A wonderful thing has been happening in organizations about learning - the idea of learning is shifting from the tradition of “learning in private” to “learning in pubic”. Learning in private was what we all did in school; remember “don’t look at your neighbor’s paper, write your own essay, and no whispering during test taking.” Learning was seen as an individual pursuit, and that attitude carried over to how we thought about learning in the workplace. When employees are rewarded for their expertise there is some need to keep private those things that they do not know.
However that traditional idea is giving way to “learning in public.” In part, we can credit Web 2.0 and the general increase in transparency that it has engendered through social media like Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.
But learning in public is also coming about because of the work KM professionals have done in organizations. As KM professionals we have enabled transparency by implementing knowledge sharing processes like peer assist, collaborative workspaces, communities of practice, blogs and wikis. These have made it acceptable to say, “I don’t know” about an issue or problem and to ask others for help. When professionals acknowledge not knowing and reach out to a colleague, it not only opens the requester to learning, it signals to others that they can acknowledge that there are things they don’t know - it begins to change the culture. We see a willingness to “learn in public” among professionals, be they scientists, engineers, analysts, or physicians. We see teams and projects learning in public through AARS and Retrospects. We see whole systems learning in public through practices like appreciative inquiry, knowledge cafes and a host of other whole system processes.
We are also learning in pubic when we engage in in-depth conversation. Elsewhere I’ve defined conversation as: when each person is actively working to understand the meaning the other is trying to convey. To understand another’s meaning often requires us to ask questions about the other’s reasoning, ask for examples, and paraphrase what was said to check if we now “have it.” All of which takes time. So part of learning in public through conversation is a group’s willingness to make a time commitment in the interest of learning and understanding. That’s a change for many groups where the norm has been - when hearing an idea from a colleague, but not quite clear about what he/she is trying to say, just let it go and move on to the next statement. Increasingly I see a willingness to engage in the in-depth exchange that is necessary if we are to create new knowledge together. Conversation is a “learning in public” tool – maybe one of the best.