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In Difficult Circumstances: how tough is your learning?

There are many ways in which you can tell that someone truly learnt something. One of my favourite signals for this has lately been a simple fact: they will be able to act and function differently, in all circumstances. Here’s what I mean by that.

Always on: how our devices got smarter with time

If you listen carefully to what the big tech companies are saying, you will be able to spot their big ambition: to make the things they sell capable of talking to other things (they also sell.) A watch that talks to your phone. A fridge that talks to your wallet. A car that talks to other cars. A calendar that talks to your location tracker.
This is good news. In more ways than you can imagine, this is turning your mind into a clearer, healthier place. You don’t need to stress about your next meeting – your phone knows where it is. It’s easier to do the shopping, because your online supermarket remembers what you bought. And with a car that speeds up and slows down according to what it sees on the road, your driving is safer and less stressful.
This is great. When it works.

Sometimes off: how our behaviour got dumber as our devices got smarter

Take away my iPhone when I’m on the road, and you might as well send me back home with nothing. Who am I seeing next? What are we talking about? Where is this place? These are the kinds of problems that my predecessors’ brains had to solve with good memory, maps or notes.
Switch off my wi-fi, and you’ll turn me into one miserable grumpy guy. No more research (comic strips). No more productivity (on Twitter). You know the drill. Many of us actually find that they get much more done when their net connection is down – for me, this is not the case.
Getting things out of your head means that they need somewhere to go. And although storing them digitally – “in the cloud,” online, or on any electronic gizmos – is fashionable and cool, it’s rarely resilient.

Who would survive a blackout in your team?

Take a look at the people you live, work or hang out with. Imagine that an electronic disaster wipes off your team’s entire access to information. Who would you want on your team? Who would you trust to do the right thing, keep functioning, possibly even get better as others have their digital meltdowns?
For many people, this is not a hypothetical question. Harry Kuchah told an audience of language teachers this year about teaching English in difficult circumstances: large classes with few resources. And Toby Shapshak told the TED audience some time ago that in Africa, innovation doesn’t just mean finding a new app for your iPhone: it means having to deal with more problems, less infrastructure and different day-to-day demands.
People who learn to cope in such situations will still enjoy their Candy Krush. But they could probably get on well if there was little or no technology around them.

So now what?

If you’re keen to see how this works for you, here’s a quick activity to get you started.

– List the apps, pieces of software, tools, gadgets and gizmos that you use every day. Shoot for 10 most frequently used things.
– Name a specific use for each of these things. For example, “I use the Aldiko Reader app to read novels on my commute to and from work.”
– Then – try a thought experiment. “If I didn’t have X, I’d have to cope by Y-ing.” In the above case, if I didn’t have Aldiko, I’d have to make more frequent library runs, and take paperbacks with me on the train.
– Finally – move from the use to the value or benefit. “Aldiko means I get access to stories, and to imagination, and I get to build my taste for good writing.” These are the things you’re preserving, and in resilient learning, these should be the values that can be disconnected from any tool.

I hope it made sense to you, guys – tell me: do you find yourself learning and coping with life better now that you’re all connected?


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