Last week during the TechKnowledge conference (being on the program committee meant I not only had to attend most of it but also organizing meetings, hence the delay in any postings), I had a chance to go to a beer and cheese tasting with some of the leading bloggers (and thinkers) of eLearning, including Tony Karrer, Jay Cross, and Harold Jarche; our host was Jim Javenkoski (naturally, most have already blogged about it).
Several things are of interest here, but of course let me start with the beer. Jim works for Unibroue, which is a premium Canadian brewer with a line of Belgian-inspired beers (they stole their brewer from Chimay, probably the leading Belgian beer maker). For those who don’t know, there’re bottom-fermenting lagers (some of the best are the Eastern European like Pilsner Urquell), and top-fermenting ales (e.g. most of the British classics), and then all sorts of variations. The Belgians are ales, but they really push the flavor limits with not only clever variations on the basic grains, hops, and yeasts (besides water, the basics of beer), but also spices, fruits, and more.
The tasting was about beer and food combinations, and on my flight to New Jersey (I’m here on client work) the inflight magazine had an article on beer and food combinations. According to them, such pairings are the newest rage. How last week; before our tasting, Jim had been running beer and chocolate tastings! A number of places cook with beer and then serve with beer, and I’ve been a fan for yonks. When I lived in Australia I made my own beer, as the usual stuff was too expensive and not good enough, though better than the average American swill (America does have some really good craft brews, however). So it’s not news to me, but I’m thrilled if the word gets out about good beer and good food (which has to result in more of both).
So what’s this got to do with learning? Jay expands on his “the best learning technology is conversation” by saying the second best learning technology is beer to support the conversation. Which may be perceived as a ‘bloke’y thing to do, but a) the new beers are very much for the discerning palate (my mother-in-law is into good beer!), and b) wine or cocktails will do as nice (ok, there’s some concern that cocktails could too quickly lead you beyond reasonable conversation). Pick your poison, er, social lubricant (properly applied, of course).
We did have some amazing conversation. And, with blogging, the conversation goes on beyond the face-to-face conversation, and will rope back around again the next time we get together.
One on one mentoring is the best learning situation at the bottom of the learning curve. However, a cost-effective alternative, when someone’s a novice, is to address the foundational knowledge (the ‘received wisdom’) asynchronously, or in other forms of courses (though they should be wrapped with conversation, to develop the later ability to collaborate). But when you’re into the realms of expertise, negotiating shared understanding with your peers is the way knowledge advances. Good conversations are the key to advanced learning, however mediated.