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