This week i’m working on a new book on ‘mobile learning’. I’m sharing some sections as they are completed. Here, a section on how learning is changing, with the learning experience becoming longer.
Learning is becoming less formal, both in organisations and within our personal lives. We used to ‘go to school’ or ‘go to a workshop’, whilst now we may access learning at any time, on a wide range of devices. Learning would often take place in spaces that were defined and arranged to facilitate it: classrooms, workshops or auditoriums. Like climbing or swimming, you travelled to do it and only learnt when the correct equipment was laid out in front of you. Perish the thought that we might learn unstructured: guerrilla learning!
Learning used to be defined by both time and place. We thought about doing it, we did it and then we talked about what we had learnt. Then we went back to our proper jobs. This was back in the days when ‘knowledge’ was something to be picked up in classrooms and from books and then regurgitated as appropriate when the time called for it. The more knowledge you could retain, the greater your value. You remember, the days before Google.
There were advantages to the old days: we tended to be able to focus more on abstract reflection, taking people out of the ‘real’ world and into a learning space gave permission to think about things without the pressures of the ‘real’ world impinging on our space. We could learn and then learn to apply the learning. Whilst this isn’t gone, it’s harder to reflect when the spaces between learning and doing are less clear. There will always be a place for formal learning environments, but there is also a place for the social learning spaces facilitated by mobile technology with the challenges and opportunities that they provide.
As mobile enables us to learn in different places and at different times, so it extends the learning experience beyond the formal learning spaces of classrooms and into the rest of our lives. If deployed strategically, it allows us to access some pre course materials and knowledge, it allows us to support classroom learning and it provides performance support once we have moved beyond the formal learning space and back into our everyday roles.
Mobile can truly be a facilitating technology if we deploy it wisely. But to use it wisely, we need to understand how people engage with mobile devices. It’s a mistake to just view devices as terminals, to think that we use them as we would use a computer or laptop. We don’t. We use them in different ways to do different things and we judge their usefulness and usability according to how well they let us do those things.
The conversation had turned to Skye. It’s a remote and rather beautiful island off the coast of Scotland. I went there in my teens and loved it. At the time, i seemed to remember going over on the ferry, whilst my friend was insistent that there was a bridge. It was nagging away at my mind that one may have been built so, as we spoke, i googled it and there it was: built in 1992 and opened in 1995. Our conversation continued, smoother now that the point of contention had been ironed out.
This is one of my native behaviours with mobile: knowledge checking. Not so much finding new things out, but rather enhancing my memory or augmenting what i already know. It’s so much easier than having to keep this kind of thing in my head. I frequently find myself on the phone or in a conversation, augmenting my conversation with facts and figures that are literally at my fingertips, even though not in my head. I suppose you could say that it’s cheating, but only if you work by the old rules. The new knowledge is the type that you can fish out at will, that you can drag from the ether over wifi. It’s not about knowing things all the time anymore, it’s more about knowing how to find it out and enhancing the foundations that you have in place.
I can remember many of the elements on the periodic table, but i couldn’t quote you all the rare earths easily, but i simply don’t really need to anymore. If it was knowledge that i used everyday, or once a year, i probably could, but in reality this falls under the heading of things that i once learnt but will never need to use in anger again. It was useful to get me through an exam once, but never likely to be used seriously again, at least not unless i have a career change. But nether does it fall under the category of ‘things i don’t know’. It’s not something that i have no concept about: it’s something that i’ve learnt, but forgotten, or rather i’ve lost the detail.
There are many things that fall into this category. Naming the main players in Romeo and Juliet. I remember it’s about a feud between two families: the Capulets and Romulans. Ah no, wait, it’s the Montagues and Capulets. But i can’t remember all the characters, even though i studied it for an exam once and even acted in it. But unless i end up teaching English, i kind of don’t need to. Sure, it would make me a better person i’m sure, but the reality is that there are many things i know a bit about, that i am interested in, but that i simply can’t remember the details off: how do you tell the difference between blackthorn and whitethorn in a hedge? Are doric columns the short and squat ones whilst ionic are the tall thin ones? What exactly is an adverb again?
I know that i should remember it all, but i can’t. But the knowledge is closer to me than it ever used to be: so close that i can ‘recall’ it to enhance and support conversations everyday.
So whilst i fail at remembering it, i do at least know the parameters of my ignorance and i have a tool at hand to help me overcome it.
Many of the things that fall into this category are things where i need to know the outline, but i don’t need to remember the detail.
Take train times: i work in London probably once a week. I roughly know the train times. There is a good train to get at 9.59AM that gets me up for a lunchtime meeting but is a third of the price of the earlier one. Useful to know.
Birmingham i work in less often. I know there is a good train service, but no idea what time they go, except i do know it’s at least once an hour.
I had to go to Andover last week, but had no idea if it even had a station. I thought it didn’t, but a quick check on the TrainLine app on my phone proved that it did and gave me the optimal times.
Knowing whether somewhere has a station is handy, knowing the times of the trains, less so, unless i use it frequently. I have the means to find the detailed information at my fingertips, and that is good enough.
So mobile gives me information on the fly, when i need a train time in a hurry, or it enhances my conversations when my memory fails me. But what else can it do?