Bumper to Bumper Learning


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. //


11 thoughts on “Bumper to Bumper Learning

  1. This is a great example of “Experiential Learning”, thanks for sharing your experience.
    Regarding your question…when and where are we best suited to learn? In my opinion, there are not perfect situations for anything, and, this includes learning. However, we can take advantage of any situation and use it in our favor. With this in mind, we can learn any where, any time, the only thing needed is the willingness to do it.


  2. I like the traffic analogy, so let’s also consider all of the cars merging onto the roadway of a student’s education from the 4-6 other classes they are taking or tasks from advisors for graduate students. I think this makes your argument even more important than before. What if there was a way to create networks between different classes our students are taking at the same time or have taken in the past? In many cases, assignments and topics in one class could just as easily fit into another class.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thoroughly agree, Bethany. There used to be ‘informal’ (some describe them as unethical) networks here at VT that used to share class notes, quizzes and tests to study/learn from. They were far from perfect and often had a negative perception, so they were often considered an ‘underground’ resource. They were called Koofer files. When I used them, I found them to be a rich and rewarding way to supplement the materials that were provided in class. I never had the ‘luck’ of taking a test/quiz that was a duplicate of one I studied from but just having additional exposure to the material in a slightly different way was instructive.
      When I became a teacher, I recalled how valuable the files and connections were and tried to find ways for students to share their notes and ideas with each other so that they could learn from and with one another. Lots of students loved the opportunity, others had no interest in collaborating. It may have had something to do with my amateur approach, but most kids needed to be routinely assured that it wasn’t a ‘bad’ thing to share, talk and teach one another. They also had to overcome their possessiveness and, with my fourth graders in particular, a Lord of the Flies (competitive) mentality: only the strongest survive, and allowing others to become stronger may make them competitors.
      Thinking about collaborative learning keeps me up at night. How can we develop a deep sense of community early in a child’s/young person’s life – especially when their parents (and teachers) have lived in cultures of embedded competition, and that devalue those relationships and the benefits that result? (1) How do we create spaces (and time) where students can learn from one another – particularly in terms of perspective and interpretation to create deeper, more rewarding learning experiences. (2) What is needed to allow the adults (in charge) the opportunity to see/experience deep and meaningful – and sometimes unsuccessful – collaboration in order to understand the benefits of such experiences (including the unsuccessful ones)? How can those experiences be structured to result in personal implementation?
      It seems to me that something like Massive Multi-Player Thumb Wrestling may be a way to start.

      (1) I believe that if we start early we can change culture from within: if children grow up understanding something inherently, they are much more inclined to use it (and re-shape it) throughout their lives. The use of seatbelts in cars [by people] is an example of the type of early learning that results in a cultural change. Legend has it that early efforts to get adults to use them were fruitless, so the focus turned to educating children in why and how to use them, and within 10 years seatbelt use had risen dramatically. (I have no citation for this at the moment …)
      (2) Two relatively new pedagogies appear extremely promising to me: gamification (as we began to discuss in class on Wednesday) and Flipping a Classroom, which I did a brief post on and may return to after reading for next week: https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/kgculbertson/a-quick-note-on-flipping-a-classroom/)


  3. I absolutely like that you establish networked learning on a grey-ish scale, as extremely advantageous under certain conditions – if done right on an individual level- rather than going with a the white or black border.


  4. Very interesting read! I agree with you, learning has no limits- you can learn anything, anytime, anywhere. There is so much opportunity that network learning can provide you, but its up to you to best utilize the resources.


  5. I, like you, have tried audiobooks/narrators and found them to be not suitable for me. I absorb better if I am reading.. Whether it be on a screen or in print. I know a lot of purists prefer reading in print over a screen. So, I agree that there is not a single method or time or place that works for everyone. But that is an advantage of using technology in learning. I have sat in classes where I was really distracted and wished they were recorded for review later…


  6. Oh what an interesting post! I am so excited to hear your point of view. Pros and cons, right?! To figure out the optimal amount/level/intensity of how networked learning can work for your students. Fantastic train of thoughts. Thank you for sharing.


  7. I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said about finding the information at the wrong time or in the wrong place and what those times and where those places might be. I often listen to the novels I’m assigned on my way to and from school. Since I live 40+ minutes away this works out great, I can usually listen to another ten minutes as I walk to class or my office for a total of about an hour of listening time. Most of the time I feel like I retain as much from listening to the books as I would had I read them. Other times, however, I retain nothing. I have to hit the back 30 seconds button six times to get to place I remember hearing already. Sometimes I have to restart a whole chapter. The drive is the same. The traffic generally the same. The time of day is the same. Which leaves me as what is different. I’m in the wrong “place” if you will. Distracted by something not in my immediate physical space. Interesting how the internal and external spaces need to line up to really get everything out of the text.


  8. Wow… I love your example of pretty much doing homework in the car while traveling. This is right along the lines of Hitchcock’s comment about incorporating research (and in this case school work/our academic interests) into our daily life. When I travel back and forth to my hometown of Raleigh, NC, I often listen to Food Safety Podcast. It is a good way to burn an hour while catching up on current food safety news and listening to the discussions occurring around these often controversial topics. Nowadays we can uptake information at any point in the day at just about any location. My roommate listens to a podcast specific to her studies while she is getting ready and eating breakfast each morning. While I’m having my coffee in the mornings I do a quick run through of the feed I have set up for food safety news coming out through the different media outlets.


  9. What a creative and thoughtful post! Reminds me of how I can only listen to audio book as a passenger but never a driver. I agree with a previous post that this is a wonderful example of experiential learning. There really is a time and place for everything. I was wondering what exactly you had meant by “contextual learning?” Is this a specific technical term?


    1. By contextual learning I am referring to the importance of place in learning. The idea that it is important to understand where and under what circumstances you learn best. This typically would not be in the driver seat of a car. But it also may not be the university or the school context that people typically imagine to be the best environment for education.


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