Giving control to the learners

Just because it's a good idea to give control to learners does not mean every learner wants to be in control. Jennifer Nicol voiced this concern on The Bigger Challenge post this week:

For me, too, the revolution of the internet is one of time and space. That's what I can control now, and I love it. But I don't necessarily want to control the content that I fact, that's a quick road to crazyville; sometimes I go to bed with my head spinning from all the information I encountered that day.

I welcome the guidance of a teacher--someone who figures out what the learner needs and how to lead the learner there.

Jennifer's comment spawned on image in my mind of how easily it is to become overwhelmed by too much information, too many options and too many directions to explore. In that state of mind, cutting out the middle man is cruel. Free ranging is abandonment. We need the "guide on the side" and scaffolding for our preliminary understanding. Chris Anderson addresses this as the essential role of aggregators in The Long Tail. Without a search engine, user rankings, tagged search results and recommendations based on past purchases -- the glut of offerings out in the long tail is overwhelming and inaccessible.

Kathy Sierra explores this "user control" issue often on Creating Passionate Users. She wants the user interface to not be a distraction to the workflow. Yet she's aware of the tradeoffs in "how much control should our users have?" Letting the inmates run the asylum gives the learners too much control. When we are considering content offerings from portals at the magnitude of amazon or netflix, the guidance of a teacher is a very good idea.

Abandonment is not a problem inside game metaverses. Very few options are available at any given time. The gamer can work through the choices in the present situation without a teacher controlling the content in the game. The spatial context eliminates overwhelm. It's not possible to be on every level of every realm right now -- like it is in the blogosphere or web pages that Google searches. The "guide on the side" is built into the structure of levels. A spatial orientation prevents getting lost or confused by new options. Places look familiar. It's clear where danger is and how to go forward from here.

When gamers adopt that "epistemic frame", they are "good to go" without teachers. They can learn what they need when they need it and not get overwhelmed. It's great that content delivery is a thing of the past and middlemen are getting cut out of the deal. There's less interference with the fun of emergent learning by exploring, battling, strategyzing, building or creating both cooperatively and independently.


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  2. While the discussions about shifting control to the learner are intellectually stimulating, I am looking for debates on 'how' rather than 'why'. I am seeking deliverance from ID and ADDIE which require me to centrally decide for the learner; freedom from SCORM wrappers that ask me to freeze the ToC; escape from objects and assets that I have to tag and laboriously incorporate within defined co-ordinates; and the sheer drudgery of 'click next to continue'. Despite innovations over time, my understanding is that content development and production remains a laborious and constrained process. Assuming that most of us work for clients who define a set of skills and competencies and like learning solutions to deliver those, most of us are willing to take the 'what' as given, as long as 'how' is left to our imagination. Between moronic flipping of screens and instructor-led forums, and several pretences of innovation, how much of the unlimited world of Google and Wi-ki have we really brought into the learning solutions themselves, before we decide that setting the chicken free is the way to go?

  3. Free ranging is not abandonment. That is a malicious myth that completely misrepresents what is meant by the concept.

    Yes, sometimes people want structure. Yes, sometimes they want to be shown around. I remember when I arrived in Rome for the first time, a few years ago. Chaos! a guide would have been helpful.

    If I choose to hire a guide, I am *still* free ranging. Because *I* can still control whether or not to follow the directions.

    By contrast, the *other* way to show me around Rome is to kidnap me and force me to look at all the museums. Whether I want to or not.

    Sense the difference?

    Free range: I explore by myself, take a bus, hire a tour guide, whatever I want.

    Traditional, formal learning: I am kidnapped and forced to see things whether I want to or not.

    Do not let people assert that free-ranging (or informal learning, or whatever it's called this week) is equivalent to no instruction whatsoever. This misrepresents what is at the heat of the concept, which is not the content or the nature of the learning, but rather, who controls the on-off switch.

  4. I think that the need for "guiding" a learner through the process is related to our lack of time. Personally, I often do not have the time to just search the net to discover the information I need. This is specially the case when I don't know where to start.

    Courses and instructors are there to give me a starting point or to make my learning time efficient.

    In my work environment, I develop training programs specifically so that people will learn to use our products faster. If it is something they don't need to get started, and is covered in the documentation, then I leave it as a "take-home" exercise, that the learner will do "just-in-time".

    So, structure is good for at least two reasons: time efficiency and finding the right starting place. If the course doesn't do either, then is it valuable?

  5. Educatonal games don't give learners the option to freely roam, they are as structured as a lecture : the instructor might be hidden, but somebody is moving a person forward along the activity. The learner might be clicking with their finger on a mouse rather than twitching their ears and the game will probably be more engaging than a lecturer, but the control is still in the hands of the instructor. The learner can only switch on and off. Or have I played the wrong games?

  6. Thanks for the comment and question. You're right that most educational games control the learner. That's comparable to Web 1.0 where all we could do is click on links on fixed web pages that rarely changed. We are moving around much more freely in Web 2.0 with Google searches, tagging what we find in our own way and expressing ourselves through blogging, videos, and our profiles. Educational games are more free ranging when they include the web searches, commenting in the blogosphere or building something inside Second Life. What you're doing right now (reading a comment about your comment on a blog you chose to read) is more free ranging than any pre-packaged game can ever be.