What's the Big Idea?

On Informal Learning
The relationship between informal learning and more traditional lecture style learning is a strained one. Lecture style learning has been around for a while, it’s been there done that and has taught millions. For lecture style learning, order and timelines are important. Informal learning, on the other hand, plays by it’s own rules. Informal learning is messy, fun, and a bit of a slacker. You would think that if these two were people they wouldn’t get along very well. Their personalities clash, they have different our looks on life and have different methods for achieving success. And yet we cannot resist getting them together.

I have to admit, I’m guilty of trying to use informal learning in a formal learning environment (In fact I still think it can be done). This is perhaps why one of Papert’s statement really jumped out to me. Papert states “[Discovery learning] is disempowered in part because discovery stops being discovery when it is orchestrated to happen on the preset agenda of a curriculum”. Here Papert argues that there is disconnect with the idea of discovering something that has already been found, or in this case is meant to be found. This presents a problem considering the fact that schools today must ensure that key concepts are being taught. There are no guarantees with true discovery learning, but that simply cannot exist in a standards based curriculum.

On technology
Further more, Papert puts forth the idea that it is not enough to learn through discovery if what the student discovers is of no use or interest to them. The ideas used and the ideas formed must be appealing to the students. The problem is: What idea is big enough to encompass the interests of all students? I love to learn about animals and the various defensive strategies they’ve evolved over millions of year, but others can’t even make it to the end of that statement without nodding off. This is exactly why there is so much interest in computers as educational tools.

There seems to be a misguided idea of what educational technology is, and at what point it is useful. Everyone seems to be waiting for that new program that can teach anyone anything. The truth is it will never come. Computers are seen as these magical creature that help people learn through their programs. The reality is that computers are no more than an evolution of paper. They are merely tools that display what others have created. If we take this a step further programs can then be seen as books, or pieces of artwork created on this paper. But just like in real life, some books really connect with the readers and expands their minds, and other don’t.

Perhaps this is why Papert believed Logo to be an excellent learning tool. Logo, as any other programming language, allows students to write and draw on this new paper. Now, I’m not saying that programming is the only option but I agree with the logic behind it. Allow the student to create what they want with a computer. If logo allows them to explore their Ideas, then great. If Microsoft Word allows students to express their ideas, then allow them to be used! The beauty of computers is that they are flexible enough to become whatever the student needs. Maybe Resnick said it best when he noted that “These new technologies should provide children with design leverage, enabling them to create things that would have been difficult for them to create in the past”.