Slow learning

Many people would say that new technologies speed up life, indicated by terms such as “fast forward” or “multitasking.” The same people might add that because young people live in a fast-paced, digitally-enhanced world, we need to change schooling accordingly. If we don’t use technologies to match their pace, we’ll lose them. Moreover, there is so much more to learn today. We need to use podcasts, mobile technologies, video, on-demand resources, blogs, SMS, and other tools to speed up learning for the millenial generation.

Other people question the rush to new learning technologies. They argue that it’s good to learn in a slow, considered, and reflective way. Better to immerse oneself in a book, to read, even re-read difficult passages. Schooling should counter, not acquiesce to, the blur of modern life.

This debate is unlikely to reach an easy resolution. But as is often the case, the polar opposites here share some unquestioned assumptions. Both seem to think that the new technologies accelerate; they just disagree about whether that’s a good or bad thing.

However, when I’ve observed learning in classrooms with a thoughtful use of new technologies, I’ve often seen the contrary: Learning seems stretched out or slowed down. For example, in my last post about The Hundred-Mile-An-Hour Dog, I talked about a primary-level class doing digital storytelling around a book they had read. They built dioramas for scenes in the story, constructed clay figurines for the characters, photographed events in each episode, wrote narration for the scenes, checked grammar and spelling, and eventually created a photostory. This took many class sessions and involved discussions about the story, choices in design and presentation, and referring to the text for details. Certainly the new technologies (digital camera, computer) made it easier to carry out aspects of the project. But the overall effect was to engage the students in a deeper, more critical form of reading and response.

During this time, they didn’t read as many stories as they might have, or write as many words. One might say that their learning slowed down. At the same time it had become more substantive and meaningful. In contrast, their usual activities are sometimes rushed and unreflective.

So now, I’d like to flip the debate. Those who embrace the new technologies need to say that they’re good, not because they accommodate the fast pace of modern life, but because they slow it down. And those who oppose them need to realize that we often use the old tools in cursory, shallow ways which might be corrected with new technologies.

One thought on “Slow learning

  1. Hi Chip,

    “Slow learning” reminds me of the slow food movement, which focuses on the process of cooking quality food, in reaction to our prediliction for “fast”, inferior-quality food and “fast life” of industrialised society generally. You’ve touched on some key issues here, especially the capacity for new technologies to enable “deep” learning and the development of problem-solving and critical thinking skills. I think one of the major reasons for this is that students can use these tools to become active producers, rather than passive consumers, of knowledge.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s