The Social Learning Club - a model for a radical, grass-roots education in handling the future

Screenshot 2019-01-18 at 20.43.37.gif

We’re trying to feel out the new social forms and structures that can empower communities and localities, in a age of climate crisis and automation. What do citizens need to know, what skills do they need to acquire, to bend megatech to their ends - perhaps in order to fend off or survive environmental mega-trends? Or defend and extend the human, in the face of the machinic?

A/UK’s Indra Adnan has been exploring the idea of “social learning clubs” as one stage of our collaboratory process. From this blog:

Perhaps we could imagine some form of social learning club that would take us all into another vision of the future? Maybe a citizens’ version of the education that Kaos Pilots – founded by Uffe Elbaek, later founder of Alternativet - offers to graduates to become socio-political entrepreneurs? (There may be susceptibility to such ideas at the highest levels: Mark Carney, the head of the Bank of England, proposed a entirely new future-ready “middle” education process in his recent speech, which we blogged about here)

We’re not proposing this to any existing political party, but firstly and primarily to community actors - those with an interest in finding ways to bring diverse ranges of people living in their locality to learn together. Without that, society will not be able to take full advantage of the change on offer, but will only polarise further.

By the synchronicitous magic of the internet, we have been contacted by a designer who has already stumbled upon the idea of a “social learning club” - and for almost exactly the same reasons.

Step forward Sharon Vanderkaay, and her blog A Simple Path to Upgrade Human Skills: Social learning clubs can regroove our brains for the Robotic Age. Some extracts below:

A common assumption is that the skills we need to outthink a robot will be acquired through top-down, mass re-education programs. But before investing in this approach, let’s consider the merits of a grassroots alternative. Let’s also question how people will actually make such deep-seated changes, and the overarching emotional support required for this journey.

Workers have a history of being attracted to self-improvement clubs, including service clubs, public speaking clubs, networking and book clubs. Our natural affinity for both social interaction and self-directed learning can inform an updated model: the social learning club.

These clubs would draw small groups together to wrestle with real, commonplace business situations. Unlike lectures or debates, what sets them apart is their question-based inquiring mind approach to learning.

Social learning clubs would be free, open and DIY. They would not rely on institutions or the whims of any political party for support. They would provide us with a sense of agency by offering a simple path forward now, rather than waiting for others to take action on our behalf.

Whether facing wily robots, political extremes or climate change, we need bright ideas that might come from anyone. How will we prepare ourselves to do what we’re truly capable of? For generations, opportunities to exercise judgment at conventional jobs have been limited. Despite talk of valuing innovation, rewards for conformity have shaped habits of thinking and interaction with co-workers.

Overwhelmingly, workers have been taught to suppress their ingenuity. Hard-bitten experience has reinforced the expectation that if we care enough to ask questions about root causes we may be labeled a troublemaker.

Changing these self-limiting norms will not happen in a classroom. Mechanistic ideals and patterns of thinking come with deeply embedded emotional attachments and primal fears. For example, developing the confidence, awareness, humility and creative thinking to ask better questions must be regrooved through practice and experiment over time.

Moreover, we need to consider how workers will mentally cope with and absorb the shift in demand to think differently. How will we as a society address technology-driven anxiety, alienation and loneliness?

Social learning clubs would provide a supportive home base and camaraderie. As with other self-improvement clubs, they offer a sense of belonging that has been known to endure for decades, beyond the ups and downs of any particular employer.

More here. We have explored education models through this category - and Sharon’s model reminds us of Francis Seeley’s Global Net 21 community also. We’re looking forward to talking with you Sharon, and co-creating!