Paralympics, Inclusion. and Learning Relationships

Paralympic athletics: the Right Stuff Photo: AFP
Paralympic athletics: the Right Stuff Photo: AFP

The 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in London were truly a phenomenal opportunity to see a community in action. I had the privilege to be in London at the end of the 2012 Paralympics for the #LearningLive  event the following week.

On Sunday I watched the emotional Paralympics closing ceremonies, and then on Monday I had the opportunity to see the Great Britain Victory parade that ran through London. Side by Side, Olympians and Paralympians waved to an estimated 1 million adoring fans.

For me the total experience was amazing, not only because of the contagious excitement running through the streets – but because in the aftermath of the glow, I took a chance to speak to a few people about what the athletic events this summer in London meant for them. What I found were stories of collaboration, talent, and community – connected by lessons learned. In London, people of all backgrounds, religions, physical capabilities, cultural beliefs, and experiences shared a moment in history, and in that inclusive context learning was continuously taking place.

The lessons I heard of were numerous – here are just a few that struck me as both heartwarming and memorable.

Lessons on True Talent

Not long after the event a friend pointed me to a poignant blog written by the mother of a young child with cerebral palsy. For her the lesson was on the meaning of talent and the ability to share capabilities in all its forms.

“For me, the 2012 Paralympics has turned out to be enlightening, affecting and relevant – almost more so than its older mainstream sibling. []what I loved about the Paralympics was the inclusive nature of its sports, which enabled their athletes to showcase their talents with as few of the stressful barriers that other people with disabilities experience in everyday life as possible.”

These games showed her the ultimate possibilities of what a person with cerebral palsy could achieve on the track.

In business we often focus on barriers and reasons things can’t be done. Sometimes it’s necessary to focus on what people can and will do when they have the opportunity to perform to the best of their abilities.

Lessons on Inclusion

The first Paralympics were held in in 1960 – and over time they were often located at separate times and locations from the Olympics. In 2001 it was officially decreed that host cities would have to provide for both events. For many cities this has been a secondary, less valuable event to host, however, this year the whole world learned that the Paralympics has the stories, the heart, and economic viability to be treated equally.

Joshua George, a 2012 wheelchair racer in the Paralympics team, wrote about feeling that Great Britain was not just inclusive, but truly understood the heart and soul of the Paralympics games. His memories of the closing ceremonies for the 2012 Paralympics were of connection and celebration, compared to previous years, which were less memorable. But more importantly the lesson that he felt was most important was of the economic viability of the Paralympic games – often written off as a resource drain.

“It was proof of what we as athletes always believed. Fans were showing up en masse, in an economy strikingly similar to that of the United States and Canada (where Adams is from). they were learning about the differences in the adapted sports, and in their newfound knowledge growing incredibly excited to watch the best in the game perform at the highest level.” 

Over 11 million people watched the opening ceremony and over 7 million people (including myself) watched the closing ceremony. During the events, the stands were packed, sidelines were full, and new heroes were being made.

So let’s look at just these lessons, of the thousands learned during London 2012 this year.

These lessons:
• Didn’t require a course
• Were not bound by pre-defined gaps
• Were not managed by a an individual or company

Instead they:
• Were taught by a community.
• Were learned because each individual had a unique goal
• Were memorable because content was easily accessible and engaging

This idea of learning based on community, connections, and relationships was the theme of my presentation at #LearningLive. In this intimate setting of a few hundred learning and performance professionals the topics at the event ranged from “Globalizing Learning” to “Smarter Thinking”. I had the great opportunity to share some of Brandon Hall Group’s most recent findings on Relationship Centered Learning.

If you weren’t already aware of it, the learning industry is transforming – working hard to catch up to the changes being driven by our global economy, our technical realities, and our consumer driven learners.

The audience was great – engaged – and welcoming, but more importantly the audience was interested in the changes taking place in learning today. This change is something that is hard to describe, but none the less something important in the learning landscape.

This change in learning goes beyond social, collaboration, and informal learning – it is breaking down the walls of traditional courses and classroom. It is looking at the world, as we looked at the 2012 London Olympics – a shared opportunity as a community to learn, to value the diversity in each other, and open our minds to learning as part of how we live.

I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on the changes you see as well.

Stacey Harris
Brandon Hall Group Research Team

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