“Learning Community” Words

Deborah Meehan led the Leadership Learning Community‘s board through a quick exercise today that was partially inspired by Gail Taylor‘s “love” experiment. She read us a quote from last year’s Creating Space conference, then asked us to write down five words we think of when we hear the words “Learning Community.” We each wrote our word phrases on Post-It notes, then proceeded to cluster our words on a large surface.    (M6L)

https://i1.wp.com/farm1.static.flickr.com/176/454816833_a28778125d_m.jpg?w=700    (M6M)

There were 12 of us participating, which resulted in a total of 62 word phrases. (I split two Post-It notes into two word phrases. One was separated by a slash, the other by “and.”) Out of those 62 word phrases, 10 were used more than once. They were (in order of frequency):    (M6N)

You can see a cloud visualization of the words we chose.    (M6Y)

Some observations:    (M6Z)

  • Only one person (me) wrote, “learning.” Only two people wrote “community.” That could have been because people assumed that they could not use those two words.    (M70)
  • No one wrote “teaching.”    (M71)
  • The value of the clustering versus the cloud visualization is interesting. The clustering exercise (which is similar to an Affinity Diagram in the usability world) is an exercise in semantic convergence. All the cloud view does is match words, character-by-character. Both tell you different things. Both are valuable.    (M72)

If we were to do this exercise again, it would be interesting to do 10 rather than five words. I think there would be more overlap in that case, although the beauty of this exercise is, one never knows. And it would be interesting to do this exercise again with the same group of people six months from now to see if the results are different.    (M73)

Learning and Collaboration

On a warm summer evening in Virginia last July, I sat on Marcia Conner‘s porch and wondered aloud whether we were in the same business. Marcia cares about collaboration, but she’s nuts about learning. If she doesn’t hear the word “learning” in the context of projects she’s involved with, alarm bells go off in her head.    (LJ7)

I’m equally passionate about collaboration and learning, but I can talk about my work without ever mentioning the latter. My reasoning, as I explained that night, was that good collaboration encompasses learning, and the best way to learn is to collaborate. You can’t talk about “collaboration” without also thinking about “learning.”    (LJ8)

Doug Engelbart often says that high-performance communities are experts at CoDIAK — collectively developing, integrating, and applying knowledge. I hate the acronym, because I think it’s unnecessarily esoteric. What CoDIAK boils down to is:    (LJ9)

  • Learn.    (LJA)
  • Share and apply what you know.    (LJB)
  • Repeat early and often.    (LJC)

There’s that “learn” word again.    (LJD)

I still believe that collaboration encompasses learning, but I’ve changed my mind about whether it’s important to explicitly mention learning in the context of my work. Marcia, of course, is to blame. We were chatting in the attic of a colleague’s home last Friday, with her two year old son, Clarke, playing on the floor as we talked, and our conversation again drifted towards learning. I was talking about a project I’m involved with, and I explained that while it still felt important, I wasn’t learning any more.    (LJE)

As soon as I said it, I laughed to myself, because it sounded like something that Marcia would have complained about. Yesterday, as I was reading Allison Fine‘s Momentum, a book that Marcia gave me, I was again struck by how important learning is to my work. I believe very strongly in defining projects concretely and getting things done, but I refuse to take on a client who doesn’t care about learning. I expect to learn from my work, and I expect my clients to want to learn as part of our collaboration. This is not a requirement to be in this business. There are plenty of projects where clients don’t give a damn about learning. They just want you to get the work done. I’ve been offered these kinds of projects in the past, and the work itself is often intellectual, enjoyable, and well-paying. I still turn it down. My mission is to help people learn about collaboration, and I won’t work on projects where that’s not happening.    (LJF)

I’ve already made it a practice to describe Blue Oxen Associates‘ long-term goal as building and facilitating a Learning Community centered around collaboration. I could just as easily have chosen Engelbart’s term, Improvement Community, or Etienne Wenger‘s term, Community of Practice, but I chose Peter Senge‘s instead, and the fact that “learning” is there was a major reason why. I’m currently in the process of revamping our web site, and I plan on making “learning” a more explicit part of our message.    (LJG)

FLOSS Usability Sprint Redux

We wrapped up the FLOSS Usability Sprint last Sunday, and I’m just about recovered. It was a wonderful, wonderful event: thought-provoking, inspiring, and most importantly, productive. The key, as always, was having a great group of participants, great facilitation (thanks to my partners in this endeavour, Allen Gunn and Katrin Verclas), and a great space (thanks to Jeff Shults, environmental and listening master). Also, many thanks to our sponsors, without whom this event would not have been possible.    (ICD)

We accomplished many things. First and foremost, we helped improve the usability of the six projects that participated: AMP, Chandler, CivicSpace, Fotonotes, Identity Commons, and OpenACS. So far, the follow-through with this event has been significantly better than that of previous events with which I’ve been involved, and we’ll be able to point to some very concrete achievements that are a direct result of the sprint.    (ICE)

Second, we explored several broader issues surrounding usability and Open Source software. It was an unbelievable learning experience for everyone involved. Those of you who have heard my Blue Oxen spiel know that my ultimate goal is to foster a Learning Community around collaboration. My claim is that these collaborative learning processes are many times more effective and accelerated than traditional learning methods. They are also better suited for continuous learning. Our participants got a first-hand taste of this phenomenon this past weekend.    (ICF)

Third, we laid the groundwork for what I hope will be a burgeoning community devoted to improving the usability of Open Source software. This will not be a quick process, and it will depend on brilliant, passionate, good people. We were fortunate to have forty of them at our event, and I’m already looking forward to reconnecting with all of them.    (ICG)

I’m in the process of writing up a final report about the weekend’s accomplishments, but if you’re interested in seeing the unpolished artifacts of the event itself, check out the sprint Wiki and the photo gallery. I’ll also be speaking about the event at next month’s BayCHI (March 8 in Palo Alto), and I hope to see many of you there.    (ICH)