I have to admit I do get more information, and dare I say it, learning from the television than I should do. I’m a bit of a sucker for factual documentaries and the odd bit of reality television, but for two episodes I have been totally entranced by can’t read, can’t write that has recently appeared on Channel 4.
The programme traces the learning journeys of a number of adults who are learning to read for the first time. My initial reaction to hearing about this programme was one of astonishment: words, to me are like air. They are something that I barely notice because they surround me. As the programme started, I wondered what would unfold before my eyes and the people who I was presented with astonished me with their determination, intelligence and their love of language.
Phil Beadle’s performance was also astonishing. I’ve done nothing more than read about learning styles and the skepticism that surround them, but he was using them in anger. Jumping out from the screen was the realization that reading (and writing) is an activity that is ultimately synesthetic. To write, you have to integrate the shape of the words with the feeling of the pen. Writing this now seems so obvious. Beadle mentioned something interesting: all his learners had different needs and requirements and no single teaching approach would work for everyone, at the same time.
I connected this need for personalization of education with a project I'm working on that is trying to figure out how to present learning materials that are suited to the needs and preferences of individual learners. A talented teacher will have the skill (and the reflective ability) to undercover what works for which student. Getting this information in to a magical software program that provides learners what they need to help learners to learn is a really tough problem to solve.
I’ve been idly wondering for a while about how much can be done to support the learning of phonics (and writing) using touch screen laptops. I remember from a keynote that learning technologists should be also thinking about what can be cost effective from a learning and teaching perspective. I simplify this terribly: teacher time is expensive but tools that can support learning have the potential to be cheap. The challenge is tuning devices and technologies in a way that is efficient for the educator and effective for the learner.