Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"The day you stop learning is the day you begin decaying."
~ Isaac Asimov
This month marks two milestones for me.  First a life milestone - my oldest child goes off to college.  I think back to the days when I was in his shoes, embarking on a new adventure and the next stage of life where your only job is to absorb and learn.  There were freedoms like I had never known, and I made a lot of mistakes in those days.  But I was young and learned from them and bounced back.   Everyone who went on to get a degree after high school remembers how hard it was but also how full of life those days were.  

I heard someone say the other day that they wished they could go back to college with what they knew today.  But I think not, because the newness of it all, groping your way though situations and finally coming out the other side, was what made it memorable.  Going back now wold be like getting another job - some newness but most of the same.  

So whle I envy my son and the new world of learning he is facing, once is enough.

The second milestone this month was our annual Learning Group meeting.  People from every part of the globe got together for a few days of sharing experiences and designing new things to try in our classrooms.  This year was particularly productive.  I learned as much as I shared, maybe more.  What I found particularly fascinating was the perspectives from people in other parts of the world with other cultures and how they see Learning.  
I learned so much by simply listening, and those shared experiences will shape what we do globally.

But what really struck me this week was the intersection of the two.  I realized that, while I might be nostalgic for those university days, I have been a learner all my life.  And what Mr. Asimov said is true - those parts of my life when I put learning on hold were unremarkable and feel wasted.  And so I consider myself fortunate, because not only do I get to actively learn for a living but my job is to help others to just that.

My son might be starting a new adventure, but mine isn't exactly over yet.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

"It's a sign of trust. It's a human thing. You wouldn't understand."
     -    Detective Del Spooner in I, Robot
Isaac Asimov spent a great deal of his career exploring humans through the vehicle of science fiction.  And as the film starring Will Smith is one of those that makes the cable channel rounds  every few months and I was channel surfing this past weekend, I tuned in for a bit.  So what does this have to do with learning?  Maybe robots in the classroom?  An Artificially Intelligent teacher?

No.  Why does everyone developing learning want to treat their learners (us) as robots?

I have been in some lively conversations this summer, at conferences and at work, where all the buzz is around "mobile learning" and leveraging technology.  But what most people mean is that they want to separate the learner from the instructor.  It takes capital to operate a training center.  You have to pay for utilities and space, and instructors are expensive.  The bean counters want to shutter them and "move everything online."

That's a great theory and makes an interesting discussion.  But like a stack of marbles, it works great on paper but not so much in real life.  (think about it for a minute)

Making something as efficient as possible is an admirable goal, but there is a point where you can squeeze the value out of it as well.  Humans are imperfect things.  We have different ways we learn, we learn at different paces, and frankly some of us are not as bright as others.  On the other hand, robots are identical and one size really can fit all.

The bottom line is, we are humans and not robots.

I was asked a couple of times this year, "Will our new online learning tools replace the classrooms?"  In each response I came back with an enthusiastic "No!"  Online learning - videos, tutorials, chat - are all wonderful tools but they come down to performance support. Very few people can start a topic from scratch and become proficient using only online tools.

I want the availability of online tools to drive more learners to the classroom!

We will always have a need for instructors and coaches.  The only real efficient way to learn something is to have someone that knows the topic guide the learner.  We need the ability to ask questions when we don't understand something that is written or recorded, or when we need to apply the concept outside of the bounds of the content.  Otherwise we're just feeling around in the dark.

The classroom is a sanctuary where we can get away from the distractions of the workday and really absorb and apply new skills.  I hope it never goes away.