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Learning About Learning

group learn photo
Photo by scratchpost

Last fall I set an intention to “facilitate learning within groups and between groups.” Since then, I’ve served on an elected body in my community, wrote a user manual for a team of tool-makers, coached a high school student who started a robotics club at her former elementary school, created various presentations and tools, and helped individuals find and use tools for their work.

So what have I learned about learning so far?

Make it visual

A picture is worth a thousands words, but even colorful charts can help. When presenting information that tends to be dry or tedious, livening it up with cheerful colors and images tends to draw people in so they engage more with the information. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people comment on how much easier it is for them to work with the information when it’s presented in a visual manner.

Find good tools

Look for all kinds of tools. There are software tools for organizing information and projects. There are group process tools for learning together in person. Try new approaches. Experiment. Reflect on what happens. That, in itself, is learning. In our community, we divided into groups to explore questions, created posters to collate the results, shared all this with people who couldn’t be there, and discovered even more people who are grappling with the same questions.

Develop the skills of consultation

This is one of the most important skills of our time and it takes practice—lots of practice. It allows a group to examine all sides of an issue and come to a consensus on a course of action:

  1. See the unity in the diversity: Humanity is like the human body. All of us are cells and organs of one organic whole. No cell can live apart from the body and the body cannot function if its widely diverse cells and organs don’t work harmoniously together. When the body is healthy, each cell makes its unique contribution to the whole and the whole provides the nourishment for each cell to thrive. This is an essential framework for effective consultation.

  2. Express your view and let go: When grappling with an issue, each participant in the group must be free to fully express his or her view. Once that view is expressed and understood, the person must then let go of it completely. Now the view belongs to the group. The group then explores all the different views (sorting, sifting, combining, evaluating) to arrive at the truth of the matter.

  3. Support the decision: Once the group makes a decision, everyone supports it, whether they agree or not. If the decision is wrong, it will quickly become apparent and a new decision can be made. But if the group is disunified, no real progress can be made.

Stop and reflect

Learning is about trying new things and exploring and experimenting. But it’s also about reflecting on what happens. I’m discovering that how a group reflects on its progress is just as important.

We are so accustomed to taking an evaluative approach: “What worked? What didn’t?” And for some reason, we humans tend to go straight for the negative. I’m learning a new set of questions—questions that lead forward instead of wrangling with mistakes of the past:

  • What happened?

  • What more does this allow us to see, do, learn?

  • What possibilities does this open up?

  • What capacities are we developing?

Focus on building capacity

This has been a powerful shift for me. When I look at what is happening right now, I see one picture. But when I look at what capacities are being developed, I begin to see a glimpse of our limitless potential as human beings. What may seem like a small act, could be the spark that lifts a person (or a group) to a whole new level of functioning and opens up possibilities that were completely unimaginable yesterday.


So this is my own reflection on my learning. What are you learning and how is it unfolding for you? What has surprised you? What is emerging? I’d love to hear your story—leave a comment below.

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