Social learning is back on the menu.
It’s always been around but somehow the social media age and the increasing recognition of the complexity we have to put up with all point forcibly to the social nature of learning.
And social learning is no easy task. It means grappling with others, getting hands dirty in negotiations and in collective problem-solving. It is about investing in future good, not immediate return on investment, even though early wins are a plus.
If social learning is the important paradigm of the day, what are the important characteristics of a social learning hero? An extension of the modern knowledge worker?
Here’s what I think a social learning hero should gather, in terms of gifts/skills and of attitude. And by social learning hero I don’t mean to describe the function of the facilitator of a social learning process which requires a very specific set of attributes. I’m interested in looking at how various people could engage successfully in social learning if they gather the right skills and attitude – and I’m not bothered with the knowledge and experience of a specific field here. You will see that there is some overlap with a knowledge worker.
Gifts and skills:
- A capacity for strategic visioning, looking at the big picture in the longer term, to be able to map the different agendas and factors that may play out…
- An ability to understand different accents, perspectives, and to reformulate what s/he heard to ensure s/he has understood what others meant;
- A synthetic mind to summarise the various perspectives, identify patterns in those and possible win-win solutions;
- Negotiation and conflict resolution skills (following the simple lessons of books like ‘Getting to Yes‘) which help avoid dead ends when interacting with others and offer solutions in case real confrontations happen;
- An open heart giving the emotional capacity to connect with others at a deeper level and build real trust authentically;
- Outstanding interpersonal communication skills to express oneself articulately so as to share knowledge more effectively and have the possibility to get in touch with a variety of people (see point 1);
- Good ears and eyes to pick up the signals around (and question them);
- A solid understanding of the learning process and all its dimensions to shape a strong social learning process;
- Ideally, good facilitation skills to be able to contribute to organising the process of collective sense-making and problem-solving, with simple methods such as planning the purpose, harvest, actions and invitations.
- Another bonus would be the ability to work with social tools, as this strengthens face-to-face interactions (more about this in the Social Media Guide for African climate change practitioners).
- Empathy and openness to others, in the sense of welcoming others (including going out of our comfort zone) wanting to understand other perspectives and inquiring about the values, advantages, challenges of those perspectives;
- A true curiosity to try new things out and add them to an array of experiences;
- Humility to accept that one’s perspective is thus not better than another one’s or at least that other perspectives have potentially something to teach ourselves too;
- Flexibility to keep a sustainable negotiation standpoint – and accepting that not everyone is and can be equally flexible all the time;
- Clarity about what one expects from the social learning process while keeping attention for the balance with others’ needs and wills – perhaps mixed, as with the modern knowledge worker, with a vision of one’s own development pathway and next priorities;
- Reflecting in single, double and triple-loop learning, in practice;
- Intellectual and moral integrity and respect for oneself and for others, preserving the trust of others and perhaps stimulating inspiration from others.
- Generally, and this is perhaps the most important, a true will to find one’s goal in a collective adventure – a genuine balance between individual and collective good.
- A bonus might be to be optimistic (but not naive), positive (though not frantically) and funny, to let humour grease the wheels of social learning…
A lot of these characteristics are also a must for multi-stakeholder and other social learning processes but they also need to possess additional traits. More about this in the future? Once again this is another ideal picture, not a typical profile that is easy to find around the world. But social learning we must be doing, and we might as well work on it from now on.
Related blog posts:
- Portrait of the modern knowledge worker
- At the IKM table: linearity, participation, accountability and individual agency on the practice-based change menu (1)
- Communication, KM, monitoring, learning – The happy families of engagement
- Complexity in multi-stakeholder processes – how to manage, facilitate or navigate around it?
- Development, between results and relationships
- Stop judging and move on, because we all do (follow the seeds of change)
- What is learning