Ted Nelson, I think I love you…

(But I wanna know for sure…!)

Wow, all I can say is that Dream Machines was a welcome change of pace from previous weeks.  Nearly everything articulated in that article/book resonated with me.  And it’s got me thinking much more specifically about how we use technology to support and augment the human learning experience.

First of all – technology for automation and/or re-creation of current processes and approaches: sometimes a good thing, but we definitely need to understand when.  I appreciated the consideration of technology in education…  do we simply employ technology to perpetuate the same old approaches?  In cases like manufacturing, repetitive processes, dangerous operations – automation is a brilliant solution.  Where the outcomes of the process or system have not been thoroughly proven, however, automation may simply make an undesirable effect more efficient.  Not “success” in my book.

“Everything is interesting, until it is ruined for us.”

This quote gave me pause, made me chuckle, then made me sad.  It’s true!!  And throughout my time reading Ted Nelson, I was entertaining mental images of my three children – often each entertained (and yes, LEARNING) simultaneously on separate screens in our house.  Jake, my 3-yr-old, is still young enough that he enthusiastically greets me with a charged, “Mommy!!!” when I walk through the door every evening.  But it’s mere seconds later that he’s asking where my iPhone is.  Often only because his sisters are already utilizing two iPads.  Both of my preschoolers are developing skills in dexterity, spacial awareness, prediction of consequences, recognizing and writing letters and numbers, basic arithmetic, art and music by using these incredibly accessible and intuitive interfaces.  Interfaces which – by the way – also make user exploration and creation incredibly accessible.  My 12-yr-old has created original films and movie trailers, original music compositions, animated cartoons, and can find a tutorial on ANYTHING under the sun by smartly searching online.  As I reflected on my own early learning, and the access technology gives us to pursue our own curiosities and interests – I realize I learned just as much about physics from playing “The Incredible Machine” as I ever did (more?) in any classroom.   So, needless to say, I related to his assertion that technology needs to be accessible, intuitive, and allow the user to self-direct, nurturing natural interest and curiosity.

The other thing I found myself coming back to over and over is the notion of exploration and truly experiential learning.  Nelson references several times over the role and importance of feelings in the fantic space and user interface.  I kept thinking about the power of multimedia to not only impart information but to make an emotional connection with users – something that makes the experience of it memorable and impactful.  For me, personally, this is often achieved at the intersection of music, inspiration, and relationships.  My daughter and I undertook a creative project a few years ago that became highly meaningful (for me, and others) – because it brought all of these things together, and in a way that wouldn’t have been easily possible without the technology used for recording, capturing images, combining image and sound to create the music video, and on-demand publishing.  Personal beliefs aside, I believe this is the kind of approach that can create impact, on many levels.

While he didn’t articulate this explicitly as related to experiential learning, it’s my belief that there’s an indisputable connection.  A key element of this is our human need for first-hand experience to make learning momentous and real.  Think about it: as parents, educators, mentors, coaches, advisors – we’ve all been in situations where we have expertise to offer (often gained through painful or embarrassing previous experience), we offer it, then sit back and watch as our kids, students, mentees, athletes, advisees run full throttle into their own mistakes, errors, pain… AND LEARNING.  So it’s worthwhile to think about how we can promote learning through engineering a more creative approach or environment that will allow for and even promote their exploration – a “safe” environment for experimenting, “failing”, making and working through mistakes and errors, and therefore learning in the most palpable way.  Technology gives us amazing virtual ways to do this…

This was the truly meaningful take-away for me…  How can I leverage technology – as a leader, educator, parent, mentor – to make sure those I’m helping to grow have spaces in which to experience life in a way that educates them and allows them to grow as human beings.  This isn’t purely information-based… it is truly about experiencing the world – relationships, reactions, consequences, variables, emotion – all of it.  It’s why rote memorization does NOT equal understanding.  It’s why history repeats itself.  There are pieces of learning theory that clearly fit into this – knowing that we make neural connections for new information by linking it with old, through metaphor, informational/rational in concert with emotional – and these are all things to take into consideration.  Technology – particularly multimedia approaches – allows us to provide experiences, exposure to phenomena, link information with real-world impact in ways that students may not have had readily access to in the past.  THIS is what it’s about.