The Learners vs. The Learned: Which one are you in 2013?

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The Learners vs. The Learned: Which one are you in 2013?

This past summer I had the very fortunate opportunity (with my good friend and colleague @triciainter) to spend two days with the fine people of Miles College talking about Leadership and Learning in an Age of Networked Intelligence.

It was a wonderful trip for me, especially since I got the chance to learn with the faculty at Miles College and even spent some quality time in the city of Birmingham with Dr. Emmanual Checkwa, Dean of Academic Affairs.

Following my opening address on day one, we were welcomed by Miles College President, Dr. George T. French, Jr. who provided an incredibly thought provoking back-to-school address. Dr. French, an incredibly energetic and inspirational speaker, spread the importance of being constantly engaged in learning. He so clearly articulated the need to be “open” to using technologies in new ways with their students, while highlighting the urgency to do so.

One of Dr. French’s statements resonated with me that day, and it resurfaced a few months ago while I was writing an essay about Principals’ Participation in Virtual Communities of Practice (VCoP) and Organizational Performance. As he got to the end of his talk, Dr. French argued there are two types of people in this world. He so passionately stated, there are “The Learners” and then there are “The Learned.” He paused for a few seconds, and you could hear a pin drop in that room.

Caption: I stumbled upon this today

and it reminded me of the words of

Dr. George T. French, Jr, President

of Miles College in Birmingham, Alabama.

One of the reasons this resonated with me for so long, was not just that he understood what was needed to thrive as an institution of learning, but he provided numerous examples of how he and the rest of his administration would support faculty in their own journeys of learning and experimentation in the classroom.

As I continued to think about this, I found myself wondering, what happens to “the learned” individual or “the learned” organization?

In my research this summer, and in a recent blog post, I referenced two metaphors (The Peleton and Rip Current) to capture the essence of learning in VCoPs and the impact of being “the learned.” In a blog post titled, “Social Media: The Peleton of Learning,” I argued the significant advantages participation in VCoPs has on one’s learning and the learning of the organization. To enhance the readers’ understanding of my interpretation of what happens to “the learned,” I reference the commonly known and dangerous condition in the ocean called a Rip Current.

I’ve spent many years on the beaches of Long Island, which is how I arrived at this metaphor to illuminate the impact of being “the learned.”

I offer the metaphor of a rip current to make a distinct connection between how individuals and/or organizations react to this mode of learning and the outcomes of those that do not. One often hears about these currents on warm summer days when the surf has been kicked up by an approaching storm. Unless someone is an extremely strong swimmer, the recommendation is those individuals in a rip current should not fight it, but instead remain calm, maintain awareness of your surroundings, and attempt to swim parallel to the shoreline.

This reference came to mind after scrutinizing my research data and identifying where the principals often described the powerful learning taking place in these spaces. In fact, the rip current of resistance can easily drag those who fight the new technology out to sea.

I believe a rip current is an extraordinary metaphor for how individuals and organizations perceive and react to this new age of networked intelligence. While many have successfully pulled away from this undercurrent of resistance and came out strong on the other side, some individuals and organizations struggle in the current, floating around, and possibly even drowning.

I’m encouraged by the words of Dr. French and also by the stories shared by many of the principal’s with whom I interviewed this summer for my research. I can’t think of anytime in history where it’s not only been so important to a learner, but also the amazing opportunities that learning via “the network” presents. As we start a new calendar year, I know I’ll be focused on spreading this powerful message. I hope you will do the same!

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

Twitter @ DrBillBrennan

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