Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

23 May 2011

Getting iNtimate

Clark @ 6:02 AM

In a recent post, I talked about the difference between a smartphone and a tablet (substitute PDA for smartphone if that’s how you roll).  I’ve been thinking more about that, and have wondered about the effects of a particular phenomena.

In my experience, I have found the relationship with a tablet to be more ‘intimate’ (to use the technical term :). What I mean here is I hold it close instead of arms length and I touch the device itself, not some intermediary peripheral.  Even using a touch interface to swipe and pinch (ooh!) is qualitatively different that point and click.  The question is, what does this mean for the outcomes of the interaction, rather than the interaction itself?

Cognitively, if you’re closer to the interaction, more engaged with the content, it would seem plausible that more would ‘stick’. Particularly compared to a desktop, where you might be distracted by the shiny objects (new messages, whether email, IM, or whatever).

And I’m perfectly comfortable with that alone, and inclined to believe that what you experience with a tablet comes close to what you experience with a book: it’s a dedicated interface (by and large) for consuming content, and it’s a directly tactile interaction as opposed to one that’s indirect.  I’d suggest that it’s plausible that a tablet experience is cognitively more tangible than what’s represented through a laptop or desktop.

Now, how about the emotional experience?  Is there anything there? Is that intimacy anything more than just a minimization of distance?  Here I’m on more tentative ground, but I’d be inclined to believe that the more direct experience is more emotionally engaging, coupling a sensory experience with the cognitive. Would that have a beneficial influence? I can’t say.

What I can say is that when we couple the more immediate experience of a tablet with the power of digital interaction, we’re moving into area that has real potential to accelerate the learning experience.  If we can interact with an engine-driven simulation, a serious game, we’re combining an intimate experience with an engaging one, and beginning to combine two powerful experiences in ways that may allow the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts.  But wait, there’s more!

First, however, let me add in a recent discovery: I was alerted to a new form of app for the iPad, a combination of a comic book and interactive games.  While this particular instance, Imaginary Range, is purely entertainment focused, I was intrigued by the approximation of an experience I’ve been interested in co-opting for learning purposes.  I’ve long been an advocate of the comic strip format (aka manga or graphic novels) as a communication tool because of the ability to add meta-cognitive annotation (thought bubbles), strip away unnecessary contextual details, low bandwidth requirements, trans-cultural familiarity and more.  The ability to use a powerful story with meaningful interactions is pretty intriguing, capitalizing on what we’re talking about.

The extra dimension to cap off this trifecta is to add in the social element: so learners can reflect on their experience compared to others, or even better, collaborate.  When we can have tablets providing ways for learners to interact with content, each other, and a learning mentor, we have a potentially transformative environment.  And that’s worth getting involved with.


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