Immersion learning

Over the weekend, I helped a friend finalize a 3 minute video "Kids and Kites" on helping learners soar. It will be shown at the Aero Conference (Alternative Education Resource Organization) this week. You can view the video here and the web page I created for him here.

As I watched the rough cut and got ideas for changes in edits, I was amazed at how I was functioning better than ever. I could feel where the video was engaging me and where that enchantment disappeared. I could notice where the music felt right and where it did not. I repeatedly had a strong sense of what was "perfect as is" and what needed tweaking. This is new for me to work this way!

I've edited countless videos for my management consulting work. Since the last time I edited videos (circa 1991), my abilities have grown tremendously. Without any practice or instruction, I've become more competent, quick to respond, insightful and tuned into several subtle levels of digital storytelling. I wondered how this occurred?

After the work was completed yesterday, I realized that I probably had learned better editing skills unconsciously. In the past fifteen years, I have immersed myself in movies. There's a movie on the TV "with the mute on" when I'm reading books. I have rented countless videotapes and DVDs of films. I watched a second time with the "directory commentary" to get a sense of the process and chemistry which created the finished work. I've built a library of my favorite films and now watch them for the third or fourth time.

All this exposure to film making and viewing is immersion learning. I did not study video editing formally in these years. I did not receive content or practice new skills. I was not taught or shown how to edit better than I was. I picked these new abilities up without a structured PLE to get them. I effortlessly acquired new habits of sight, feeling, sensitivity and response. I simply immersed myself in a lot of video with great appreciation, fascination and self direction.

Perhaps the difficulties we're having with clarifying the essence PLE's, eLearning and School 2.0 relate to excluding immersion learning. What if most learning occurs effortlessly? What if formal instruction is so often ineffective because it assumes learning only happens when we make it happen? What if the kind of learning we do without trying or conscious effort is better? What if our skills, conduct, and performance measures are exceptional when we acquired our abilities by immersion? What if this is the kind of learning the digital natives are experiencing? What if the only way to learn from gaming, social networking and self expression is immersion?


  1. What if many people don't want to learn what is being taught? It's like kids in class. If you can motivate them, they will learn. If you want to learn, you will.

    One of the best stories about learning I ever heard happened during the early days of the Peace Corps. Young, motivated people gathered on the east coast waiting to be deployed. While they were waiting there was nothing to do. Many knew where they were going but couldn't speak the local language so they organised self-study groups, scrounging resources and expertise.

    Feedback from these learning experiences was that it was the most effective language learning ever. Why? because they were motivated.

    I think that a lot of our training and education supposes an unmotivated audience and we decide to manage risk and throw everything possible at them. "But we taught it in class" becomes the defence.

    We're hard-wired to learn. The only way to learn is our way. I'd say that immersion is a pretty darned good and natural way.

  2. Thanks for this Harold. I tell a similar story about kids who refuse to learn to read when getting taught. But once their best friend and rivalrous sibling can read, the motivation to learn is there. In six weeks they can learn to read at a level that the others took two years of getting taught. Immersion works!

    I agree we are hard wired to learn. I'm thinking we cannot shut if off. So in a situation with useless content, harmful coercion or mismatched approaches, we naturally learn to play the game or minimize our involvement by socializing, playing games, etc. We don't stop learning, we learn to survive or thrive amidst the adversity, stupidity and insensitivity.