Learning to Love Running

How can we inspire curiosity and passion for learning in more people, and help learners make progress towards their personal goals?  How might we use the web (or other tools) to do this? Start by asking yourself, how you developed the passion for the things you are interested in today (what are they?) and then generalize from there.

I love running, but I didn’t when I started three years ago. Learning to love it required specific conditions:

  • inspiration: I was grieving and needed a release. I wanted to start running but was a terrible runner.
  • equipment: To feel comfortable running, I had to buy running shoes, clothes, and a tiny ipod that fit in my pocket.
  • easy access to the right environment: I was living a block away from Central Park. It was fall – ideal running weather.
  • a concrete goal: I decided to train for a half marathon. I paid for the registration and plane ticket.
  • encouragement: A friend convinced me running a half marathon was actually possible and helped me through the training.
  • a schedule: I had a training plan that I felt obligated to stick to. At first it was aspirational (I figured I could abandon it anytime), but after a few weeks it started to seem feasible – and I started to enjoy it and look forward to the long runs.
  • a result: It felt great finishing the race.

I believe that curiosity and passion start with an inspiration or need. A user might come to a learning platform already inspired to learn something, but a platform could also generate the inspiration to learn. Think of a site like Pinterest or Kickstarter — users browse through content without a specific notion of what they’re looking for, seeking something that inspires them as a starting point for engagement. When learning a new skill, learners must have access to certain equipment and environments to get started. The platform could have these elements built in or provide a way to access them in the real world. We begin to really enjoy doing things after we’ve already developed a basic competency and are able to see our progress and begin to explore further on our own. Getting to this point requires encouragement from a mentor or peers. Goals and schedules can also help motivate us through the early, most challenging, stages of learning. Finally, getting to showcase the results of what we’ve accomplished serves as a reward that makes learning feel more concrete and worthwhile. A learning platform should ideally enable the formation of a community that would both motivate us through the learning process and serve as an audience for the results of our learning.

What can we learn from learning at the Media Lab?

I began by focusing on a few of the learning conditions inside the Media Lab as a starting point for thinking about what we want to encapsulate in a Media Lab learning platform. These conditions serve as inspiration; from here we still have to make the leap to considering the needs of the users we want to reach.

People improve their ideas by sharing them with others even if they’re not perfect.

By presenting or pitching our work to peers or to the public, we learn to articulate and become more confident about our ideas. Presentation is a skill, and it’s a component of learning often feels uncomfortable at first.

Hacking was never a keyword for me before I came to MIT, but it’s a central component of MIT culture, and the Media Lab embraces it in its own way. People learn through hacking (taking something and reinterpreting or repurposing it) and through hackathons (focused, collaborative, creative efforts.)

Iteration is a key component of project development. To create a thoughtful product, we must learn to see failure as part of the process and to view even successful products through a critical lens. Iteration requires an investment of time, testing, and experimentation.

Informal environments incubate radical ideas.

Commons provide an unstructured space for socializing and working. Media lab common spaces facilitate learning because they are reconfigurable, so they can be used for multiple purposes; they feel informal, so they are used as communal spaces for eating and socializing; and they are central, so they serve as spaces where different populations can overlap and interact.

Unusual experiences happen in Media Lab elevators. Sometimes they are moving bars or art installations.

The best ideas are developed drinking beer with friends at the Muddy. This environment typically encourages disrespectful or impractical thinking.

People learn from interacting with people whose perspectives and expertise are different from their own.

Partnerships and teams are a form of peer learning that enable peers with different skills, knowledge, or perspectives to learn from each other.

Mentorships enable people with less experience to develop ideas with support from people with more experience.

Chats, backchannels, and social media enable people to discuss media and events as they are happening, enabling an enhanced critical understanding.

People learn when they can capture and organize thoughts and information. / Sharing builds individual and community knowledge. / People learn when they feel comfortable. 

Whiteboards help collaborators articulate, organize, and combine ideas. They represent a public space for idea generation.

The Media Lab is wired with sensors tracking environmental conditions and human activity, which enable the recognition of patterns. People learn by making sense of data.

Furniture helps us move from one working mode to another and helps the human body adapt to work.

A diverse and open community regenerates its members’ motivation to learn (Maybe?)

A core community is comprised of students, P.I.s, researchers, and administrators.

Long and short term visitors such as sponsors, project partners, companies, speakers, and guests bring in new stimuli.

This community is comprised of people whose main focus lies in academiadesign, engineering, and business — diverse, complimentary forms of expertise.