On Google+, Dialogue, and Shared Learning

Earlier this year, I concluded that Google+ is a shared interest graph - a place to "share my interests with those who share my interests."
Now, I'll go even further and say that Google+ is fast becoming the place I go for shared learning.

In using Google+ for shared learning over the past several months, I'd noticed that there are certain conversations with certain individuals that are more conducive to shared learning than others. Over that time, I'd had a gut sense for that difference, but it wasn't until just the other day that I learned a new term to actually describe it.

On David Bohm's Dialogue  

Just last week, while listening to Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline, I learned of a process for creating shared learning, a technique from quantum physicist, David Bohm; a technique called "dialogue."

Bohm had a very specific understanding of dialogue that he used as a way to minimize the "incoherence" of the human thought processes. At its root is the belief that the human mind harbors an enormous number of biases that distort our ability to comprehend reality. Through the process of exposing these biases, or assumptions about reality, Bohm felt we stood a better chance of getting to the truth of a given situation. This is his notion of dialogue.

Bohm saw the greatest potential for dialogue in the coming together of many minds. In other words, he saw dialogue as a process for shared learning.

This is where I started to see the connection between the more useful learning I was having on Google+, and Bohm's process for exposing biases and assumptions as a way to get closer to the truth. Here, it is worth quoting Bohm:
The word "dialogue" derives from two roots: "dia" which means "through" and "logos" which means "the word", or more particularly, "the meaning of the word." The image it gives is of a river of meaning flowing around and through the participants.  
Dialogue is not discussion, a word that shares its root meaning with "percussion" and "concussion," both of which involve breaking things up. Nor is it debate. These forms of conversation contain an implicit tendency to point toward a goal, to hammer out an agreement, to try to solve a problem or have one's opinion prevail.

A Culture of Shared Learning

Debate, and discussion as Bohm describes it above, both have their place, but I have found that personally I learn more when someone is not trying to cram some particular point of view down my throat. I find that I am personally more open to exploring alternative understandings and to uncovering the biases I bring to a problem, when I am working with others who are willing to do the same. 

This is part of what I found most appealing about what Bohm is describing: a shared commitment to helping one another uncover our biases and assumptions, as a way to get to get closer to the truth of the matter at hand. 

A Platform for Shared Learning

I have been pleasantly surprised at just how frequently I find that kind of shared learning on Google+. True, I have been deliberate in choosing the kinds of people I want in my circles, and that has no doubt shaped my experience of the culture on Google+. 

Google+ is far from perfect. There are lots of little issues, such as the inability to apply Google's powerful search capabilities to post comments and the lack of support for group-functionality. There is still much to be done, and yet, I believe we are seeing something important emerge in this network.

Interest sharing and shared learning on Google+ are not domain-specific. Sure, there is a big base of technology buffs, but I've also found lots of people interested in sustainability and social change, in reforming business, in marketing, and a variety of other interests. In this sense, Google+ is a generic, domain-neutral platform for shared learning, one that will only get more powerful as the company expands its work on the Knowledge Graph.

My Learning

The point of this piece is not that Google+ is superior to other social networks, but simply to explain why I am choosing to focus so much more of my time on it, relative to those other places for connecting with people.

I do believe the tool itself is superior, but more than that, I also find the culture superior - for shared learning.

There is a certain joy to learning that I find everyday on Google+, and a certain culture of civility in the way people go about doing that learning with one another. It wasn't until learning of Bohm's notion of discourse that I had a way to describe it. I like his image of "a river of meaning flowing around and through the participants."

I've come to conclude that, while there are many reasons I'm on Google+, there is nothing more important than finding my group of fellow learners, people interested in similar topics, and willing to help one another uncover our respective blindspots.

I've also come to the conclusion that, when it comes to comments and conversation on my pages, I want to build a "culture of discourse" - a place of openness, where people are eager to teach and learn. I don't want people using posts as a way to to show how right or how smart they are - that simply shuts down the learning and exploration of others.

Ensuring is kind of culture takes work. It takes facilitation, and that's something I plan to take a more active stance on - at least on my own posts and pages.

This is my commitment to shared learning - my commitment to discourse.