The Learning Cycle: #3 The (Learning) Peloton

It’s amazing what one Twitter conversation can do. This is the third installment (see here for: #1 & #2)of The Learning Cycle inspired by (1) “The Road to Glory” documentary on Sky Atlantic HD that followed Performance Director of Team Sky Pro and Team GB Cycling as he lead the cyclists to the incredible success of this Summer in the Tour de France and London 2012 Olympics and (2) The conversation between @HuntingEnglish and @Macn_1 that followed the programme.

After we’d discussed Brailsford’s philosophy of ‘Aggregation of Marginal Gains’ (see #1 in this series for that!), we started discussing more generally the way in which the peloton works in cycling races. It’s worth noting that pace-makers in athletics and most recently, in the midst of significant controversy, in the triathlon in London 2012, such an approach has been adopted to increase the chance of victory. The details of the roles in the peloton are new to me and @HuntingEnglish shared a far better understanding and knowledge of exactly how it works. Moreover, he came up with some brilliant ideas about how the model could be used to ensure quality collaborative learning opportunities, which he has already written about here.

For me, the peloton model of cooperation sparked up an old favourite of mine…the difference between cooperation and collaboration. When learners are asked to work ‘together’ what do we expect from them? How can we ensure that there is genuine collaboration in a group, rather than simply cooperation? And does it really matter?

A few years ago, I was shown a film clip that has since done the rounds at leadership conferences and network meetings. The film follows a flock of geese who work together to travel vast distances as part of their seasonal migrational behaviour. I particularly like the ‘honk’ school of encouragement but I particularly dislike the irritating music, but you can’t have everything.

“…I think the parallel with the geese ‘V’ is entirely appropriate. I think…it will spark more interest in the concept of the peloton – rather than filling in all the gaps – denying people the pleasure and purpose of learning it for themselves!” @HuntingEnglish

With cooperation, we may see group members consigning themselves to the path of least resistance. We may also observe some individuals remaining as individuals within the context of the group, and doing what needs to be done to get by. For our most able learners, this may be to adopt the time-honoured role of scribe. They do all the writing needed and, in doing so, move the ‘group’ through the task in the way that they decide is best and most effective. The remainder of the group co-operate with the scribe to enable this to happen.

If, on the other hand, we observe genuine collaboration, we will hear and see energetic discussion, an excited exchange of ideas and, hopefully, an equal distribution of workload throughout the task. The peloton and the geese demonstrate how this authentic collaboration can work to achieve safety, efficient energy output and attainment of a shared and mutually beneficial goal.

This video from The Business of Learning Conference (a truly collaborative project I worked on with Jim ‘The Lazy Teacher’ Smith (@thelazyteacher) and a team of amazing ASTs a few years ago shows exactly what it means to collaborate. Please take a look. It’s under 2 minutes long of pure genius and emotion about what learning is all about, from the learners’ point of view. Best of all it was created by a group of 10 learners from 10 different schools who didn’t even know each other less than 24hrs before. The post explains what the conference was all about.

So when it comes to assessing the quality of group work, we can, I think, learn a lot from the peloton model. Perhaps it will work well to share it with learners as a way to communicate our expectations of what ‘quality collaboration’ looks, sounds and feels like. In this way, they can check out for themselves whether they are truly collaborating or merely co-operating at any point during the learning process.

The characteristics of authentic collaboration could also be used to inform our overall programme of aggregation of marginal gains and explicitly shared with learners as they design their own to individual learning plans to which they agree to comply.

Next: It depends on the next episode…

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