Does technology hinder or help learners? It all depends. Handled poorly, it’s a disaster! Handled well, it’s magic!
Here’s how technology can help weave the magic required to foster five qualities possessed by highly effective learners.
Great learners are prepared to acknowledge their mistakes and to acknowledge what they don’t know. They acknowledge their inconsistencies when they discover them or have them pointed out to them. They don’t put borders around ‘no go zones’ immune from critical self-examination – even when this involves questioning beliefs that are precious to them. Great learners also share what they know and what they believe. They respond to others with honesty. They challenge, hopefully with tact, the mistakes of others and, in doing so, will sometimes learn that those ‘mistakes’ are not mistakes at all. The web provides a rich environment for enquiry and communication. It’s also a place where we go ‘on the record’ – mistakes included. That makes honesty the prudent policy.
This quality is close to honesty, but involves a conscious recognition that the world is a place where surprising and counterintuitive things are discovered all the time. Great learners expect surprises. Exploring the web with an open mind encourages discovery and reduces the risk of confirmation bias. Those who study US Politics with an open mind visit both Huffington Post AND Fox News. Great learners want to hear both sides, and there’s no better place to find different views than the web.
Great learners are curious. Sometimes they find themselves on the web at 1am in the morning examining the finer details of a topic they’ve never explored before. Breeding chickens? Nuclear physics? Who knows? The web has a way of leading them down strange and unplanned paths towards discovery. It’s wonderful, it’s tempting and sometimes it’s almost irresistible.
Focus is the antidote needed to keep curiosity in check and on track. It’s possessed by all great learners, but it’s not something the open web encourages. Distraction is the bane of many connected learners. But great learners use mindfulness, self-discipline and technology itself to tame the distractions. They use things like the Ten Minute Hack to get started and the Pomodoro Technique to keep going. They use focused virtual desktops on Windows or spaces on OSX to remove distracting temptations. They work full screen in browsers and use tools like Stay Focused in Chrome. But most of all they work without allowing distractions to divert them from what’s important. Then they treat themselves to some free-roaming exploration when the important tasks are done.
Great learners are creative. They use their imagination to come up with original ideas and produce things that others find appealing or informative. The explosion of web-apps makes creativity online easier than ever before. The list of creative projects is endless – writing, music, art, video, presentations etc. A scan of the Chrome Webstore demonstrates the extraordinary range of creative possibilities made possible by online technology.
Great learners benefit greatly from technology.