The Social Component of Learning

In his monthly column, USGIF Vice President of Professional Development Dr. Darryl Murdock considers informal paths to learning and introduces USGIF’s burgeoning mentorship program


Dr. Darryl Murdock

Dr. Darryl Murdock is USGIF’s vice president of professional development and pens this monthly column dedicated to GEOINT training, education, certification, and more. Murdock is leading the establishment of USGIF’s Universal GEOINT Certification Program.

When I was little I wanted to be an astronaut, then a football player. No one told me I couldn’t become those things, so I believed I could. Well, I didn’t become an astronaut or a football player, but I did learn to fly planes and played football in high school and college. Along the way I learned there were more things that interested me than there was time in the day for me to pursue. I guess you could say I was an inveterate learner—and I still am, as are my wife and kids.

I have previously written about taking ownership of one’s education. This is a concept I talk about often. It’s a truism like no other. Nobody can learn something for you. Others can help you learn, but the learning part is entirely up to you. But what about teaching others? There are both formal and informal ways to teach. My wife is an award-winning high school biology teacher. She loves her job because she sees the fruits of her labor over time. Students return from college or from their careers to visit her and often say how much she taught them. Most of all, they describe how her love of learning and of the subject of biology stuck with them. That is special and rare.

In addition to my lovely wife, my parents both encouraged me to try new things. My father was also a teacher. He taught vocal music for 24 years in the New York State school system, then completed his Ph.D. and taught another 20-plus years at the collegiate level. He still has students from the early ’60s who send him Christmas cards—because he made a difference in their lives. Not by being pushy, but by believing in his students, often in a way they had never previously experienced. He led them to their strengths and helped them shore up their weaknesses. As a kid, I watched this happen first hand. Every Christmas, his students would come caroling at our front door. After several songs, often from musicals in which they participated that were directed by my dad, they would traipse into the house, where they would stay for hours recounting their college exploits. I can still feel the closeness of those ad hoc gatherings.

Learning and teaching aren’t simply things we do to memorize facts and concepts. There is a social component to quality learning. If students are not in the right frame of mind to accept teaching and be able to learn, they will under-perform.

There is also an informal way to learn. Surrounding yourself with other learners is one way to develop and mature your natural inquisitiveness. Conversely, if people around you are not open to learning or to trying out new ideas, then you generally won’t be able to believe in the power of learning or trying something outside of your comfort zone. In effective organizations, trying and failing is perhaps the best learning opportunity of all. But we generally don’t like to highlight, let alone discuss, things that don’t work out well. This is a shame because these “lessons learned” can be some of the best ways to leap over preconceived notions and gain a higher level of understanding.

Mentoring is yet another interesting and often overlooked way to learn. It is generally considered an informal learning process; however, some organizations create official mentor/protégé programs, which are more of an informal-formal hybrid. USGIF aims to do exactly that. The Foundation’s Young Professionals Group (YPG) has partnered with the USGIF Tradecraft and Professional Development Committee to launch a new mentoring program.

The program will be “beta tested” with YPG members as the first protégés. “Contracts” between the program’s mentors and mentees will outline the duties of each party throughout the course of the 12-month mentorship. Periodic meetings will be established and actual assignments will be due to help the mentor guide the mentee through the yearlong set of activities.

Details for the new mentoring program are being finalized between the YPG and the Tradecraft and Professional Development Committee as I type. The program will be officially announced at the GEOINT 2017 Symposium in June, with a discussion in the YPG Lounge at the USGIF booth at 4 p.m. June 5. This will be a fascinating case study that I am eager to see through to launch and success. The program will be successful primarily because it is being built on a foundation of dialogue, experience, and iterative trial and error.

To learn more about the YPG and USGIF’s burgeoning mentorship program, please email

In the above photo, The Honorable Jeffrey K. Harris, chairman of USGIF’s Board of Directors, speaks with members of USGIF’s Young Professionals Golden Ticket Program at GEOINT 2016.

Posted in: Education, Professional Parlance   Tagged in: Education

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