We are all individuals – The Life of Brian and collaborative learning

My favourite part of the Monty Python classic, The Life of Brian, finds its hero addressing his adoring crowd. “You are all individuals!” he shouts. The crowd responds, together and in unison: “We are all individuals!” except for one man in the crowd, who mutters: “Well, I’m not!” It is 35 years since The Life of Brian came out and yet only now can we really say we ARE all becoming individuals at work. That it has taken so long is the stuff of Python-esque farce, though not nearly as funny.

The Harvard Business Review carried an article by Marcus Buckingham questioning the enduring monolithic delivery models of learning. We have come to expect highly personalised consumer goods, so why have we been so slow to change when it comes to learning in business? I couldn’t agree more. Much of the content we deliver for learning along with our colleagues at 10Eighty has become highly tailored. Technology has allowed the innovative businesses I work with to deliver specific material to the needs of individuals, usually without the need to enter a classroom at all.

While many of us can see an evolution in the way learning is delivered, far less well understood is the way in which learning is received. For we now live in the age ofcollaborative learning – where the best learning often takes place in a social context, with a heavy emphasis on sharing. We only need to look at the collaborative electronic games our children play to know this type of learning is here to stay. Many businesses are taking an enlightened interest in this approach and it’s easy to understand why. Sharing knowledge, ideas and problems is crucial to individual and collective development. For a start, the act of simply talking about the challenge takes us closer to the solution. We have probably all felt clearer about challenge just through writing it down, talking about the task ahead and hearing the responses of those around us.

Collaborative learning may be easier to embed in some business cultures than others. Even in the latter, though the pragmatism of money, time and quality is now driving the decision. It is becoming tougher for us all to be physically in one place to address a challenge, so the technology and software that underpins collaborative learning is now coming to our aid, giving us the chance to meet and share knowledge, insights and ideas more effectively in our own time and at our own pace. So, in spite of what the Life of Brian dissenter thought, we really are all, finally, becoming individuals now…

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