Sunday, 13 May 2012

No talking in the classroom!

I've recently observed just how much my children share and collaborate as part of their own learning at school. My 11 year old is fortunate enough to find himself in a group of like-minded smart kids. His teacher has a wealth of experience and a talent for creating a learning environment, often centred around group activity, where talking and energetic conversations are the norm. This is in stark contrast to the oppressive classroom etiquette that I endured through the 1970s!

I recently commented to a few friends recently - what can you really 'teach' a bunch of smart kids anyway? Isn't it more about creating this fertile collaborative environment, rich with competing ideas and lively debate, including peer assessment of each other's efforts in a positive spirit.

Yes the teacher does guide the children's learning to a considerable extent. However, once kids have consolidated the fundamental 3R's, surely the teacher's role should look more like a facilitator. This type of learning will increasingly revolve around kids pulling the learning to meet the demands of interesting, relevant challenges. Sharing and collaborating then become a key strategy for kids to solve complex problems, not unlike the work they may undertake in the future.

My 13 year old has taken this collaborative approach to learning a step further by utilising social media. I was surprised to hear about a study group on Facebook. The students are using Facebook out of school to work through problems set as homework. To some extent this learning strategy was borne out of a need to compensate for perceived shortcomings in the classroom. The teacher is unaware of this study group on Facebook and it's interesting to see the power of social learning grow organically across a group of connected people.

This collaborative learning, commonplace across this generation of children, and further enhanced by social media tools, provides a strong platform for the workforce of the future. The value of collaboration and the emerging social tools should also be a model for learning at work. The potential influence of these digital natives on the way people should learn at work now and will in the future, is exciting and thought provoking.

So what is 'collaboration' and how does it fit with 'sharing'? I think that sharing and collaboration form some sort of continuum between a simple exchange of resources and high level interaction that translates into a solution.

Although most of us crave connection with other people, even those of us who are introverts, it's challenging to create an environment at work that leads to a collaborative culture. I believe a major challenge for developing a collaborative workforce is management consent to explore your work with others.

Managers need to embrace a paradigm shift from a position of supervision and control to the role of leader and facilitator. This transition is going to be difficult for managers with a perception that sharing and collaborating, particularly with the enhancements possible with social media tools, is too spontaneous, disordered and chaotic. It's difficult to control and surely all this conversation distracts people from their real work!

On a macro-level it's a shift from 'organisation as a machine' to organisation as an organism where a business is designed around networks of connected people. The wirearchy is replacing the traditional hierarchy by introducing collaboration-based knowledge work that incorporates the Web and social media tools.

Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner in The New Social Learning highlight the dimension that collaboration brings to learning and performance in the workplace :

"Training often gives people solutions to problems already solved. Collaboration addresses challenges no one has overcome before."

Let's not have a 'no talking in the classroom' mentality at work - let's enjoy the richness of sharing at the highest level.

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