If learning is so important why don’t we?
In the worlds of academia, business and international development there’s a strong emphasis on learning, but does this enable us to change and improve, or just train us in ‘business as usual’?
Whilst setting up my ‘inventing futures’ website my Mac laptop threw error messages and Apple directed me to the ‘Genius bar’ at my local Apple store (how’s that for product placement?).
Oliver, my allocated Genius, plugged my laptop into their mainframe, scratched his fulsome beard, and concluded the error message was an error. Whilst he was doing this he was constantly dealing with quick requests for advice from his fellow Genies, and also seeking bits himself. He also pointed out a manufacturing fault on the laptop screen and so he logged in my contact information to arrange replacement. Noticing my email address he asked ‘inventing futures – what’s that?.’ I said ‘it’s about creating knowledge which you can use to do things differently and better.’ ‘How do you create knowledge?’ he asked. Looking round me I answered ‘While you checked out my laptop you’ve been constantly sharing information and giving information to each other. It’s not in a manual, it’s stuff you’ve learnt on the job. You and your fellow Genies are creating knowledge.’ Oliver was quite struck by this and said he’d go off and check out the site. It didn’t seem to have occurred to him that they were knowledge creators.
What went on at the Genius bar is a small glimpse of the potential of people to create knowledge. It has the potential to happen in many different worlds, and yet in my work in International Development and my earlier work in Corporate Communications I have been told by many people that teaching and training just reproduce the way it’s been done already, and in doing so tend to make those taught and trained think it’s impossible for them – like Oliver and his colleagues – to create new knowledge and understandings. I’ve started writing a paper ‘If learning is so important, why don’t we?’ influenced by a colleague in Uruguay saying that people facing poverty in her country suffer from ‘Learned helplessness’: in other words the usual style of learning and training specifically leads to acquiescence to experts and teachers, a resignation to the status quo, and a lack of self belief in the ability to learn how to influence and change their situations. If you can’t wait to read the forthcoming paper try out ‘The importance of critical thought for change agents’. If you disagree, agree, or want to know more I’d love to hear from you.