Botanical learning

Playing along with Jay's approach to gardening learnscapes, here's how I've pictured the phases for understanding a new idea for hundreds of college students. I'll use examples from playing a new computer game, like I have been doing for the past two days.

A new idea begins as a seed that is very vulnerable to not taking root. Laying on the ground, it can be eaten by birds or rodents. It can be blown away by wind or washed away by rain. This is the phase of learning a new fact. Most of what I read in the game manual or saw in a new menu as I checked out the new interface -- is gone the next day. My lack of retention/recall is the failure to take root. Until I use it, I lose it.

A seed begins to grow away from the light, groping around in the dark, trying different directions to lengthen its roots. Some directions are blocked by rocks, other root systems or hillside exposure. This phase of learning is the experimentation involved with skill building. We don't know how to do something from knowing what the idea is. I can know that the game gives me five tools to use, but that's no indication that I can build with them or achieve the objectives of the scenario I'm in. I'm "in the dark" until I iteratively see what works, what makes a difference, what achieves my objective. As I learn how useful a new tool is, how to apply it and how it solves problems, my lofty conceptual understanding has taken root in the lower realm of action. I've gotten "down and dirty". The foundation is established to stabilize the next stage of development.

With root structure established, the seed launches a new direction of growth with leaves and stem. Growing toward the light, the plant can now be fed by the sun and ambient moisture. It's also vulnerable to insect damage, severe weather and foot traffic. This phase of learning is intrinsic, self-paced, idiosyncratic and self-taught. We make sense of the skill in the context of our uses, past experiences and ambitions. I'm comparing Version 3 that I'm now learning to all the games I played in Version 2. I'm seeing how the new tools and game mechanics make it much easier to achieve some objectives while heightening the challenge in others. Those are my own realizations that depend on my gaming experiences and my ability to reflect on those experiences. Like the plant, I'm getting fed and nurtured as I grow in my understanding. The process seems very organic, not at all procedural or mechanistic. I'm also more vulnerable to discouragement, criticism and comparison to others because my epistemic growth is deviant, spontaneous and creative.

The stem and leaves eventually culminates in a flower. This phase of understanding is the flow state where time stands still and action is effortless. I lose my self and immerse myself totally in the game. My actions make the differences I intend and emergent changes in the game scenario are welcome challenges. From this flowering of fun, satisfaction and fascination comes new seeds. I get ideas for other games to play, scenarios in this game and blog posts about the convergence of game play and learning.

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