London’s Coffeehouses to Bell Labs: A Short History of Learning Communities and Why to Curate Information


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Sep 24, 2023

4 min read


London’s Coffeehouses to Bell Labs: A Short History of Learning Communities and Why to Curate Information

Learning communities have been around for centuries, from the coffeehouses of London to the research labs of Bell Labs. But what exactly is a learning community? At its essence, it’s just a group of people who meet regularly to learn together and collaborate on a shared learning goal. But why do people join them?

One reason is that learning communities satisfy the need for belonging. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, belonging is the third level, and people want to feel like they belong to a community and have status within it. When you join a learning community, you become part of a group that shares a common learning goal, and making progress towards that goal earns you respect. This sense of belonging and esteem is what keeps people motivated to continue learning and pushing for new breakthroughs.

One example of a successful learning community is Bell Labs. Under the leadership of Kelly, Bell Labs brought together thinkers and doers under one roof, creating a critical mass of talented people. Kelly believed in the power of collaboration and trusted his employees to create and help one another. All employees were asked to work with their doors open, fostering organic collaboration and the exchange of ideas. This open and flexible approach allowed for interruptions but also provided valuable clues about the world and what might be important.

But learning communities are not limited to physical spaces. The internet has given rise to online learning communities, where individuals can come together to learn and collaborate virtually. Platforms like Teachable, Udemy, and Thinkific have built a new business model by empowering individual educators to create and share their knowledge. However, the format of online courses, with pre-recorded lectures and packaged text, can be lonely and ineffective unless you are incredibly self-motivated.

This is where curation comes in. The act of curating information is to separate the wheat from the chaff, to assign editorial weight, and to provide a high-quality collection of content that is contextual and coherent. Curation not only gives value and context to quality information resources but also helps the audience better understand and make sense of a specific topic. It is a natural response to the abundance of resources available on the internet.

So why should you consider curating information in your interest areas instead of just writing like everyone else? Curation is a more challenging and difficult activity than simply writing. It requires vetting, verification, resource-finding, and providing a viewpoint that synthesizes and illustrates what is of value. Some of the best non-fiction content is actually curated content.

There are several reasons why people choose to curate information. One reason is the desire to "take care" of an information space, to organize it and make it easy for others to extract immediate value from it. Curators also curate because they care. They curate because it is useful for them, and when they share their curated collections, they can help other people as well.

Curation also helps put order and organization in the information mess that the internet offers. While search engines index every single information item published on the web, there are no maps of the territories we would like to navigate. Curation provides a way to navigate and make sense of a certain subject by bringing together all the relevant information connected to it.

Furthermore, curation promotes a critical thinking attitude and a more comprehensive view on any subject. It helps individuals learn any subject better and in greater depth than any other approach. Curation allows for the exploration and interaction with diverse voices and viewpoints, providing a holistic understanding of a topic.

In conclusion, learning communities and curation go hand in hand. Learning communities provide a sense of belonging and motivation to continue learning, while curation helps make sense of the abundance of information available. If you want to create a successful learning community, consider incorporating curation as a way to guide and deepen the learning experience. Here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Foster collaboration and open communication within your learning community. Trust that your members can create and help one another, just like at Bell Labs.
  • 2. Encourage active participation and interaction with the curriculum. Allow your members to take part in their own learning and provide opportunities for them to share their knowledge with others.
  • 3. Embrace curation as a way to enhance the learning experience. Curate valuable resources and provide context and coherence to help your members better understand and make sense of the subject matter.

By combining the power of learning communities and curation, you can create a dynamic and engaging learning experience that promotes belonging, motivates learning, and provides a deep understanding of the subject matter.

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