Kayaking as learning: Navigating life's knowledge whitewater
Kayaking as learning: learning should be more like kayaking, explains one knowledge expert, and the experience of picking information should be treated like an action sport, a whitewater rafting trip navigating the waters of knowledge and interaction.
Play is essential, says John Seely Brown, to becoming the kind of learner that keeps up with the ever-moving flow of activity, interaction, and knowledge of today’s networked world – learning that needs to be more like whitewater kayaking than a steamship that has a set course and just keeps moving along it for a long time.Skip to next paragraph
Anne Collier is editor of NetFamilyNews.org and co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a Web-based interactive forum and information site for teens, parents, educators, and everybody interested in the impact of the social Web on youth and vice versa. She lives in Northern California and has two sons.
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In a kayak, said Mr. Seely Brown, author, senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Communication, and former chief scientist at Xerox PARC. “You have to be in the flow, pick things up on the moment, feel it with your body, be a part of the flow – in it, not just above it and learning about it. In this new world of flows, knowledge is an action sport. How do we participate in these flows?” he asked in his keynote talk at the 2012 Digital Media & Learning conference in San Francisco in March.
Our kids can demonstrate
It might help us to watch our children do just that. Watch them participate in the unpredictable, constantly changing flow of play in multiplayer games and virtual worlds online and in gaming communities such as Xbox Live (Pew says 97% of US 12-to-17-year-olds play games; do they know something we’re only just beginning to figure out?). Video games are simulations of the world that Seely Brown is describing.
Today’s digital infrastructure is “radically different from anything civilization has ever seen before,” he said. In the past, we’d have “brief moments of radical disruption,” then 40 to 60 years of stability [e.g., "electrification hasn't changed one iota in the past 100 years," he said] during which we developed the institutional and social forms and practices that knew how to use those infrastructures.
In the 21st century, there’s “no stability in sight,” with change “driven by continual exponential advances in computation…. It’s not about learning the old so much as creating the new.” We’re now, at the societal level, having to figure things out as we go, learning and picking up skills on the fly while immersed in the problem. “We can now expect the 1/2 life of a skill – most skills we pick up – to have about five years,” Seely Brown said, whereas in the past “we could pick up a set of skills and basically hold those for life.” Now we’re constantly reinventing, augmenting those skills.
Not knowledge transferred & stored