Slow Learning for Fast Times
In a world that's rapidly evolving and changing, I think there's a tendency to want to make our learning match the pace of change. There's a focus on activity and rapid development that intuitively seems to make sense, but that in the end may not actually prepare us well for this new place.
Nancy White has a great slideshow, Thinking About Slow Community (via Beth Kanter), that she blogs more about here, here and here. It's about the value in "slow, small and under-funded" communities (especially online) that got me thinking about the value in "slow learning," particularly in a time when so much of learning is about the communities we form and in which we participate.
In this slide, imagine replacing the word "community" with "learning." Isn't this what we need? Learning that:
- Creates time for connection and relationship (especially since so much of learning is now social, less about content and more about knowing from whom to get information).
- That stops and notices what is actually happening in the moment. This is the essence of reflection and being a reflective practitioner. It's what Tony Karrer has talked about knowledge workers needing to be able to do in order to change and adapt their practices.
- Takes time for reflection and self-awareness, both individually and within the larger community context.
- Not too future-focused because the future is unpredictable.
- Looks backward to learn from mistakes and successes.
To adequately engage in this kind of learning, though, we need to slow things down some. It feels to me like there's a frenetic pace going on, particularly online, where there's a tendency to chase the next big thing. We leapfrog from idea to idea without necessarily tying things together or really reflecting on where we've been or where we're going.
I think that professional development of the digital variety, using our personal learning environments and networks, has great promise and opportunity. At the same time, our activities online can easily become a focus on activity for its own sake, rather than a path to real learning. We can get so caught up in building an extensive network that we lose sight of the best ways to engage with that network.
We may also forget to really engage with ourselves and our own ideas as we spend so much time reading and reacting to others, we can easily forget who we are and what we believe. We end up engaging in a sort of "group-think" that we're moving too quickly to realize. This post by Mike Caulfield perfectly captures that dilemma:
What worries me about the modern world is not that amateurs are taking over. It’s that the amateurs might be so soaked in the conventional wisdom of a discipline from a very early point that they won’t bring those needed misreadings to the table that have always fueled progress in the past. That without the silence in between, the conversation will become less varied and meaningful.
Amid all our connectedness and activity, we need to also seek out the silences and the slow times during which our ideas can percolate. Says Nancy,
In the rush to colonize the possibility of community on the internet, with its characteristic speed and fleetness of metaphorical foot, we may have lost sight of the fact that some many of our most precious communities are slow, small and underfunded.
What kind of magic is this? What should we be paying attention to?
Is it time for a “slow community” movement? What would that look like to you? More importantly, how would it make your world a better place?
And I'll add to that--is it time for some slow learning? What would that look like? How might it better serve our purposes?
Michele - Great post. I think we definitely need some "slow learning" worked into our overall approach to learning. I like that you use the word "percolate" - probably because it reminds me of making coffee while camping, which is one of the great slowing down experiences that is still possible in postmodern, post-Web 2.0 life. Like many bloggers, I thrive on the connectedness the Web offers, and the "leapfrogging" that you note, and I think it adds a dimension to learning that simply was not possible before. But we have to have the discipline to turn it off or at least turn it down with some regularity or we risk losing a deeper, and often more gratifying, dimension of learning. - Jeff
Posted by: Jeff Cobb | July 15, 2008 at 07:15 PM
It's that balance, isn't it Jeff? For myself, I find that I seem to go in one direction or the other and that I need to remind myself to balance my activities. I have a natural tendency to seek out the connectivity and the information, and blogging has actually forced me to slow down a little and reflect, process, etc. I've also made a decision to try to stay off my computer at night. I'm usually up working by 6 a.m. so getting off by 5 in the evening shouldn't be that hard, right? ;-)
Posted by: Michele Martin | July 16, 2008 at 07:42 AM
I'm not sure I buy "slow learning" as a terminology or concept. I think there is need to be self-aware - to ask the quick question about what's working or not.
Posted by: Tony Karrer | July 20, 2008 at 10:09 AM