A computer read me the essays for this week’s post while stuck in bumper to bumper traffic in the middle of Manhattan. A friend’s wedding took me nearly 500 miles from Blacksburg and I knew I would have to multi-task a bit to stay caught up with my coursework. I discovered an app called VoxDox that takes article URLs and dictates them with a robotic voice reminiscent of Kraftwerk albums from the mid 1970’s. When a big build up at the mouth of the Holland Tunnel stopped me dead in my tracks I just pressed play, turned up the volume, and listened to a tinny rendition of Gardner Campbell’s “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning” (2016) drown out the honking horns of far too many aggressive New York City drivers.
At first it felt incredible. While most people may have lost their cool in the two hours it took me to drive from Brooklyn to Jersey City, I had an enormous smile on my face the whole time. I was beating the system. I was getting work done while driving. Multi-tasking and simultaneously mastering the 21st century educational system. But as I swerved to avoid a massive bus that had to weave at weird angles through a grid-locked intersection, I realized my situation was not so ideal. I was distracted. I was absorbing about every other sentence at best. And I was about 90 minutes late for the rehearsal dinner.
And so I came to the conclusion that just like George Kuh had warned against in his monologue mentioned in the first paragraph of Campbell’s post, I had alienated myself from my own education. In my case it was not due to a desire to meet minimum syllabus requirements or to the university’s focus on developing core competencies. My alienation was due to the extreme accessibility of technology and an irreverence to the importance of contextual learning. I am continually amazed that we now have nearly unlimited and unrestricted access to information. But sometimes there is just too much of it and when we find it in the wrong places at the wrong times it can be very counterproductive. This is the crux of procrastination and the danger in distracted learning. It was also remarkably similar to my situation in traffic. Too many cars on insufficient roadways, ill-prepared to handle the flow of traffic.
I love the idea of networked learning. You can learn absolutely anything. You can learn it absolutely anywhere. You can gain insights from brilliant minds regardless of physical proximity. It has the potential to transform access to knowledge and the collaborative creation of truth. It’s miraculous. But we all need to keep asking ourselves how much bandwidth we really have. When and where are we best suited to learn? In what ways can we best tap into these seemingly infinite wells of information? Every person has their preference and every person is different. The more we ask and probe the better chance we will have to design the next generation of adaptive platforms for networked learning that organize and present the material in more manageable, personalized ways.
How many uncoordinated honking cars can you really shove down the throat of the Holland Tunnel? But once those cars are connected and correlated, aware of the space around them and the best collective way to get to their respective destinations, there’s no slowing them down. The same goes for learning. Once we perfect networked learning and give it more awareness and intuition, there’s no bottleneck. Give it contextual awareness and make sure it is delivered in an appropriate place and an appropriate way for each individual and suddenly there’s no more concerns with bandwidth. There is just an awe-inpspiring capacity to drive forward the collective intelligence of the human race.
\\ For the record I had to re-read the essays before writing this post and I did indeed make it across the Hudson River in time for the wedding. //