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Why You Should Never Learn Alone

In this post we explore how learning with others, in a group or under the guidance of mentors, can be an effective approach for learning new skills. We identify how learning socially was commonplace for revered artists and thinkers – Da Vinci and Picasso. And look to contemporary research to reveal whether this approach is still relevant today considering the challenges faced when learning new tech skills. To conclude, we suggest some practical ways to start learning with others.

Learning socially has stood the test of time.

It’s a common theme in the story of some of our greatest minds. 

Acclaimed artist Picasso spent many evenings in the salons of Paris and Barcelona – places where people would enjoy deep discussion of politics, religion, philosophy, economics and of course art. 

Similarly, Da Vinci lived for many years in the Italian “Bottega”. A space, home to other like-minded individuals where he explored painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering and many other disciplines.

At first, it sounds counter-productive. 

Surely Picasso would have been better off spending the hours he spent in the salons – practicing at home with a paintbrush instead?

As would Da Vinci. He could have isolated himself to focus on his passions, using the hours freed up to focus, without distraction, on creating more masterpieces.

In reality, their time spent learning socially – exchanging ideas and exploring seemingly unrelated disciplines, is arguably what made their work great. 

Picasso turned the complex ideas he formed in the salons into art. It brought new meaning to his work, taking it from good to great. Da Vinci used the understanding of the world he gained from his mentors at the Bottega to think differently than anyone had before. It allowed him to invent new designs and acquire new skills with ease.

But how does this translate today?

Not all of us aspire to be renaissance artists and inventors. 

The skills most of us want to develop are in technology. 

They require logical thinking. They revolve around a screen. And although we are assembled in “teams” much of the delivered work is completed solo. 

So, if you want to learn something technology based like software engineering, data science or user-experience design, you might ask – is a social approach relevant? 

And how can time spent learning socially possibly beat extra hours studying in-front of the computer screen?

The truth is it’s not just a nice idea. 

Researchers find that learning together, is effective. 

(Johnson, Johnson, & Stanne, 2000; Oakley, Barbara & Brent, Rebecca & Felder, Richard & Elhajj, Imad, 2004; Springer, Stanne, & Donovan, 1997; Terenzini, Cabrera, Colbeck, Parente, & Bjorkland, 2001). 

Spending time learning socially allows us to overcome difficult challenges with the power of the group. It allows us to consider different perspectives and benefit from critical feedback of our work.

It’s particularly effective for problem-solving and critical thinking. In addition, the accountability you gain when learning with others can  keep motivation high and effort consistent (another critical strategy).

So with no Salons nearby and your nearest Bottega shutting shop in the 15th century. 

Where can you find like-minded people to learn tech socially with?

Here’s some ideas you can use right away:

Reach out to your network. 

Try to connect with someone who has already gained the skill you want to learn, or who works in a nearby field. Living busy lives ourselves we often assume that no-one will have to the time, but will it really hurt to ask for an introduction, or post out on LinkedIn? The offer of a coffee can go a long way – you might find a life-long mentor or at least find someone you can reach out to when you really get stuck.

Attend talks.

Websites like meetup.com and eventbrite.com allow you to find free tech events near you. Most talks are followed by a Q&A and the opportunity to connect with people working in the technology you are studying. Even if the topic is over your head or something you’ve already covered, hearing it explained from a different perspective can help form new knowledge or strengthen an existing concept.

Join the online discussion.

It’s not really the same, but if in-person isn’t practical for you because of your location or other commitments, it is possible to find communities online. You can find tech slack groups on slofile.com or ask questions and contribute to discussion on reddit.com. But be warned, this can descend into procrastination quickly.

There are many different opportunities to connect with other learners, but the key thing is to connect with people on a similar journey as you.

We hope this gave you some ideas for how to take a social approach to learning new tech skills. In our next post we’ll explore how a data-driven approach to learning can help you progress faster than normal.

Citations:

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Stanne, M. E. (2000). Cooperative learning methods: A meta-analysis. Minneapolis, MN:University of Minnesota Press.

Oakley, Barbara & Brent, Rebecca & Felder, Richard & Elhajj, Imad. (2004). Turning student groups into effective teams. Journal of Student Centered Learning

Springer, L., Stanne, M. and Donovan, S. (1999). Effects of Small-Group Learning on Undergraduates in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 69(1), p.21.

Terenzini, P., Cabrera, A., Colbeck, C., Parente, J. and Bjorklund, S. (2001). Collaborative Learning vs. Lecture/Discussion: Students’ Reported Learning Gains. Journal of Engineering Education, 90(1), pp.123-130.

Minds Studio: digital learning reinvented

We are not a school. Not a university. Not an online course… but we help you learn effectively the skills you need today.

We are in the middle of the Digital Renaissance.

It’s an unusual time when schools are struggling more and more to deliver the promise of education to pave a better life.

It’s an unusual time when 50% of the world’s workforce will need to be re-skilled or up-skilled in the next 5 years.

It’s an unusual time when alternative learning spaces like General Assembly(Now Adecco), Flat Iron School (Now WeWork), or Lynda.com (Now LinkedIn learning) are flourishing online and offline.

All of them are applying new tools, data, and capital to fill the gap between what the world needs and what academia can offer.

The truth is that we live an unusual time and education IS being reinvented as you are reading this. We just don’t see its wide acceptance yet.

If we were back in the Renaissance, we would be inspired by the stories of Leonardo da Vinci, the polymath who personalized the humanist ideal at the Italian “Bottega”.

The workshop where Leonardo lived during his apprentice years was where he learned about painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering and many other disciplines. He learned beside his mentor Andrea Verrocchio and other colleagues interested in the same topics. I believe we would call this place a “studio”, in the modern world: a space to learn and create under expert guidance, a space to fulfill your maximum potential.

Having worked for over 10 years in Ed-tech projects and new digital skills, including Udacity’s European expansion, and deploying Google’s Android Scholarships program in 5 countries, I feel ready to build a new kind of learning space: Minds Studio.

At Minds Studio, you will discover how to learn effectively, in less than a year, the skills the world needs today.

Not only are we going to need to upskill, but we are going to need to do it fast, and in a flexible way so we can keep up with our current job, family, lifestyle. How can this be achieved? Is it even possible?

Introducing… Minds Studio for individuals

After interviewing individuals that have successfully transitioned to a significantly better job in a few months (more details Here), I believe we can develop flexible, personalized ways to help individuals and teams re-skill and up-skill.

In order to do that, Minds Studio is creating in-person spaces around the world combining the flexibility of online learning with the encouragement of in-person guidance.

London is hosting the first AI Minds Studio from May. We will develop AI professionals in less than a year.

More info about Minds Studio for individuals can be found here.

Minds Studio for companies

These Minds Studios are also being deployed in-company where leaders recognize the strategic importance of continuous learning to corporate long term results.

Our aim is to help current and new digital professionals to develop the mindset and routines that will make them highly valuable and productive in a world of machine abundance, keeping the human connection at heart.

We have already started working in Europe and Asia in collaboration with businesses that believe in the importance of continuous learning such as Education FirstPAZ.AI or Exponent, to name a few.

If you are interested in knowing more about how to build a Minds Studio for your company, please let us know here.

Minds Studio advisors

The growing need to develop innovative educational plans and learning spaces inside corporations and governments led us to build a pillar of Minds Studio dedicated to rethinking the way organizations and societies learn.

We also advise leading actors in the education ecosystem such as the Telefónica Foundation, where we have been working on a new global education strategy and implementation of alternative education models in more than 15 countries in Europe and Latin America.

Join us

Remember we are not a school. Not a university. Not an online course…

We are a new kind of company that effectively prepares people to develop the new skills needed in this Digital Renaissance.

If you believe what we believe, come to learn with us.