirmation we arrive to that place where we are confident in our understanding, our knowledge that we’ve learned something significant. Even if it is internal dialog, there is no substitute for point – counter-point.

It seems like a logical extension then, that the waves of tools, systems and organizational necessities to make collaboration more effective would take us a good distance towards learning workers and learning organizations.  But, for many of us, that has been far from the case.

The more often I speak into a triangular phone, the more I stare at the moving mouse of a screencast or web meeting, the less I feel like I am collaborating (or learning!). Why? Peter Senge, the godfather of learning organizations, had an interesting post the other day about this very topic. Real Collaboration Takes More than Meetings and PowerPoints dives into the heart of this conundrum.

The main takeaway of his post is that collaboration takes deliberate effort, and a workplace culture that demands it. Collaboration should not be, in fact cannot be, passive.

Rob Cottingham, via

Rob Cottingham, via

Collaboration is an act, a participation in a conversation that, if well-managed, drives to reveal facts and decision points. As Senge points out in one good example,

Practices for fostering thinking together need to be embedded in meetings as well. Whenever any of these networks meet, there are few “PowerPoint shows.” The vast majority of the time is spent in small working sessions and larger plenary dialogues….

Yes, our old friend dialog. It what makes the first Star Wars movie so much better than all the rest.

Hmmmm…. Active, engaged, participatory, the very opposite of passivity: Gosh, that sounds a lot like what trainers and Instructional Designers say all the time! Right, collaboration is learning when done well. If you have nothing to learn, and nothing to share, then why collaborate at all? The key is to manage the time, tools and cultural expectations to allow learning to happen.

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