Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Accidental Learner - Shaping by Life

I always enjoy #pkmchat although I think it's ironic that one of my favourite chats is one where they use one of the words I have the biggest issues with in the learning world; that word is knowledge (pkm is personal knowledge management - a concept I chuckle at too truth be told). It was a funny discussion today listening to really intelligent people trying to work out what they intentionally 'forget' in order to get over the capacity issues of our brains.  What a daft concept when you think about it. Consciously trying to forget things to preserve 'memory' space.  The problem though, as I have regularly mentioned in the past, is that firstly knowledge isn't a thing, much less a simply quantifiable thing of set storage size.

I used the word 'shaping' today to talk about what knowledge effectively does.  Knowledge is an entirely relative thing; it's not something that's fixed and can be stored in the same way we store a physical thing like a CD or even data like an mp3. What knowledge actually is really only noticeable by its effects rather than the 'thing' itself.  If the analogy we were using above with music was extended, it would be like saying that the knowledge is the experience of listening to the music rather than the music itself. Maybe think of it as a live music event.  You can record and playback the event but it's not the same as the experience that you would have if you were there.  Furthermore the experience you would have when you were there would be different to somebody else and you can't bottle up that experience no matter how high the fidelity. Memory plays a part and listening to the same song streaming 10 years later will bring some of those feelings back, but again what has happened to you since will have an effect on that, your experience has been shaped by what you started with and what other things have happened to you on the way.

Forget knowledge, start thinking of learning.  Learning is the shaping process of our life; a combination of experience, knowledge (if I must), emotion, DNA and relationships.  We often use the analogy of a pool of knowledge, we need to replace that idea with a stream of learning.  The important thing is to not to try and catch the water because it's not the water that holds the value but the flow itself.  Nick (@technkl) today said we were the rock in the stream and I think there's some value in that.  We're not there to capture the water but to be shaped by it as it flows over and through us.  We can seek different streams but the thing that will make the biggest difference to us is the effect that stream has on us.  In other words if you want to change the shape, then you can only really change the rock.  What I mean by this is that it's your attitude that shapes the way you learn, far more than the stream you happen to be in.

One challenge I did get was that my way of seeing learning as a shaping brought upon by a number of factors was just what you might categorise as 'life'.  Well I can't disagree, many times you'll hear me say that learning is pervasive and you really can't separate learning from living as they are intertwined at the very least.  Just like our rock in the stream, life will happen, it's our attitude and the way we chose to act that shapes our learning and indeed ourselves.

So why the accidental learner? Well, the big thing is that whilst we may pick and choose the odd stream of learning we dive in to most of the time we're just living and if learning seems accidental that's no major surprise.  Again though, how we approach life and the things that happen to us will determine how much we learn and in turn what we get out of life along the way.