Learning Technology by Playing With It

David Warlick wrote Easy to Teach Isn’t Easy to Learn about different styles in attempting to learn new technologies and he prompted me to reflect on my own learning and teaching. He compares taking notes and working with step-by-step instructions vs. playing with technologies to see what they will do. The text below is basically a copy of my reply to his blog post, but food for thought which I'd like to share here.

I experiment and I take notes. I do experiment and poke around to find what I need. I guess this reflects the title of my own blog "ExploratoryLearner". After years of this approach, I’ve learned to build on anticipated actions based on other software experiences. However, this occasionally gets me into trouble, as the "norm" or expected action is sometimes not the chosen method in particular software.

Upon reflection, I realize a transition in my teaching style over the past couple years. I have always provided notes with step-by-step instructions for use both during and after the class. For some time now, I've been providing the notes, but my classes are becoming a conversation about teaching and/or the application of technologies to meet (usually educational) objectives. As David Warlick points out, "There is always more than one way to solve the problem and even more aspects of the problem that need to be factored in." Allowing people to work experimentally helps them discover multiple options and through regular use, they will discover good reasons for choosing a different path to achieve what appears to be the same end.

Another opportunity that is often overlooked is the use of technologies to achieve something for which they were not designed. The name of the game is to keep an open mind and see what the technologies can do for you. Be creative!

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