Are We in an Age of Collective Learning?

This is a guest post by Rotana Ty from Paris, France, who curates on the subject of “exploring learning” on Permamarks.Ancient Art Community

Are We in an Age of Collective Learning?

Recently, after reading a great post from Gianpiero Petriglieri offering a different view on MOOCs, here is what I tweeted:

Education is not just about skills, concepts, knowledge as commodity.  Also about ties/citizenship.

So, if education is also about relationships and citizenship, how do we harness new learning curves?

How do we go with learning flows?

Learning flows are already everywhere. People didn’t wait for online courses for learning from each other and on their own.


We are moving away from the model in which learning is organized around stable, usually hierarchical institutions (schools, colleges, universities) that, for better and worse, have served as the main gateways to education and social mobility. Replacing that model is a new system in which learning is best conceived of as a flow, where learning resources are not scarce but widely available, opportunities for learning are abundant, and learners increasingly have the ability to autonomously dip into and out of continuous learning flows.


Instead of worrying about how to distribute scarce educational resources, the challenge we need to start grappling with in the era of socialstructed learning is how to attract people to dip into the rapidly growing flow of learning resources and how to do this equitably, in order to create more opportunities for a better life for more people.  –Marina Gorbis

If you want to go deeper you might be interested in diving into the research of the Institute For The Future“From Educational Institutions to Learning Flow.

Trisha Brink Design Vintage Stamps[photo courtesy of Trisha Brink Design]

Collective Sense-Making

I think that Marcia Conner describes very well how collective sense-making and learning are shifting.

How do you define social learning?


I define social learning as participating with others to make sense of new ideas. Augmented by a new slew of social tools, people can gather information and gain new context from people across the globe and around the clock as easily as they could from those they work beside.


Social learning is not just the technology of social media, although it makes use of it. It is not merely the ability to express yourself in a group of opt-in friends. Social learning combines social media tools with a shift in the corporate culture, a shift that encourages ongoing knowledge transfer and connects people in ways that make learning a joy.

– Excerpt from “Where Social Learning Thrives”  (Marcia Conner withSteve LeBlanc.)

In defining social learning, and what it isn’t, Marcia Conner also shares her learning experience and insights:

Learning can easily occur anytime, anywhere, and in a variety of formats. It always has, but augmented by social tools, now it’s easy for others to see and learn from too.


Together we are better. Together we participate with others and learn nonstop.


Every day I connect and learn from people across the world through social technologies. Some of these people I’ve met in person, increasingly they are people I didn’t know before social media. From them I glean new insights about topics I set out to learn as well as get introduced to new topics and related information I didn’t realize would help round out what’s important to my life and in my work.

Dennis Callahan also described in a terrific post how social learning is like gravity:

Learning with and from others fosters an environment that creates the birth of new ideas, connections, products, etc. Think about a positive brainstorming session that you had with someone or a group of people. This creates an energy that propels you into creating something new.

The recent #ideachat on the value of curation with thinkers across many disciplines is a nice example on how collective brainpower is used for advancing and cross-pollinating ideas from diverse and many areas.

The big shift is a learning shift

Since 2009, John Hagel has been talking about the big shift as a“movement from the world of push to a world of pull”. We are moving from knowledge stocks to knowledge flows. Learning is changing becauseways of learning are evolvingin our connected world as J.P. Rangaswamiwrote in this piece :

The ability to observe. The ability to imitate. The ability to try it out for yourself. The ability to get quick feedback. Four critical requirements for learning.


We’re in the midst of a digital revolution. Everything that happens can be observed by more people than has ever been possible before. The internet is a copy machine, the ability to share and to imitate has never been cheaper. Tools continue to be invented to make it possible for all of us to be able to try more things for ourselves than we could ever do before.


This digital revolution is a learning revolution. As long as we don’t waste it. Waste happens when we constrain the ability to observe, to imitate, to try out, to get feedback. Particularly when we have the opportunity to make it all affordable, ubiquitous.


Education drives the solution to so many of our perceived problems. Education is so incredibly accelerated, assisted, augmented by digital infrastructure. If we let it.


We who are here on earth today can make a difference to that earth by ensuring that we don’t waste this incredible opportunity, of using digital infrastructure to enfranchise everyone, to provide the opportunity for all to learn.

How do you keep learning in networks?

Connected Learning

[Infographic courtesy of]

For contributing to collective intelligence, you need to learn on your own first. How do you grow and learn? How do you cultivate your curiosity and self-directed learning? As Jon Husband wrote:

There just isn’t any choice other than continuous learning because ongoing change—permanent whitewater—is our only remaining constant.

So how do you learn faster, better from each other, and on your own? Are you curating smart networksGideon Rosenblatt said:

The way we curate our connections shapes our networks in ways that affect their health and effectiveness.

I think Mark Oehlert nailed it when he said:

Go with the flow…feel the Force…be the ball….focus on building your network. You don’t have a 1:1 relationship with social media – what you should be building is a many to many relationship. Social media is a network, and you need to respond to the output of that network with your own network. I’ve got a strong network that kinda looks like a patchwork quilt.


It’s my responsibility to architect the right network. The cool thing? Me and my network are also part of other people’s networks – at absolutely zero incremental cost to any of us. Start thinking like a Subject-Matter Network.

Across many industries there are many people who think and learn in networks. They are networked learners. For instance, many healthcare professionals are networked learners. It becomes a reality.

I speak to doctors, and they tell me to just what extent they are learning from international peers through social media. –Daniel Ghinn

Are you both mindful and networked?

But among the toughest difficulties for learning from each other in our hyper-connected society, it is the ability to be mindful and connected to ourselves. “Disconnect to connect,” said Tiffany Shlain. If you have time, I also recommend you watch her fun, short and insightful videos.


So being mindful, connected to ourselves, thinking critically, and learning in networks, imply to use our 5 senses in smart and modern ways. Why does it matter? It matters for each of us to be networked and for tribal knowledge because in a fragmented world we need to go deep asNilofer Merchant said.

It’s a fragmented world. And it’s only becoming more so. It used to be that when people wrote, they wrote more deeply. In the early days of the web (pre-twitter), I remember hand picking the few voices I would listen to and then putting them into my RSS feeder and checking for their essays. Essays, not tweets, were the way we shared what we were thinking. But as “content” has become more important to maintain a standing online, more and more people are entering into the fray. More and more people who may not even have a point of view to advocate but just want to participate in the conversation. – Nilofer Merchant


Towards network thinking and networked libraries

As William Gibson said “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” So are we heading to a world of connected learningnetwork thinking, and networked libraries? These words from Greg Satell paint very well the age in which we are living:

I am also meeting and collaborating with people online that I would have never had a chance to know before. I can even gain access to knowledge in other languages through online translation. In other words, I am to stumble over people and knowledge to a degree that wouldn’t have been possible even a relatively short time ago.


And that’s why we can expect life to continue to get better. While earlier technologies allowed us to master energy and matter, newer advances are giving us something far more valuable: They are unleashing the power of human potential.

Explore Rotana Ty on Permamarks:

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