Rethinking peer learning

Chapter Three in The Firm as a Collaborative Community shot down my business plan for disrupting higher education. This is a good thing. Anytime we are formulating an innovation, value proposition or business model, we're making assumptions. We have blind spots we cannot admit to or identify for ourselves. We're trapped by the ways we justify our ideas, plans and intentions as being good for others. We need an outsider to throw a monkey wrench (spanner) into our self-enclosed reasoning. Michael Maccoby did exactly that in this book.

I've been assuming that P2P learning would link together learners who are close in their level of current comprehension and curiosity for furthering their mutual development. Maccoby is a psychoanalyst who has given us great insights into workforce motivations in previous books: Why Work and The Gamesman. He suggests that this latest generation has developed an interactive social character that contrasts with previous bureaucratic predispositions. He makes psychological connections to the widespread texting, tweeting and accumulating of fans, followers and friends online. He's related behavior patterns I call "approval seeking" and "people pleasing" to their feeling abandoned by both working parents. He connects their absence of longer communications and deeper relationships to the the pressure-cooker nature of their own jobs as well as the emotional disconnect from both parents. 

Maccoby cast Gen Y's predisposition toward collaborative endeavors as a weakness. He implicated some of my assumptions about peer learning as a set-up to fail, infect others with incompetence and get stuck easily. He thankfully provoked me to rethink peer learning immediately.

As I wrestled with these new insights yesterday, I realized the peers could come together with very different levels of expertise, background experience and comprehension under development. Yet, they could have the following in common:
  • discovering ways to be valuable to each other
  • learning how each other already thinks about the issues getting explored
  • finding how each other's models for "how learning happens" skews their shared experience
  • collaborating to make the interactions more useful in their own contexts
  • co-creating experiences that energize their commitments to develop further
In other words, the peers would both be fulfilling roles as value providers, instructional designers or customer service professionals. They would be working with the same premises and keeping the same mission in mind. Bringing disparate levels of expertise would not contradict that or undermine its efficacy. A new model for peer learning is emerging from my integration of Michael Maccoby's insights.

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