Communication is about the exchange of ideas and information. It requires not only distribution but also the effective consumption and understanding by a receiver. It is the (at least two-way) connection of people and content (including nonverbal content).
Learning is about bridging what I know with new concepts and experiences beyond my current understanding and purview. It moves the basic connection of people and content toward personal understanding and ownership of concepts. It is the interaction of information, ability, and a sense of possibility.
Engagement is a qualifier of the space in-between: the space between people, the space between people and concepts, the space between people and institutions. It is the application and re-formation of learning to one’s context that becomes regenerative. It is where learning forms identity.
So, when we talk about communication, learning, and engagement, we must consider and understand:
1. The perceptual space between people:
- People and family
- People and peers
- People and others in their school, workplace, or community
2. The space between people and the concepts of:
- Their own identity or sense of self
- What it means to be part of a broader community or society
- Their own future
3. The space between people and institutions:
- School or workplace
- Faith communities
- Community-based groups, formal and informal
Communication, learning, and engagement live interdependently.
And yet, we too often invest in them as independent variables. We invest in communications technologies or processes without ever evaluating our learning environment or the state of engagement in which that communication effort will live (or die).
We emphasize and address learning by bringing in consultants and content experts without understanding where our communication failures or basic lack of engagement created learning challenges for us in the first place.
Most of us have struggled with the disengagement of others in some form and concocted engagement strategies to address it without ever considering a possible fundamental communication breakdown, or assessing if our assumptions about previous collective learning are actually valid.
As we work to strengthen our schools, our institutions, and our workplaces, we need to accept that it is complicated. Single-variable agendas or interventions will deliver single-variable results (if we are lucky).
But, starting with effective communication can set the stage for learning, engagement, and success no matter how complicated the task.