Adapting to climate volatility and a precarious society

We often write and think about how we learn, but what about the metaviews re: how we learn about how we learn?

In our four stages of the pandemic, Dr. David Ryan asked via a posted comment:

What will it take for deuterolearning to be achieved once relative safety is secured?

It’s not just an interesting question, but an essential challenge for organizations and governments to embrace moving forward. It also gives us a good opportunity to explore the concept of deutero-learning.

Credited to Gregory Bateson, it describes the consequences or side effects of learning.

It can also be referred to as organizational metacognition, or knowing what an organization knows and how it acquires that knowledge (learning).

If the medium is the message, then knowledge, by it’s function, transforms. As we learn, we change, as new knowledge potentially impacts everything we do.

However it actually embodies much more than that. It evokes a kind of philosophical or psychological shift that comes with new knowledge.

For example I remember when I learned how to drive. I didn’t get a license until I was 30, as I didn’t need one before that. For my teens and twenties I rode my bicycle everywhere.

Yet once I was driving, the psychology of the car consumed me. There’s a reason why car culture is dominant. There’s a tremendous amount of advertising, culture, and design behind it.

My late entry into the culture made it a little easier for me to recognize it, but not resist it. Although I still feel some critical distance, even if I drive a pick-up truck now.

Jacques Ellul described technology as a milieux. The focus may be on the tool, but the effect is the culture that surrounds it.

As we discussed yesterday, you might learn how to use a search engine, or teach yourself how to trade Bitcoin, but the consequence of doing so is to also entertain the ideologies that surround them.

Deutero-learning is deliberately abstract, but it doesn’t have to be. The people who research organizational learning and deutero-learning have produced a wide range of ideas and concepts that promote it.

You could think of deutero-learning as a kind of meta-learning, but I suspect that’s too narrow.

Another way of approaching this concept is to think of the importance of context, and that it’s not enough to learn something, but to also wonder about the why, who, where, when, etc.

No surprise deutero-learning plays a role in fostering innovation.

That one was a bit too jargon rich, but hopefully you can appreciate how this concept is applied.

Yet as per David’s comment, let’s bring it back to the pandemic.

How as a society did we learn or acquire knowledge during the pandemic? How did this work well? How did it not work well, or at all?

Can we recognize that we did not do to well with our learning methods, at least collectively? Conversely some of us as individuals performed quite well, and have thrived as a result.

What about organizations? Governments?

It’s an interesting question or challenge to pose moving forward. To ask governments and institutions what kind of deutero-learning they are engaged in, if at all. Whether they are learning, or whether they still focus on sterilizing surfaces and think that 2m distance is still enough?

Or for that matter, how do we know that the deutero-learning that we’ve achieved is the deutero-learning that we need? Understanding the concept is only the first step in evaluating what it is we’re learning as a consequence of our learning?

How do we design learning strategies that anticipate resulting deutero-learning? Can we have deutero-learning outcomes?

David brought up this concept in the context of the pandemic, but it also applies to climate volatility and a precarious society.

Coming out of the pandemic there will be an ongoing acceleration of the tensions and dynamics that will fuel future conflict. Income polarization, and political polarization, are two obvious ones. Combine this with increasing climate catastrophe and wild weather, and you get a lot of instability.

The precarious society this presents us with, demands that we be nimble, and that we be quick.

Perhaps deutero-learning provides us with a means of doing so?

Aiming not for the target but the ricochet.

Jesse Hirsh

Jesse Hirsh