picture by jurvetson

Allow for Unlearning Structures

by Augusto Cuginotti

To host learning is to host an event, not people’s interactions. It is what makes it different from teaching, moderating or even most of facilitation work.

The reason is simple: the event aggregates purpose and time-space to create opportunity for interaction. Interaction itself (and learning) are natural and don’t need to be ‘facilitated’.

If you host dinner at your house, friends will come because they like each other’s company. That, and your famous aubergine lasagne, will be the purpose of you getting together. You probably don’t need to set an agenda and facilitate it through for the occasion. In my part of the world, people will expect sitting around the table and chatting as a norm in such events.

Hosting a learning space relates more to the metaphor of dinner at home than going to school, but there are two fundamental differences that make a difference:

  • Your event has a purpose defined by a theme or a question rather than hanging out with friends around good food. If the purpose is crafted and communicated as clear as good lasagne ;), right people will come and join. ‘Right people’ means the ones interested in having meaningful conversations about the theme you’re hosting.
  • As learning has been confined to school, the norm of interaction when you ‘expect to learn’ is that something will be given to you or that you’ll produce something based on someone else’s input. For that, we might want to create a structure that frustrates the norm and invites for the normal.

What are those structures? We can say purpose and time-space (context) are the backbone structure. If it wasn’t for the tendency to sit and receive, that might be enough. But sadly, in most cases, it isn’t. You will have to tell people they can participate, walk away, propose and other things that are normal but foreign to many because it hasn’t been practiced.

To be crystal clear: we are not calling such structures the methods we use in a certain situation. It is not, by any means, a prescription for collaboration by using a technique[1]. It’s not about telling people what to do, quite the opposite, it is inviting for space where people can naturally interact.

It makes sense that structure invites[2] certain behaviours. Stepping into a room of a traditional school and in a space with round tables will feel different, trigger different memories and open (or close) possibilities in people’s heads.

Given a purpose and context, what is the minimum unlearning structure we will need?

  1. So definitely not Kagan-style cooperative structures or what it seems to be the refurbished version Liberating Structures  ↩.
  2. This article was sadly lost in the web – it implied causality, which I don’t think it’s appropriate, but it was good. This is the old link in hopes it will come back: Structure Causes Behavior – there is a couple of paragraphs at this blog  ↩.