Thursday, June 13, 2013

Listen to the learners

I am wondering, at a conference about the Joy Of Learning, how much we know about what brings joy to learners. Anna Kirah reminded us in her keynote speech about Einstein's assertion that you cannot solve problems using the same mindset that created them. In other words, we need to farm solutions for the next generation from the next generation. 

Education is missing a trick. My first career was with MindShare in London as an Audience Analyst. My clients (IBM, NestlĂ©, Nike) knew that the key to successful product design was knowing their audience. My job was to paint a picture of the target person from the time they woke up and the toothpaste they used to the billboards they walked past on their route home. 

Note, however, that I qualify as an EDEN Young Researcher yet I talk about a world in which billboards were still important. Yes, just more than 10 years ago in the great metropolis of London, the industry was barely talking about the Internet; let alone social media. When I started my undergraduate degree in 1997, I must have practically been one of the first people in the world to have an email account. 

My point is that, even as a member of GenY, I am not qualified to comment on what brings joy to the next generation of learners. Since arriving in Oslo, my 4 year old has earned his place in the iGen by sending me emails, texts and photos via my husband's iPhone; not to mention Googling my whereabouts on the iPad. Britain's Telegraph (March 28, 2013) reported that 4 year olds average 390 questions each day and, in my experience, even the toughest quandarys can be Googled in seconds. Not quite the childhood that I remember. I can barely imagine what kind of learning will bring stimulation and joy to my son in 15 years time. 

On my mind is how we promote the lifelong continuation of this curiosity. Today, I presented a paper entitled, 'Stories Of Joy And Despair In The Virtual Classroom', which is based on phenomenological research led by Professor Mark Brown at Massey University entitled, 'In their own words: Experiences of first-time distance learners'. I made the observation that participants in our research typically did not appear to be driven by much curiosity. At what point does learning turn from raw curiosity to a mere formality? I am guessing this could be the point that the joy in learning begins to diminish. However, in complete agreement with Anna Kirah, I believe that we should do less guessing and more listening to the learners in question. 

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