Monday, November 2, 2009

The Role of Technology, Emotion, and Social Interaction in Learning

This past week, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of emotion, language, and humour in learning. In addition to reading Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, I watched a great video by Patricia Kuhl about the importance of early childhood learning in a child’s language development.

I was so impressed by the research that is being done with infants that shows the importance of socially interacting with an infant between 8-10 months old and using lots of language filled with emotion. What was also intriguing was that plain audio or TV did not produce any noticeable improvements in a child’s language development when a child listened or viewed it. That made me think about how many times we put TV shows on in our daycares thinking the exposure may give children an advantage. But what that research tells us is there is no substitute for human interaction between an adult and child. An emotionless TV or audio player cannot replace human interaction.

We are emotional beings that are dependent upon other human beings for growth and development. I was having this conversation with a colleague recently where we mused about what happens to children that are deprived of love and affection during these formative years. This research only scratches the surface about the importance of emotional stimuli in the development of language. But what happens to learning when children are abused or neglected? Do we understand the huge negative impact to learning or brain development in these cases? We have done a great deal to warn of the effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), but what happens to the brain during early childhood development when they receive little or no affection or lacking feeling the security of a loving home. I have seen children passed from parent to grandparent to aunt to cousin. And we wonder why this child isn’t doing well in school. I’ve seen the negative effects on these students and chalked it up to their social environment, but maybe there is more to it than the living conditions or home life. Maybe something never developed properly for these students during those all important years.

Now I said earlier that research shows virtually no noticeable difference in language development when a child watches TV or listens to audio. This does not mean that technology has no use or purpose in learning. What it does mean is that we need to be more creative in how we use it so that we can effectively transmit human emotion and social interaction. When I go use a tool like ElluminateLive, I still feel the emotion of another person communicating with me with live audio. When I use a webcam on Skype, I can see the facial expressions that accompany a person’s voice or words spoken. So technology can effectively assist in the role of learning, particularly because we can use storytelling that is packed full of emotion and connects another person’s experience with my life. A great example of this was when I viewed a Voicethread of a colleague and friend, Rod Murray about a former student of his, Adam. I’ve added a link to this Voicethread, because it’s a wonderful story and serves as a great example of how storytelling filled with emotion taught me something new about autism and friendship and I learned from the use of this technology.

So emotion and social interaction do serve a purpose in human learning, but so does technology. We just have to be more creatively.

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