start planting

Social learning is a regular topic on this blog and I gave a presentation on the power of social learning earlier this year. The following quotes show how learning from and with each other is a critical part of human and societal development.

“Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” —Albert Bandura 1977

“As part of a social network, we transcend ourselves, for good or ill, and become a part of something much larger. We are connected.” —Katherine Giuffre 2010

“Culture is one of those terms that has lots of different meanings, and people have used it lots of different ways. In the intellectual tradition that I’m building on, culture is information stored in people’s heads that gets there by some kind of social learning—so imitation, teaching, any kind of observational learning.” —Joseph Henrich 2012

“Once humans evolved to be capable of teaching and learning, they developed a parallel evolutionary strand, cultural evolution, side by side with genetic. These two strands intersect repeatedly in many places and times. Each leaves its mark on the other.” —Nicholas Christakis 2019

“We’re a cultural species. More than any other animal, we depend on learning from others. Cultural evolution occurs alongside. You can look at a human and study the genes that they’ve inherited from their parents … but that person has also acquired beliefs, values, practices, norms, languages and ways of thinking from their parents and other members of their community. All of this affects the behavior of people. Culture – like genes – accumulates over generations.” —Joseph Henrich 2022/

Social learning is becoming more important today. As our work becomes more complex, we need faster feedback loops to stay on top of it. It is getting more difficult to make sense of the world by ourselves. Understanding issues that affect our lives takes significant time and effort, such as the pandemic or the climate crisis. We need context to understand complex issues and we can get this from those we are connected to.

The reach and depth of our connections become critical in helping us make sense of our environment and to solve problems. With social learning, everyone contributes to collective knowledge and this in turn can make organizations and society more effective in dealing with problems. But if we don’t share, we can’t collectively learn. The key is that knowledge flows at the speed of trust.

This is where personal knowledge mastery comes in. As knowledge workers or citizens, PKM is our part of the social learning contract. Without effective PKM — seeking, sensemaking, and sharing knowledge — at the individual level, social learning becomes social noise.

In summary:

Technology has enabled communication networks on a worldwide scale, so that systemic changes are felt almost immediately.  The borderless and liquid transmission of information can make for a global oral cacophony. Improving our reaction times requires better feedback loops. Our social networks can play that role.

In this connected environment we need to know who to ask for advice.  Usually we turn to our friends and trusted colleagues for advice. But this group may not have the requisite diversity to help us make informed decisions. So it becomes essential that we start sharing experiences to build trust. Developing interpersonal relationships takes time and effort, and the time to start is now.

Q. When is the best time to plant a tree? A. Twenty years ago

Q. When is the next best time to plant a tree? A. Today

Start planting …

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