Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Education and the - changing - way we learn

I am an educator. I am called upon at my 'day job' to educate new staff, and I educate the public. I teach Wilderness Medicine for - in my opinion - the best school in the industry for wilderness medicine education. I teach many different types of navigation on a regular basis. I have taught leadership and outdoor skills for an amazing school in Alaska. Obviously I also teach Kayaking. I never planned on being an educator, it just sort of happened.

My wife is a trained educator. A tenured professor at a University. She has been an educator all her life, as well as a highly respected researcher. You can imagine the conversations we have regarding education.  She has truly forgotten more about education than I will ever know, and she puts up with me when I have a 'realization' about something that she has known for twenty years.

I mention this because the world is changing, quickly, and on many fronts. The first big change - which effected me greatly, as I worked professionally in photography at the time - was the transition to digital photography from film. I think a lot of the effects were negative for professionals, as it made it much easier to take a great photo. It's not hard when you can take as many photos as you want and see what you are doing with every exposure. With film we paid for every frame, and had no feedback until we saw the film. The negative impact of digital photography though had amazingly wonderful impacts on digital film making- or cinematography. If you want to make a movie now, you no longer need a studio backing you. You have very similar quality with a $3000 camera as you do with a $25000 camera. You can edit on your laptop. You can distribute your film over the web. I remember watching the Film '300' and thinking, these filmmakers are proving that you can make a movie in your back yard against a green screen and compete with the big boys. That entire film has only one shot that was done outdoors, which is  incredible because the entire movie takes place outdoors. Before I worked in photography I worked in film, and was lucky enough to work at a studio in NY that used one of the first HD cameras outside of Japan. It was terrible. It was massive and needed to be connected to a truck. Every time it was moved it had to be re-registered so the imagery would look correct. A process that took a minimum of a half hour. Today I shoot HD video with a 3.3 ounce camera mounted to my head - or anywhere else I want.

Music changed next, with MP3 players, and then the iPod and iTunes. It gave people the ability to record music easily in their homes and then distribute electronically. Taking the power out of the hands of the record companies, and putting it in the hands of the artists.

Television is being forced to change. More people than ever are unplugging their TV's and getting the content they want - and only the content they want - over the internet. Myself being one of them. There are very few things I miss by not having a TV. And honestly if it bugged me enough I could find a work around for those as well.

The changes in publishing are occurring as we speak, Digital books are taking over. And while companies are publishing traditional books in digital format, non-traditional books will be coming soon to an E reader near you. Books with interaction, and video. How soon until all textbooks are digital and updated frequently. Instead of schools buying a fortune in textbooks that they throw away after five or ten years. The instant a text book is published it is outdated. That will change and it will change soon.

But keep this in mind, the power of publishers and record companies is the power to get a product on a shelf in a store. That is it. A decade ago there was limited shelf space in retail stores, so if you wanted your book or your record to get some of that space you had to have a publisher push it there. That time is gone. Amazon, and iTunes have unlimited shelf space. You no longer need a powerful publisher to get Barnes & Noble to give you access to a customer.

If I had to bet on the next industry to be changed dramatically by technology I would put my money on medicine. I am not clairvoyant enough to now how those changes will occur, but time will tell. The power industry is changing, but the power companies choose not to accept it. If they didn't have the backing of world governments they would already be out of business. They are going to get left behind, and it is just a matter of time.

I mention all this because I am always thinking about the best way to get information to the people I am trying to educate. When you want to learn something informally you go to the internet. You can find video that will show you how to do just about anything. You can then find written instructions if that matches your learning style better. That was a big impact on me when I realized that people don't buy 'how to' books anymore. When someone wants to learn something they go online. This was a scary realization as I was at the time writing a 'how to kayak' type of book.

It was hammered home this morning as I was reading a book by Seth Godin - which is free to download in any format. and I read it on my iPhone at the gym - about education, and how we do it wrong. Our education system creates people suited to working in factories. And while a lot of people see the unemployment rate and want factories back in the United States how about if we change the way we educate our children and prepare them to work in the future, not the past.

It made me think about the way I teach wilderness medicine. Is the white board the best method? I am realizing that people learn better by doing, than by listening. And if you talk to someone for more than ten minutes, they aren't going to remember it. Which is the beauty of teaching something like kayaking. You can put someone in a kayak and do it. Or teaching cooking, put your student in front of a stove and cook. You wouldn't teach someone to dance by lecturing them would you? So all this got me to thinking about how I teach, and how I will teach. It got me to change my book.

The book. There is something wonderful about a book. A physical, bound, beautiful book. And these will never go away. But there will be fewer of them. Most published media will be digital. As I started laying out my book I realized I would need to create a massive amount of photos. I had always accepted that I would need to do this. But when it finally came time to start I felt it was wrong. So much of what my blog had become was a repository for video of how to perform a skill. To make a book that used pictures seemed like a step backward. And so I gave up on the idea of a physical book and started looking at the idea of a digital book that used video. I found I could do it for both iBooks and kindle, though there would be number of steps and two or three pieces of software for each platform to make the layouts work.  Then about a week after I made my decision Apple released iBooks author. Which made it instantly easy. The book is laid out, I have to write one short chapter and shoot two videos. The text is greatly expanded from when I originally wrote it for the blog, and should be available in June on iTunes. I think it may be the first kayak instructional book with HD video. My goal has always been to help people learn to kayak. And I think this is the natural next step.


  1. A very interesting read, PO. Thank you. In the classes I teach, I am very aware of a variety of learning styles - makes all the difference. Integrating new and changing technology in teaching...a whole new world for the educator. Never a dull moment! Duncan.

  2. PO, you are soooo on the right track with your iBook especially with HD video! Most of the books I purchase are for my e-Reader and the only time I purchase a good old fashioned :-) hard cover is if it has instructional pictures or diagrams. If it is just verbiage.... I want it digital.

    Funny... I still love a great magazine to thumb through and read cover to cover. The time will come when I make the change to a digital format but I fear that will come out of necessity when it just isn't cost effective for publishers to produce a physical magazine.

    Great read! Can't wait for your iBook release.


  3. Thanks for the comments guys. It is definitely an interesting time. All I have to do now is finish writing!