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