When the MKO is the student…

proofOur group in Adult Learning Theory has been culling together the complexities of Constructivism, Social Constructivism and Activity Theory.  It is fascinating to see Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and More Knowledge Others (MKO) become clear.

Here’s an example: over the weekend, my husband and I saw the play, Proof, as part of our theater subscription.   The story, which began as a play by David Auburn, and later became a movie in 2005 with Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins, is about a brilliant mathematician whose life spiraled into madness before he died left his bereft (but also brilliant) daughter, to pick up the pieces.

The connection between the play and our topic on Constructivism and Social Constructivism is fascinating since the MKO is the student.  The play is about the “fragility of intellectual brilliance.”  Not to spoil the story, the More Knowledgeable Other becomes the daughter.  It is a fascinating twist in Vygotsky’s ZPD where the acquisition of knowledge comes from parents, teachers and peers.  Here, the daughter’s brilliance precedes her father.

See the play; it’s well done.

Taking time to learn something new

IMG_0457Some knitting projects take me a weekend; others several months. I have just finished this small blanket. It is made with various hues of deep blue, purple and gray with accents in black. I think it’s an analogy about adult learning and how it takes time to absorb new material.

Here’s where I’m going with this: Last week I was teaching a software application of a patient database. The workshops weren’t long, but the goal was to show existing employees the upgraded features of the software. While the feedback of the classes was very good, many said they had to practice with the new software to feel comfortable. This made me think of “cognitive load.” Some topics are very dense and take time to comprehend. Throwing a lot of new information within the span of a short class showing dozens of screens can be daunting.

I gently told the learners that the material itself is not new. They still have to enter demographics or clinical data, or progress notes. It’s just that the buttons or icons or menus have changed. I didn’t teach processes; just mechanics. In truth, I empathize with the learners. A new software interface takes time to comprehend even if their work doesn’t change.

So, whether a knitting project can take an afternoon or several months, sometimes after working on it a long time, that’s the best reward.

Asking for Directions (or how much Cognitive Load?)

directionsGPS is a life saver.  It’s fast and efficient.  You can ask your GPS to take you the scenic route or the fast route via the major highways.  You can ask your GPS to speak in a woman’s voice or a man’s voice.  Some GPS devices have the option to speak in a British accent.

I recently heard a National Public Radio episode about people’s experience with GPS.  Callers chimed in with a whole host of stories.  One caller named his GPS, “Sweetheart.”  He would say, “OK Sweetheart, we’re going to Jessie’s apartment today.”  What a hoot.  Likewise, people cited their frustrations when sometimes things go awry.  The GPS would send people down side streets only to end up 3 miles extra from their destination. Plus, who hasn’t had the “Recalculating” message sound when you overshoot an exit.  It goes on excessively.

This whole episode comes to mind as I am on a business trip this week.  I’ve never been to this particular city, so of course, I had my GPS.  How handy.  It got me directly to the hotel and the site where I will be training all week.

So, here’s the rub.  Cognitive load.  Working memory and long term memory.  I found it difficult to get a handle on two lefts, straight through a light, then the next left.  I forgot it the moment I got to my destination.  “Consider the “rule of 7.” George Miller, an early researcher in cognitive load theory, who suggested that the largest number of discrete pieces of information the brain could manage was seven, plus or minus 2” as quoted by Jane Bozarth’s article “Nuts and Bolts: Brain Bandwidth – Cognitive Load Theory and Instructional Design, Learning Solutions, 2010.

I’ll never forget some sage advice a real estate broker once told me.  Learn two or three main streets in a town or city and know how they intersect or bisect.  That’s how you’ll learn a new town.

How true.  Main Street to King Street, Main Street to Prince Street and Main Street to Pleasant Street.  That’s downtown Northampton!

Reactions to the Blizzard of 2013

blizzard2013streetThere was an interesting story in the Boston Sunday Globe recently about a family who lost power during the Blizzard last month. The electricity didn’t work for three days and the entire family was at a loss of what to do.  No TV, no internet, no gameboy.  Cellphones worked until the battery was drained.

The author, a deputy business editor from the Globe, Mark Pothier recounted his story about being powerless in this “hyperconnected” world.  While he and his family suffered no heat and light, it was the connectivity to the outside world that he felt at a loss.  There’s no doubt that, comparatively, natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti, hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy whose hardships lost more than “dormant flatscreens and missed Facebook updates” (his quote not mine).  A blizzard of 30 inches of snow with the loss of power for two or three days is minor event.

But all this makes me think of the generational differences as we discussed and read in Adult Learning Theory.  “One of the key tenets of sound online course design (and implementation) is that courses should be learner-centered.”  (Kaminski & Currie “Education for a Digital World, p 196).  This can be a challenge since learners come from a variety of age groups, sociological backgrounds and lifestyles.  In any given class, a participant or learner can be one from Gen X or Gen Y or a Baby Boomer.  In a perfect world, design of online courses would benefit both the individual and the collective group.  Kaminski goes on to say that the generational concept was introduced by Karl Mannheim (1936) who said groups of individuals born within the same age period share a commonality – a similar world view.

As a Baby Boomer, we remember the Blizzard of 1978.  Although I was in college at the time and safely sequestered on campus, my husband remembers getting stuck on Route 128.  No cellphones.  People were stuck on the highway.  We remember blizzards.  They were not detrimental.  “The storms never damaged our spirits.  We weren’t dependent on instant access to 24-hour entertainment,” Pothier writes.

So, sorry Gen X and Gen Y if we remember previous blizzards.  We remember the disasters, but we didn’t have cellphones to help us in an emergency.  We were at the mercy of time.