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Learner on the Orient Express

By Lisa Neal / May 2008

TYPE: OPINION
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Agatha Christie captured the glamour of travel in her mystery novels (though some of her passengers did not arrive at their intended destinations, if you know what I mean). But few of the people in her books were working while traveling, with the notable exception of detective work. Irene McAra-McWilliam, who recently gave the opening plenary at CHI 2008 in Florence, said in a new eLearn Magazine interview that "many places are excellent spaces for thought," and mentioned travel as one of her optimal work environments.

What does this have to do with e-learning, you might ask? One of the main target audiences of e-learning programs is working adults, who, with or without families, are incredibly busy people.

Given that the length of a day can't be extended, it is a challenge for many people to get their coursework done. Inspired by Irene's insights, I propose travel can provide the concentration necessary for learning. It also has great advantages over trying to do coursework at the office and risking a manager's wrath, or trying to minimize interruptions in the evening at home, when loved ones want attention.

Here are some reasons why travel is advantageous to learning:

  • You get things done in preparation for a trip so that you don't have to think about them while away. The bills are paid, the children's schedule is in someone else's hands, and you have everything you need on hand. How refreshing—and mind-clearing.
  • You are in transition. While you are actually someplace at all times, the place you are in while traveling is inconsequential. Thus you don't have to think about it. (Have you noticed how the monitors on trans-Atlantic flights are constantly reminding you where you are? It's a great reason to travel first class: to have control over what you view—or don't view.)
  • You have few distractions. I know someone who met her husband in the seat next to her on a plane, but, in general, most people I know ignore their traveling companions unless they are ones they selected themselves. Ellen Goodman, a syndicated columnist, wrote—in 1984! —about how terrible it was when planes first added phones: "Now even this refuge has been violated." But most people don't talk on the phone on planes and even trains have quiet cars.

I find Amtrak's Acela from Boston to New York the perfect place to work. Perhaps the ambient noise and rhythmic motion even enhance my thought processes.

In daily life, however, there are not always opportunities to travel that coincide with the 20-page term paper. My next suggestion, then, is to commute using public transportation. While my first point above is minimized in daily commuting, the others still hold. Not only is it greener than driving alone, but there are uninterrupted blocks of time to complete coursework. And if memory serves, Agatha Christie never knocked off a passenger on a commuter train.



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ADDITIONAL READING

    Lisa Neal
  1. Predictions For 2003
  2. Q&A
  3. Storytelling at a distance
  4. Talk to me
  5. Q&A with Diana Laurillard
  6. Online learning and fun
  7. Everything in moderation
  8. eLearning and fun
  9. The basics of e-learning
  10. Is it live or is it Memorex?
  11. Five Questions... for John Seely Brown
  12. 5 questions... for Richard E. Mayer
  13. My life as a Wikipedian
  14. Five questions...for Elliott Masie
  15. Five questions...for Lynn Johnston
  16. Five questions…for Matt DuPlessie
  17. Do it yourself
  18. Predictions for 2004
  19. "Spot Learning"
  20. When will e-learning reach a tipping point?
  21. Q&A with Saul Carliner
  22. "Deep" thoughts
  23. The stripper and the bogus online degree
  24. Five questions...for Tom Carey
  25. Five (or six) questions...for Irene McAra-McWilliam
  26. How to get students to show up and learn
  27. Blended conferences
  28. Predictions for 2002
  29. Learning from e-learning
  30. Q&A with Don Norman
  31. Five Questions...for Christopher Dede
  32. Want better courses?
  33. Designing usable, self-paced e-learning courses
  34. Just "DO IT"
  35. Senior service
  36. Formative evaluation
  37. Blogging to learn and learning to blog
  38. Predictions for 2007
  39. Not all the world's a stage
  40. Five questions...for Seb Schmoller
  41. Do distance and location matter in e-learning?
  42. Why do our K-12 schools remain technology-free?
  43. In search of simplicity
  44. Degrees by mail
  45. The Value of Voice
  46. Predictions for 2006
  47. Five questions...for Shigeru Miyagawi
  48. Five questions...
  49. Five questions...for Larry Prusack
  50. Five questions...for Karl M. Kapp
  51. Music lessons
  52. Learn to apologize for fun and profit
  53. Advertising or education?
  54. Of web hits and Britney Spears
  55. Predictions for 2008
  56. Serious games for serious topics
  57. Back to the future