Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Value of Shared Experience

My sister has been visiting with her daughter (8). All three young kids start each morning on their iPads. My sister became frustrated with extended periods of side by side playing and watching. Finally, she suggested they watch a movie together instead. I agreed, and after thinking a few minutes asked: "how is watching a movie together better than individual iPad use?" My sister said nothing apparently thinking about my question.

Later that day she said: "I watched them as they watched the movie. They laugh together, chat about the movie and have fun together." In essence, she was pointing to shared experiences that can then be a basis for communication and reminiscing. This can happen with devices as well if kids play together in a shared digital space such as Minecraft.

Curiously, this coincided with a video I watched by Dan Ariely on Big Think. In the video, Dan discusses the fact that the vacation experience has three phases, anticipation, execution, and reminiscing. All phases have emotions attached and a very different "half life". I would argue the same can be said for learning experiences (and vacations, at least good ones, are learning experiences). We create anticipation, a learning event and then opportunities for recall. We hope that the reminiscing phase is long and carries with it relevant lessons.

The shared experience becomes important across all phases. First, it heightens the anticipation. We have all seen learners getting each other excited about a coming learning experience. During the event, learners share key moments with oral comments, back channel comments, or even non-verbal comments (e.g. laughter). Finally, and maybe most importantly, learners can remind each other of the shared experience. In this way, they keep enhancing the memory trace and increase the half life of the learning event.

I would argue that the value of shared experiences is linked to the uniqueness of the learning experience itself. If students are busy practicing and gaining fluency (essentially performing at the lower range of their Zone of Proximal Development) then shared experiences are much less important and might actually get in the way. When creating we also seem to need some time without interaction with others to let our ideas grow. But, when we use meaningful and challenging learning events the value of the shared experiences increases.

Individualizing instruction to fit student personal needs must be balanced with shared learning experiences!

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