Social Learning In A Dialogic Way

Earlier this week I joined a discussion group improvising on a theme around Richard Sennett's book Together and his recent RSA talk.  I understand the book explores the nature of cooperation, the evolution of cooperative rituals through history and the politics of the tribe versus the complexity of modern society.  Haven't read it - it's now on the long list.  The Everything Unplugged: Learning Conversation group meets in London every Wednesday at 10:00 at the RFH Level 5 to discuss wide ranging topics from creativity to the learning process.  This week's discussion on Sennett was titled "In a Dialogic Way" echoing Miles Davis.  I was intrigued on three counts:
  • I miss the kind of wide ranging conversations we used to have several years back at London's CreativeCoffee Club (which I founded with Toby Moores) or when the London Social Media Cafe/Tuttle Club was in its energetic heyday at the Coach and Horses or the ICA.
  • The topic of cooperation is vital to the the collaboration solutions I work with and I wanted to learn more about Sennett's take.
  • I don't often have philosophical discussions about dialectic argument versus the dialogic approach and I figured I could learn something.
I joined a group which included Tony Hall, Fred Garnett, David Jennings, Annie Weeks, Patrick Hadfield, Muhammad Khaleel Jaffer, Mark Narayn, Paul Wilson , and Ian McCleave.  The discussion ebbed and flowed and broke in to groups with no formal pattern or organisation - that's the way they do it.  Here's what I picked up:
  • As preparation I read Patrick Hadfield's post on the RSA talk, then went to read a recommended Guardian Article which I discovered had been removed for copyright reasons (how ironic), and should have watched this video from The RSA.
  • At the other end of our 3 tables I heard David J, Patrick and Annie complaining about the Wikipedia definition of Dialogic Learning being all over the place and David thought it could be condensed in to a paragraph - symptomatic of Wikipedia I'm afraid- a lot of good content, mixed with the less good and the strangely edited.
  • There was some serious discussion about how debating in schools leading in to the University structure trains our politicians, business people and journalists in to the adversarial, dialectic approach - it's there from Parliamentary question time to interviews on TV.
  • There was a general frustration that a more dialogic approach wasn't considered more regularly. 
  • Paul suggested that the complication was that even in a small group our size things break down too easily and it would get worse if we invited that large, noisy group in a neighbouring RFH session to join in.
  • I suggested that it didn't need to be that way, and that the social tools, that we are all fans of using, subvert the old hierarchies to help organise in a different way - there are examples of effective non-hieararchical organisations that work in self organised teams, like WL Gore where a group like ours would evolve a natural leader (who you would spot because she/he had followers), but that only works where everyone understands the vision and a common purpose (so I squeezed in a mention for Simon Sinek and "Start With Why").
  • Patrick complained that Gore always comes up but there aren't enough other examples - I agreed, but said there are a few such as Semco in Brazil, and Fred chipped in with Mondragon.
  • I learned a new word - Rhizomatic!  Apparently Gilles Deleuze and FĂ©lix Guattari use the term "rhizome" and "rhizomatic" to describe theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation.  Cool!
  • I had to run away to another meeting at 11:45 just when the discussion got exciting.
This all triggered some great thinking about the learning process itself and how important it is to teach our kids about dialogue as well as dialectic, cooperation as well as competition.   Our education system is in such need of a complete overhaul for the 21st Century Inormation Age, rather than the 19th Century Industrial Age for which it was originally designed.  We need to break away from traditional thinking and hierarchical structures and embrace the network, in our physical interactions as well as on the web.  I'm glad I dropped by for some serious provocation.

Photo courtesy Fred Garnett