Saturday, September 11, 2010

'Learned helplessness'

This heading is the name of an excellent post by Peter Kent on his blog Practical Interactivity. My previous post about self-organised learning demonstrates children's ability to learn things through collaboration and without adult guidance. Why then do we seem to lose this ability as we grow older? Does school teach us into a 'learned helplessness' whereby we cannot learn new concepts without someone formally teaching us.

Many teachers are still very wary of technology and all too often wait in vain for some major internal training initiative that will give them the competence they need. Many hide behind the convenient title 'digital immigrant' to explain why they are not using technology in class. That would seem to be admitting defeat before even trying.

"A mindset that insists on Professional Development before integrating technology is flawed.  It is not how we were born.  As children we all learnt to play with our toy, draw with our crayons, and as we learnt we made mistakes.  We did this through experimentation.  It is how we were born to acquire skills, to learn.  How is it now that so many adults are reduced to tears when confronted by an unfamiliar technology? We have learned to become helpless; most likely by playing the traditional game of ‘school’."

We need to foster a spirit of curiosity in schools and universities and if the teachers are not curious then neither will the students be. We all need to take responsibility for our own learning and recognize that learning is a lifelong pursuit. Many people I think realize that they have fallen far behind in terms of technology adoption and become smply paralysed. Catching up seems too daunting so instead you claim that you simply haven't got the time for such things and stick to tried and tested traditional teaching methods, deep down hoping for some magic crash course that will come from above (but never does).

Maybe we need to be inspired by the Indian children in Sugata Mitra's work (see below) and encourage groups of teachers to get together and experiment, preferably with the help of a more experienced mentor. There are no quick fixes to digital literacy. But a positive atmosphere towards innovation and experimentation is essential.

For more thoughts on this theme I can recommend a post by Innovative Educator called Think you're a digital immigrant? Get over it! and a list of key factors for the adoption of educational technology in the post What teachers need to understand.

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