All Social is Learning

I’ve been reflecting lately on my brief sojourn into education reform prior to returning to “the world.”  Several things I learned there, including the idea that how brains work and how people interact represent new fields of study to the Field of Education. (With apologies to any of my new Ed friends, please correct me if I heard wrong!) Yeah, I was appalled too.  Turns out it’s called there “The Learning Sciences,” and while I don’t know when it started to gain traction, people in education somewhat recently started to compare the education system we have with the stuff we’re learning from cognitive science, sociology, etc.  Pretty exciting stuff, and I can’t help but compare this welcome attention to interdisciplinary studies to the breakthrough in economics when - RECENTLY - leading economists began to realize that people are messy and don’t have consistent utility functions.  (In both cases, the system failures become a tad obvious using this lens.)

So the world is changing.  All around us.  One meme in education making the rounds is, attributed to The Learning Sciences:  “All learning is social!”  As someone mentioned this weekend on Twitter: The learning that isn’t social, isn’t worth our time studying. This remains controversial - what about human instinct, core behaviors, the idea that some of our personality traits may be inherited?  Surely these aren’t learned! But then we read that an infant, long before she can understand a language, is able to discern WHICH language is spoken by her tiny tribe.  And before she understands that she belongs to the same animal group as her parents and siblings, she can discern individual faces among primates.  Once she learns that she is one of the naked apes, the individuality among chimpanzee faces becomes invisible to her, as it is to us.

Ponder that one for a minute.  Heady stuff.

This weekend, I was struck by a logic stick.  If all learning is social, is all social learning?  We know this is not automatically so, learned that in the intro to Logic, Sets and Numbers (an actual college course I took in the 70’s).  But when we engage in a social setting, online or offline, are we ever not learning?  Let’s add in a third statement: we are constantly learning.  Even while asleep, some research indicates, the brain assembles and makes sense of what it experienced that day.  There isn’t a time when our brains aren’t rewiring themselves based on input from our environment.

We learn something from every experience.  If events occur as predicted, we reinforce that cognitive pattern for the next use (naturally, we have the ability to learn the wrong things here).  If they do not, we reconsider our pattern assessment logic.  We descend the stairs at 3 am differently once we learn the fourth step from the landing squeaks now - and will subsequently do that in another’s home without thinking.

So we’re constantly learning, and all learning is social.  (Is it?  We learned that squeaky stair avoidance thing on our own, didn’t we?  Hint:  No.)

Enter social media!  What is your social media strategy?  Does that question even make sense anymore?  Or should we ask now:  What is your learning strategy, and what role is played therein by social media, happy hours, phone calls, email, downtime, etc.?  If all social is learning, shouldn’t any associated strategy for socializing tools be focused there?


24 Nov: Update, thanks to the great comments I'm getting here.  Here is a another great resource exploring this notion that all learning is social, and questioning the value of corporate training methods as a result: