Social Media: “The Peloton of Learning”

Making Sense of SOCIAL MEDIA and its Impact on Learning

Metaphorically Speaking

“The Peloton of Learning”

Ten years and thirty pounds ago, I was a pretty serious cyclist. In fact I had competed in over 50 triathlons, and spent many long weekends riding the North Shore of Long Island. As a result of my participation in triathlons, I developed an admiration for cycling, and fell in love with watching the Tour de France. You know how the story goes…I got hitched with a beautiful bride, picked up the sport of golf, had two children (another coming in a few weeks), did my doctorate at Fordham University, and now occasionally look at my bike hanging in the shed.

Let’s focus on the research part! This past semester I completed my doctoral dissertation at Fordham University and through my research (School Principals and Virtual Learning: A Catalyst to Personal and Organizational Learning)I discovered bit of a “link” to the sport and learning. In fact, one could extrapolate this idea to not just individual learning, but to enhancing organizational learning, leading organizational change, building innovative capacity and improved knowledge management.

Drafting as Learning…

In order to illuminate the concept of drafting I employed two metaphors in my research, which are unrelated to education or technology. The first is cycling. Contrary to popular thought, cycling is a team sport. This is especially the case in an event like the Tour de France. Similar to a COMMUNITY OF LEARNERS in a Virtual Community of Practice (VCoP), the peloton, is the main group of riders in a bicycle road race. Riding in this group, each rider saves considerable energy by riding close (particularly behind) to other riders. Some argue the reduction in drag in the middle of a well-developed group can be as much as 40 percent. Similarly, in the sport of open water swimming, with which I have personal experience, if one has enough speed and stamina to keep up with the person in front or the group at large, one will have less work to do, as one can draft off this individual or group. The funny thing is, this is all part of strategy. It’s not considered cheating (although it is not allowed in triathlons).

In September 2012 I had the chance to have lunch and chat with John Seely Brown. We discussed learning in an age of networked intelligence. JSB has been a major inspiration for my work.

Caption: In September 2012 I had the chance to have lunch and chat with John Seely Brown. We discussed learning in an age of networked intelligence. JSB has been a major inspiration for my work.

Following the analysis of my study, I also reflected on my thoughts as a learner. I recalled the opportunity of learning in VCOPs and the “drafting” I did throughout the time in social networking spaces and its advantage to me as a learner. The truth is, these networks allowed me to tap the brains of some of the smartest people on the planet. And in some cases, I was even fortunate to meet some of them or have phone or Skype calls.

As one participant described it in my study:

Not only is [drafting] a skill, but as your online reputation builds, your connection to important people who possess the freshest ideas builds, which has potential to accelerate individuals learning. Imagine if we were to extrapolate this throughout an organization where just 50 percent of the individuals were connecting to their own various VCOPs and bringing these ideas into the core of the organization.

As one participant put it,

Life is just so busy these days; I couldn’t imagine being at this point in my learning without following others in the manner I do.

As shown in my research, an important takeaway from these examples is that we have the tools available today to draft off other peoples’ learning. In fact, one of the more significant themes to emerge in my study were the barriers to using these tools in education.

As we continue to try to understand this new age of networked intelligence, it is essential to equip both individuals and organizations with the most efficient ways to scale their learning. Social technologies are in fact one the most powerful ways we have to access and attract knowledge.

In conclusion, this echoes with what Hagel and Brown (2010) state about learning,

Individuals have got to be supported by a broad array of complementary individuals and resources from which they can pull what’s needed to raise your rate of performance improvement. Arguably, this is a new dynamic in terms of learning for school leaders and an evolving field of knowledge management for institutions of learning.

What’s Next?

The next entry discusses blended ideas, shaped by my experiences with the participants of this study. It is about the risk of both individuals and organizations as they contemplate their participation in the networked infrastructure. As I learned from the participants, many individuals and organizations wrestle with this. I demonstrate that some organizations do not reap the benefits of the “pull,” but in fact get “pulled-out” of the picture themselves.

About William Brennan, Ed.D.
Read more about Bill here – About Me Page

Peloton Photo Credit:
UCI Road World Championships, Men’s Road Race: The peloton nears the circuit in Geelong.…

Hagel III, J., Brown, J. S., & Davison, L. (2010). Power of pull: How small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion. New York: Basic Books.

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