Agile Learning meetups in London

Photo of meetup at the start of AugustHaving taken a few soundings — and please complete our short Agile Learning survey if you haven’t already, as we’re keen to get a broader input — the first meetups are under way in London. In fact, this isn’t so much a new activity, as an evolution and gentle morphing of an existing one. More on that in a moment, but first the key points:

  • Self-organised discussions on the themes of self-organised, flexible, sometimes disruptive (vis-a-vis established habits and institutions) approaches to learning
  • A mix of invited guests, interviews, group problem-solving, themed chats — maximum dialogue and minimum structure
  • Every Wednesday morning, 10.30-12.30 (the first 30-45 minutes is usually the most informal, with introductions and establishing a shared base)
  • Level 5 of the Royal Festival Hall, London, SE1 8XX (free wi-fi available)
  • Free, open and hopefully welcoming to all
  • Details and sign up (not mandatory) are on, including tomorrow’s.

This series of meetups began a year ago as the “unplugged” offshoot of the School of Everything, with Dougald Hine inviting a series of fascinating guests. Tony Hall has been co-host, and the meetings have also come under the umbrella of The Learning Co-op. For a while I considered setting up a separate strand of meetings under the Agile Learning banner, but the momentum and energy favour collaboration at the moment. As you can tell, these arrangements are very lightweight and flexible, so new paths may emerge, fork or diverge further on.

As a form of collective self-discipline, we set aside two meetings this month to reflect on the meetups so far and to plan directions for the future. The photo above (by Tony Hall) is of the first of these sessions, three weeks ago. Given the voluntary, self-selecting attendance at the meeting, I guess it was inevitable that most people had mostly positive things to say about the meetups they’d attended. We talked about practising what we preach in terms of self-organised learning groups. Fred Garnett referred to Mike Wesch’s work on organising groups according to their learning purposes (I think this link refers to that) and the WEA’s Learning Revolution project was also mentioned.

Paul and Russell from School of Everything described their new service to support groups, to be known as “circles”, following the example of study circles in Sweden (appartently half the Swedish population are members of a circle). The educational power of groups and networks stems in part from exposing you to ideas and experiences that you wouldn’t otherwise have come across. We thought it would be worth exploring how the meetup group could itself become such a circle — at the same time as being a meta-level support mechanism for other circles.

This morphed into a discussion of what kind of support — if any — would be helpful for self-organised learning. The reason the “Hole in the Wall” findings get so much attention is that they seem to beg the question of whether learning requires any support, let alone teaching. The Wikipedia entry for this approach calls it “minimally invasive education”.

Where next? Evolution, not revolution. Here are some things we could do in future meetups

  • guest-led discussions — we’ve had great sessions with Pat Kane, A.J. Pape, Temporary School of Thought, Lottie Child, Steve Lawson and others
  • group interviews — in the last two weeks, I’ve done interviews with Tony Hall and Dougald Hine at the Wednesday meetup (these will appear here when transcribed, but I have a backlog), and it seemed to work well allowing extra scope for other participants to ask questions and turn it more into a group interview than a one-on-one
  • review resources and case studies — shall we have a critical look at things like the Learning Revolution resources or investigate what we can learn from the Hole in the Wall experiences?
  • explore and solve problems — people can bring challenges to us and we can chew over how we might go about solving them — for example, I’ve been approached about a group setting up a free school in London, or how to help people learn to build hexayurts in disaster zones.

I still harbour ambitions for an online resource base, curated by a community a practice. That’s for the longer term: for now I’m experimenting with a personal collection of resources at a new Agile Learning Amplify site. Meanwhile, if you’re near London, come along tomorrow. If you’re not, what’s you experience of similar groups and meetups? What would you do to make them work well?

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