Learning Loops

Yesterday my youngest daughter showed me the latest blog post she was working on (it’s about poisonous animals). She’s been writing it on the iPad and my initial suggestion was that she should try writing it on a laptop so that the keyboard was easier to use. Her response was that she preferred the iPad keyboard because it suggested words to her as she was typing. I hadn’t really thought of that before.

I rarely use the auto-complete functions on my devices. I guess I don’t see how they’d save me much time; but if I was learning lots of new words and working on my spelling I can see just how useful the auto-complete function might be.

My children find Kindles to be similarly helpful: the dictionary function means that they can press on any word and get a definition. Again, it’s not something I’d use often, but to someone who’s finding a new word every page or so it’s incredibly useful.

These little learning loops—the ways in which technologies encapsulate both the problems (writing/reading words) and the solutions (spelling/definitions)—are truly powerful. And what’s most powerful about them is the way that they support learning as a pull rather than a push activity. The things my children want to learn become available to them at the point of need, and therefore respond to their interests rather than attempt to dictate them.

More than that, they empower the learner to be—or at least feel—self-sufficient. These passive interventions of technology often have the appearance of neutrality: they are knowledgable but don’t come across as experts. For children who thrive most when they perceive that they’re in control, this way of learning is a real benefit; it’s also an interesting model for less invasive educational paradigms.