Collective Learning | Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Isaac Newton once famously remarked, “…if I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The statement has been generally accepted to mean that worthy pursuits are only advanced through the progress created by continuing the work of great minds of the past.

David Christian is a Professor of History at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia and is currently collaborating on a venture called the Big History Project with Bill Gates. He gave a talk about the Project at a recent TED conference. Within Dr. Christian’s presentation there was a topic that might be of particular interest to performance psychologists and researchers, which is the concept of “collective Learning”. Dr. Christian credits collective learning as being the catalyst that has allowed humans to flourish, but he also warns that this power might not be completely in our control – highlighting our species complexity and fragility through historical and current events.

Much like DNA is the system that stores biological information, collective learning is a global system that stores our vast body of knowledge. It began to exist the moment human language was created and was immensely empowered further with the advent of the Internet. Collective learning outlasts the knowledge of any one individual and evolves with the passing of each generation. Our ability to share and improve information is what makes humans different than every other known species. It has allowed humans to improve performance and achievement with each passing generation. Honoring the idea of collective learning one is able to learn for others and contribute to the greater good.