I was lucky enough to get lost yesterday in good company, which is the very best way to do it. I’d met up with an Australian friend, Mark, and Bee Yin, who produces Heritage trails here in Singapore. Our objective was to try out one of their new trails, a walking tour of the Singapore River, guided by the Samsung tablets we strung around our necks on a semi structured exploration of the historic riverfront.
The concept is simple: the device geolocates you and pings up information around the nearest site of interest. A bridge, the Asian Civilisation Museum, a row of historic shop-houses and so on. At each site, some structured activities: broadcast information, with animations and audio, then quizzes in various formats and interactive activities. The activities in particular are interesting: asking us to video our role-play of historic trade negotiations or particular historical incidents. You can easily imagine the enthusiasm of school groups at this.
Behind the scenes, this curated content is held on a system and can be recalled later by the teacher, allowing the narrative to move from the individual to the co-created group narrative. I can see it being a powerful tool.
In the Social Age, our relationship with knowledge is changing: more geolocated, less about ownership, more about meaning. Take the museum itself. Museums are iconic buildings, their form instructing us that they are important. Museums are the collective memory of a society and take pride of place. They are symbols of the accumulation of information, much as libraries and universities are too. Places where knowledge is held and shared. Places of learning and education.
Except that now the knowledge is everywhere. The geolocated instance is through our phones and they live in our pockets. The ability to provide information contextually is valuable, and not just for heritage trails. Imagine you work in an oil refinery and are fed engineering data relevant to your location or are visiting a distant office and get information on colleagues who work there, or have similar interests. Or even that you are walking past a particular shop that has a discount on something you hold in a wish list. Context is everything.
I sometimes describe the difference between formal learning and social learning like this: formal learning is inherently abstract, leaving us with the challenge of drawing links through to the real world. Social learning is inherently embedded in the real world, leaving us the challenge of linking it back to abstract theory. Mobile learning has an edge, in that it’s already in our reality. Providing information as i walk along the riverside gives it an immediacy and relevance.
Of course, knowledge itself, in the Social Age, is not enough: it’s the meaning that counts. Our ability to create meaning and do something with it. For a Heritage Trail, the objective may just be to learn, but within organisations, the objective is generally to be more effective, to effect change, to be better.
The ‘sense making‘ part of the learning happens within our heads and within our communities, but again, often facilitated by the technology.
Maps are significant: we tend to like geographical interfaces. There’s something that resonates with ‘finding our way‘, with getting lost then found again. They’re visually stimulating and a journey, when plotted, is by nature gamified. It draws it’s own track.
I’m interested in the impacts of technology on interpretation and heritage. When i tried using Google Glass to create a narrative of my National Trust experience at Blickling Hall, far away in the UK, i found it good for capturing and sharing, but lacking a back end to co-create a narrative or interact with a guide. Within these heritage trails, i could do both, although i found new use for Glass in capturing and documenting the experience!
We shouldn’t confuse form and function: be it a tablet, Glass or map, it’s the activity that counts. Curating and plotting a coherent ‘trail‘ is what gives it the value. Information can be contextual and built over both time and location. What we need to know, when we need to know it. If we tie that in with narrative spaces and co-creative activities, it’s a powerful model for both education and organisational learning.