An Unexpected Insight

It’s been a week of many insights, but only one  huge surprise.  The connections between my learning theory and theories of leadership that Elmore’s matrix made clear?  Not a surprise.  The sudden insight about why it’s been increasingly painful and difficult to do good work in factory-model schools?  Not a big surprise.  Once I had the language (hierarchical individual approaches to learning and leadership in factory-model schools meet distributed individual/collective approaches in me), it all made sense.  The popularity of something I wrote yesterday when Scott McLeod picked it up and shared?  A happy surprise, but not huge.

No, the huge surprise and unexpected insight “just happened” in the Google+ conversation about my blog post yesterday. I began when I started really engaging with Debbie’s comment:

I use the simple W’s as my framework:
WHO … who is involved? providing? receiving? supporting?
WHAT .. what is being provided?
WHERE .. where will it take place: the creating? providing? receiving?
WHEN .. when will it take place: the creating? providing? receiving?
WHY .. why am I doing this? why is it important? to the receiver? to me?
HOW .. how will the process work? the ins & outs of it all?

distributed approach to learning involves providing a space and place and some tools for participants to use.  It starts with a welcoming environment, a “third place” where you feel welcome, where you’re encouraged but not required to get to know others, where you can share and create things together, but nobody is making you do it.  “The concept,” says Wikipedia, “has become popularized and has been picked up by various small businesses, including as a name for various locally owned coffee shops.”

I still didn’t quite see it, though I spent hours working in the coffee shop at the Local Bookstore Tuesday afternoon.  Meg asked,

… have you stopped by the local basketball courts and boys’ clubs and talked with some joyful kids? I think they are your User Group. All good systems’ design begins with the messy business of asking the users.

And I knew she was right about the user group, but the “basketball courts and boys’ clubs” aren’t where those potential joyful learners are found.   At least not in the small towns that seem to be calling me.  Not on a hot summer day in 2014.  There isn’t a Boys and Girls Club at all in one town, and the basketball courts?

In this age of high anxiety on the part of parents, those basketball courts in These Parts are either deserted or full of somewhat older joyful learners.  Different fears motivate different groups of parents, but the end results across demographic lines are sadly similar: few if any physical locations for joyful learners to hang out, so they tend to congregate in virtual spaces by default.  Yes, and (as they say in improv) … that’s precisely the opportunity that’s staring us in the face.

I’ve been reading danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated, and I had just reached one central point: teenagers hang out in virtual spaces not because they have some particular presence, but because there aren’t many physical spaces available for them … and because many parents are fearful of the physical spaces that are available.  But I still didn’t quite have the huge surprise or the unexpected insight.

That came later, after Brendan suggested that

Taking steps to have that entire population — or as many as possible — in one online space and following the momentum toward options in their area — as well as online — could really make the difference in how quickly all of this could come together….

But Brendan, I thought, access to online space is part of the problem!  As I tried to explain how and why, and tried to clarify why a model of non-profit groups coming in from outside would fail disastrously, Mark “just happened” to put into words what I was starting to realize:

Your description of those areas you visited reminded me of another potential for monetization and catching customers.

Public libraries are being faced with the issue of remaining relevant in times where there is free flowing information for everyone. Community has always been a part of their offering but they have forgotten that piece over the past 30 years. They are trying things like selling coffee and letting people check out Kindle books and Audible audio books.

If you could find a small storefront with a large parking lot not being fully utilized, you could open a coffee shop that provided a place for skateboarders and people looking for good coffee. From this there are many different directions that lead to what you are trying to do. This would be the honey pot method for catching customers.

And that’s the huge surprise and the unexpected insight.  Build a place that provides coffee, community, and conversation … and some other tools that “just happen” to provide opportunities for joyful learning communities to form around building meaningful things together.  Have it open in the afternoons, early evenings, and other times when there’s a real scarcity of safe, welcoming places for All Those Kids to go.  Build out from there, when the time is right, with various types of memberships that the community will probably design together.

Why does it seem so obvious now, when even 24 hours ago it all seemed so unclear?

And why couldn’t I see the connection to a simple thing, a decade or so ago, that really started to build joyful learning community in my classes?  I had “just happened” to buy one of the early one-cup coffee makers, and students (and a few colleagues) “just happened” to start bringing in the pods, the cups, and the Other Stuff that some people like to put in coffee.  And before long, there was a joyful community … and I didn’t even know why or how.

But now I do … and now the next steps are becoming clearer.  I wonder what other new discoveries await as the journey continues!

Published in: on July 17, 2014 at 3:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

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