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Michelle Wright

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Sharism In Learning


Lifelong learning is accepted as a part of personal and professional life. Maybe that’s because technology brings with it such sweeping changes, or fast-paced globalisation means we can’t rely on previous understanding of our industries’ rules and regulations. The availability of easy to access training, much of it free, from sources such as YouTube or open source platforms like MOOCs, means that individuals want immediate, specific answers to develop their skills.

There are more than 4,000 training organisations in the UK, not accounting for individuals who offer continuing professional development as part of the job that they do. It’s estimated that £5 billion is being spent each year on adult learning. However, for the training organisations, Cause4 being one of them, the role of trainer has changed. Whether in a classroom or online, training can no longer be about the one-way broadcast of information from an expert to a novice.

Sharing is communicating

The term ‘sharism’ was first coined by Isaac Mao, Co-Founder and Director of the Social Brain Foundation. It’s the term for the collaborative building of value that results from sharing content and ideas. In ‘Sharism: A Mind Revolution’, Mao presents the idea that sharism can be practiced at any point in time – by simply communicating with others. That could be blogging, sharing photos or arranging offline group discussions meetings. It’s through these actions that Mao believes you become more open-minded, and able to better develop your ideas.

So, if learning is already about sharing knowledge does it qualify as sharism? Unfortunately, too many learning organisations hold onto what they see as precious IP, revealing just enough to justify the cost of the training, keeping the flow of information from the ‘informed’ to the ‘uninformed’ and imagining that their secrets are how they derive their wealth. It’s still too much about talking and not listening.

According to Mao, “The idea-forming-process is not linear, but more like an avalanche of amplifications along the thinking path. It moves with the momentum of a creative snowball.” If training providers could work collaboratively they could be more innovative. Collaborating with clients, partners and even your competition can feel like a challenge, but the benefits outweigh the risks. As training professionals what we can learn from our clients influences every new course that we teach. The processes need to be put in place so that we can push ahead, gathering insight at every stage and being open about what we’ve learned. Admitting you learned from your students doesn’t make you weaker, it should position you at the epicentre of the topic, a portal for information that goes beyond what you as an individual could ever accumulate on your own. Trainers obviously also need to undergo training themselves to keep content fresh and relevant.

Putting aside the fear

In essence, sharism is a simple practice, where secrecy fears are put to one side and we choose to be part of co-creating the best content. As a learning provider, understandably the fear of retaining brand identity may not sway you to the sharism school of thought straight away. The key concept is openness and innovation and it can differ from the way we normally go about daily business.

However, I think that sharism presents a great opportunity for learning. There are many organisations that are shrouded in secrecy and which are essentially still a closed shop, with their knowledge locked behind paywalls. However, many of the world’s leading educators provide large amounts of content through MOOCs or as YouTube videos, whether MIT’s OpenCourseWare or Imperial College offering free online courses in a variety of subjects. They do this without damaging their reputation or cutting into their bottom line because it supports their brands’ reputation as a thought leader and encourages interaction with the world at large. Society has changed, we are now more social than ever – and so, engaging with the community via social networks can only benefit your organisation.

In Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms’ book New Power, they reference a NASA programme where members of the public were invited to send in their solutions to a problem that the scientists were working on. This caused trepidation amongst some ‘old school’ engineers who were concerned about the shift of power but, when the answer came in from a non-professional engineer and was more efficient than what they had envisaged themselves, it was clear that opening up their innovation process to outsiders was a strength not a weakness.

Championing openness

At our social enterprise Cause4, being generous and open has always been part of our core values. The benefit is that transparency brings out the best in people and we can then turn the best ideas into content that adds value for our clients. One of our key organisational values is “curiosity” and I feel that sharism truly embraces this concept.

Sharism is a generosity of spirit, a trait that one could argue comes more easily to smaller companies than bigger business. It’s quite common to work with organisations or corporations that are secretive or protective over intellectual property because they are nervous that their competition will steal their content. But potentially it is this antiquated idea that content is a finished product, that a training course can be written, perfected, and sealed, that actually puts it at risk of irrelevance. The sharism concept champions collaboration and openness and will subsequently challenge the competitive nature of the corporate world – it will be the companies that share best that end up with the competitive edge.

A programme of learning

The internet and social media have produced a boom in user-generated content. The way we digest news, knowledge and content has changed and it’s clear that training providers need to catch up. According to Geoff Stead, Director of Digital & New Products at Cambridge English, part of the University of Cambridge, “L&D should be less film director and more festival organiser”. The notion of the training professional gathering an intriguing, immersive, entertaining range of insight into a programme that people can ‘attend’ and contribute to is appealing.

Developing a training programme by collaborating with a large group of industry practitioners and then sharing the courses benefits us all and results in a programme of learning that is more comprehensive and up-to-the-minute than anything that could have been accomplished by any of the partners working independently.

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