To Learn = Downtime

neurons

I have seen more and more data on this over the past few weeks. Fragmented of course, which is how all of our information comes at us these days (notice the use of “at us” as opposed to “to us”, because information is coming at us, at a faster and faster pace and more and more fragmented). I see terms thrown around like “mobile learning”, “pervasive learning”, “learning chunks”, “learning bits”, etc…. I see conversations in LinkedIn groups by college professors that start with the question “ Are you having difficulty getting your students to read?” Well of course we are because no one can focus for more than a few minutes, adults or students and this is why we are now using terms such as “learning bits”!

It seems so simple right? Surely we get it. Or are we so distracted by all of this information we can’t process it, so we don’t get it? It’s distractions that are the problem. We are so busy inundating ourselves with information that we can’t process any of it. It’s there, it’s gone. All this information is actually keeping us from learning anything. We surf, we don’t dive or immerse ourselves in the information, which by the way, is what it takes to really learn and understand something. Do you know that all of the evidence suggests that we form permanent memories when we sleep and when we rest? This is when the permanent neural connections are formed. Not rest in front of a digital device either, we must stop, think, focus, process. This is how we solve problems. We have to focus, think, reflect. Why do you think the answers to some of those elusive problems we tackle come to us in our sleep or on vacation? It’s because our brain can finally rest, process and put together the solution. My best ideas come to me when I am on vacation. Often I tackle a problem during the day and wake in the middle of the night with the solution.

Yet we are so busy being busy, we can’t process the information and put the puzzle together in our heads either. We are so distracted we don’t even know we are distracted. We literally jump from one headline to another, one site to another, consume it and done. No time to process the information, no time to think about the context or the consequences, no time to verify the information. We don’t need to worry about a zombie apocalypse because we are already experiencing it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love technology and all of the resources available to me through technology. But I wonder, I contemplate, I take time to reflect on what all of this information is doing to us, to our students, to my students especially. I mean at least when I read something I possess the critical thinking skills to give it a context and a framework, but not my students. Many of them have yet to develop that framework so for them, all of this information becomes a problem. Not just a distraction problem, a relevance problem. When we are learning about something new, which information is relevant and which isn’t? How can you tell? To know which information is relevant takes being able to filter the information by context and category. And there is so much information. Information I am exposing them to as well as all of the information they are finding on their own. This is one of the reasons I co-founded TheHubEDU. I wanted a space where my students could organize and contextualize the information they are learning about. Build their reference library free from the distractions of all the other social media. TheHubEDU is a place where all learners can come to immerse themselves in the information instead of riding the waves from one piece of information to another. I want my students to be active participants in their learning, not just passive consumers. TheHubEDU is my way of promoting and supporting that behavior. It’s not just another website, it’s a necessity for better learning in a world full of distractions.

What the Internet is Really Doing to Perspective

A bookstore

I was meeting someone the other day at a small bookstore/coffee shop in the Cap Hill section of Seattle.  It was one of those rare, sunny spring days in the area so I didn’t mind the 30 minute drive each way or the total $5.30 toll to cross the 520 bridge both ways because it was one of those days you feel justified in suffering through the incessant rain and clouds more typical of the area to be able to experience days like that.  Not too hot, not too cold, clear blue skies…perfect.

I had never been to this particular location before though I had frequented another coffee shop right down the street.  So I walked in to this really unique store and being a bit early I began to peruse their book selection.  Not a huge selection like the mega bookstores such as Barnes and Nobles, etc… But as I was taking a look at the selection in this boutique bookstore I thought to myself, it’s been years since I have actually been in a bookstore.  Literally, years.   I used to spend hours in Barnes and Nobles and any number of bookstores for that matter.  Now, for the most part they have all gone out of business.  I was thinking to myself, “are there even any left”?  Thank you online shopping.

I can’t really blame these online sites for tapping into what is clearly a need to buy products online, I can only blame myself because I allowed myself to fall prey to the convenience of online shopping.  So now, most of my books, in fact in thinking over recent years, all of my books have been purchased through online sites.  But here is what I started to notice just walking through this boutique bookstore perusing the variety of books.  I have totally lost touch with all the different variety of books in all different categories.  Perhaps that is more a testament to my reading preferences these days as the books these online sites suggests for me fall into 3 categories: Fantasy/Science Fiction, Business/Entrepreneurship, and Education/Science.  And now I only see what is “suggested” as something I might be interested in reading.  And I know that what is being suggested to me does not comprise all that’s out there even within one category.  It’s group think , but for retail.  My world is shrinking and therefore so is my perspective and I have allowed it to happen.

I suppose on some level I had to be somewhat cognizant of this.  I am familiar with “group think” and how sites such as Facebook and Google tailor my searches and feeds to my previous activity.  I guess I had just never thought of it from a marketing/retail perspective.  I mean books, intellectual pursuits, now tailored to fit me and my interests, totally personalized.  Except that’s exactly the opposite of intellectual pursuit.  We all have interests and tend to focus on those interests in our intellectual pursuits but I had just never considered how much my world and therefore my possibilities were shrinking as I relied more and more heavily on these online sites to offer up to me something I might be interested in reading.

Some of this is my responsibility as I can always peruse the different categories of books available, but I don’t because I don’t have to.  It’s really easy to just look through the recommended and suggested items and over the years, my reading preferences have been tailored through those suggestions and recommendations.  This is my concern with “personalized learning”.  It’s great in theory but will it detract from the true meaning and value of education? Isn’t education supposed to be about expanding our horizons and perspectives?  I also realize our site, TheHubEdu could fall prey to this as well and now I vow not to allow that to happen.  The question becomes can we “personalize” education without sacrificing our need for different perspectives in order to challenge us and force us to grow?  And if not, what will be the costs to the concept of society?  What is the ultimate price for personalizing everything?  Instead of expanding our thinking and ideas, are we really only imprisoning them by having everything tailored to us?