To Bring Back the Talking Heads or Not

An association executive in a listserv post this week longed for the good old days when experts shared their knowledge and audiences listened. He called for a “radical new seminar design concept called RS or ‘radical silence’ where subject matter experts share what they know and attendees gain new information by hearing and thinking with an open mind. 

He later admitted his post was tongue-in-check and a reaction to a bad experience, but he questioned whether the pendulum has swung too far away from expecting instructors to actually offer content.  He observed that “sitting through another elaborately facilitated but content-free learning experience” had made him nostalgic for the “bad old days”.

I pay sharp attention whenever anyone asks if the pendulum has swung too far on what was once considered a good idea. Good practices can turn into bad ones when they are executed badly or overused.

I have a five-year plus history of championing collaborative learning as an effective practice in adult learning. Is the unintended consequence that we are now confronting a proliferation of content-free learning experiences?  Or did this executive just have a bad experience?   

His observation provoked me to reread the Signature Insights archives on collaborative learning. What do you think? Is collaborative learning still an effective practice or have we gone too far in favor of a misguided group grope when experts could set us straight?  I still believe there is more that is right with collaborative learning than is wrong.

Valuing Collaborative Learning for Leading Change describes my philosophy of learning.

Easing Content Experts into Collaborative Learning offers a collection of tips to help subject matter experts better meet participants’ needs. Nowhere does this suggest instructors can show up empty-headed or holding back what they know.  

The Hard Work of Collaborative Learning acknowledges why we have poor execution in associations and what some solutions might be. “Collaborative learning does require much more from everyone at the outset. What we gain is a capacity to learn together that should prove immeasurable in creating knowledge, overcoming challenges and innovating for the future.”

When Learning Happens in Committees posits that volunteer experiences can be less task oriented and serve as learning opportunities about difficult and challenging issues.

 A Brief Scan of 21st Century Learning Opportunities forecasts the learning competencies we will need as individuals and organizations. Few of these can be developed through passive listening.

Four Critical Changes Shaping the Future of Association Learning offers a 2009 forecast about collaborative learning, learning technologies, outcomes-based learning and unbounded learning. It is still playing out today.

Moving Beyond Personalized Learning into Personal Learning Ecologies promotes personal responsibility for learning and suggests we look for personal education advisors and learning journey mentors who can help. There’s an implied opportunity in this for associations.

Association Learners Want to Learn from Each Other relies on survey research showing association learners want to learn from other practitioners and have a strong interest in collaborating and sharing knowledge.

Yes I do have a serious and lively interest in adult learning and how associations can excel at supporting it. We have everything that adds value to gain from good learning.  Members consistently rate this as a key reason why they join associations. Society benefits when individuals, businesses and organizations are performing at their best.

Learning does not need radical silence. It demands radical commitment and collaboration by everyone—associations, content experts and learners--to do learning well in all its forms.