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