Learning together for a change

Enhancing and making more conscious our inherent human capacity for collaborative learning through shared action and reflection will accelerate the changes we must make to survive the Anthropocene transition.

In Western societies emphasis is usually given to individual choices and actions as the way to positive change. Many activists seem to assume that the aggregation of individual actions will create a ‘critical mass’ of opinion that will somehow trigger systemic change. But it is surely the intelligence and effectiveness of what we do together that will determine our fate. Ultimately our ability to survive and thrive in the Anthropocene will depend on our capacity for wise and compassionate collective action. This suggests a greatly enhanced capacity for collaborative or social learning in order to adapt to conditions of rapid change and profound uncertainty.

The global North and West typically frames learning as an individual process mediated by a teacher or some kind of instructional technology. But learning is also a social process in which groups of people share their experiences and knowledge, experiment with different ways of dealing with a difficult challenge, reflect together on the meaning of their experience, and decide on new forms of action.

Learning embedded in relationships is familiar to many indigenous peoples and in more traditional societies. But even in the West decades of research and experience with organisational learning, communities of practice, participatory inquiry, and action learning can inform the development of new social learning methodologies to enhance the adaptive capacity of communities and organisations. These methodologies must be grounded in an understanding of how communities and organisations make sense of their shared experience and collaborate to modify their collective responses. Adaptive social learning needs to be integrated into our everyday social practice at all levels of society.

We will ever remain biological creatures, but we are also cultural beings who create our own virtual habitat and through it share an emerging collective intelligence, potentially much greater than the simple sum of its parts. Finding ways to more fully realise this collective learning potential in the service of the continuing viability of our species within the limits of Earth’s biosphere is a key challenge in the Anthropocene.


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