Just in Time – Curious Learning

Opportunity Framing:

Today, we often see people walk in front of beautiful trees and rocks in national parks, snap a picture using their smartphone, and then walk away, never to think about the trees or rocks again.  People are more comfortable with looking up information on Wikipedia or Google about the trees or rocks instead of trying to learn more about these natural phenomena by touching, observing, smelling, or even tasting what they are seeing. We’d like to explore how we can inspire adult learners to think and act like geologists or botanists again, especially in the outdoor setting.

We would like to initially leverage existing platforms like Twitter and Instagram to capture succinct questions and provide comments or pictures.

Ideally, end goal would be that the user gets a JIT generated word cloud of their curiosity quest over the past month and this motivates them to explore diverse learning opportunities across spaces and media.


How might we inspire curiosity in adult learners outside of the Media Lab through question based, collaborative interactions

How might we promote fluid learning (fluid intelligence)  across disciplines, experts, boundaries, and imaginations

Potential Idea:

Open Platform Scavenger Hunt / Trivia Application

User has the JIT application on her smartphone. When she arrives at Half Dome, the JIT application sends her a signal – there is already a question that another person had left when he or she was there. She opens the JIT application and looks at the question. She can virtually respond (character limit tbd) or upload a related picture as a clue/response/collaborative effort.

 3 User Profiles:

All looking at Half Dome at Yosemite. All three users are looking at the same Half Dome Rock at different times, different dates.

1. Travelling Professional

Incentive to go to Half Dome:

Female travelling professional, 35 years old. She works for NASA as an aeronautical engineer. She is travelling to California for a conference and decides to visit Yosemite on the way for a day. She is an avid photographer but prefers travelling light. She rents a car and goes to explore Yosemite for the day with her backpack, Nikon D90 DSLR camera and iPhone and a light snack.

After Visit to Half Dome:

She takes approximately 100 photographs of Half Dome and then goes on a walking trail. After she leaves Yosemite, she saves the photos on her hard-drive and uploads some photos on Flickr and her Facebook page. Her college friends, NASA colleagues, and family all see the post. After a week, she receives a comment from her colleague, “I’m going to Yosemite too!”


2. International Student from Japan

Incentive to go to Half Dome:

Male student 19 years old that just came from Japan to pursue an undergraduate degree in English Literature from UCLA. He’s heard rumors about Yosemite being a “must-see” park before classes start so he decides to go on his own with a tour bus. His hobbies include video-games, comic-books, cooking, and zip-lining. He hopes to take nice pictures of Yosemite to put on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

After Visit to Half Dome:

He uploads pictures to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. He has a large following both in Japan and in the United States. He likes to put filters on his pictures so they will look more artistic. He captions the photos using witty statements. Many people, even people who he’s never met before, “like” his photos or retweet his photo.


3. Retired Scientist

75 year old professor of paleontologist, has hearing disabilities, likes to walk around outdoors, digital immigrant, has flip-phone but does not use SNS.  He has an iPad that he received from his family but he’s still learning how to use it.  He documents what he sees and experiences with note pad and sketch pad, voice recorder. He like to read National Geographic. He hopes to just relax and get fresh air.

After Visit to Half Dome:

He shares the sketches with his family after dinner. He talks about the colors and the history of the rock with his children and his grandchildren. He also talks about his past experience at the rock, which he visited 3 years ago, and contracts the differences in the colors of the rock. He discusses with his children the next places he’d like to visit but also encourages them to visit Half Dome as well.


Simply learning

Q: 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’d like to start with Clive Thompson ‘s comment that seems rather apt here: “Now if a student is interested in basketball the teacher can let him learn and explore that deeply – the psychology of it, the economics of it, the politics of it, the statistics of it. Technology has opened up the world to a small school with limited resources.”
Non-linear curiosity has worked for me over the years in developing passions, interests and opportunities that I would have otherwise missed. I think curiosity by definition is non-linear, yet so often it is stifled in a formal education environment that insists on a prescribed curriculum and structure.
Graduate school has been an eye-opening experience for me in more ways than one. There seems to be less emphasis on structure and a more open exploration of ideas and avenues. Now, the caveat is that I completed high school and some college work in India, went to Cal State for undergrad and am now at Harvard for grad school. It could certainly be the cultural differences between each institution that guide my judgement. I have had excellent teachers and opportunities in each of those. But now I am finally deemed old and able enough to chart my own course of learning. My performance is not measured in respect to everyone else’s. My thinking does not have to be toned up or down to suit the class average. My habit of jumping between topics, trying to connect the dots, going off on tangents is not shrugged off as ADD. In those blissful moments of solitude (I’m not a social networker 🙁 ) my laptop is my best friend and never lets me down with whatever information I might need…just in time. Wikipedia is my new bible. I’m happy to let Amazon have all my business, I love a good deal!  When I moved to Boston I found a temporary crash-pad on Airbnb. I found out online about open classes at Harvard: Ruby on Rails, GIS, foreign languages, entrepreneurship. Technology has increased my access to opportunities and made the information I digest relevant for my life choices and aspirations. It has made all of my life experiences that much richer and more productive.
I believe one way to inspire curiosity and passion amongst learners is by emphasizing interdisciplinary learning. Maybe we underestimate young students and hold back opportunities from independent learners? Maybe we subconsciously discourage students from being mature enough to pursue their own learning interests? With devices and the internet propagating just in time learning a student can revisit missed information at any point in his/her life. But it seems so important to give students the freedom to see where their interests take them, while that unfiltered curiosity still comes naturally to them. I was sharing similar thoughts with a peer who simply defined it as making a time machine available: any time, anywhere, any subject learning, about any era. It’s incredible how so few students think about the world beyond earth, how there are so few astronomy fanatics. It’s a fact staring them in the face every time they look out the window. Yet the first reaction is to ask them to concentrate on the task at hand and “refocus”. On 14th century history ?

Tweet: “How might we propagate interdisciplinary education and information sharing?”

Blurring the Lines

– Environments rich in engaging content, new information, same information in a new light
– Environments free of judgement, competition, inhibition
– Environments encouraging curiosity, creativity, interpretations, with a promise of betterment
– Learning the meaning of a word on Merriam-Webster
– Learning a cake recipe on Food Network
– Reading a biography on Wikipedia
– Introduction to Artificial Intelligence on EdX
– Daily interactions with friends, family
– Formal education with instructors, mentors
– Encounters with strangers or self-reflection leading to epiphanies
– Mediums of content delivery
– Props for hands-on learning
– User creations that are an evidence of learning
– Active users seeking to learn something specific
– Passive users drawing learnings from daily engagements and reflections
– Accidental users learning by observing others
Interpretation: Learning transcends all boundaries, all restrictions. It is the sole vehicle for sustainable evolution, from one generation to another, from one way of life to another. So should platforms of delivery.  Learning needs to be clean, simplistic, seamless and transformational. Learners learn best when the focus is shifted onto the purpose and relevant content. Mode of delivery, sophistication of curriculum or use of technology only serves to augment inherently rich content, not replace it.