Photo Adventures with Curiosity and Learning

Jan 17, 2016 Thoughts about just-in-time learning

My nature photography, specifically macro photography of spiders and the Internet are my universe for learning. There are new players on the stage of learning, but I think they fall short. For example, why is the completion rate of students enrolled in MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) courses averaging 15% with major offerings ranging between 3% and 20%? MOOCs provide lecture based courses which provide the student with "just in case" learning (just in case you might need this concept or fact). Google and other search engines provide the student with "just in time" learning of concepts and facts as you encounter the need. I believe that the low completion rate of MOOCs is a reflection that just-in-case learning can't keep up with the explosion of knowledge and will slowly be replaced with Internet-centric just-in-time learning.

Studies have shown that learned material is rapidly forgotten (within days) without repeated relearning or periodic testing. The likelihood of reusing all aspects from a just-in-case strategy is small and consequently an inefficient use of the learner's time.. Just-in-time learning, though, repeats exposure each time the concept or fact is needed and used, thereby improving long term retention. Google's image and text search combined with filetype filter (filetype:ppt retrieves only powerpoint presentations, filetype:pdf retrieves only pdf documents) provides rapid access to needed facts and concepts, and in my case, is ofter faster than asking a colleague. Image retrieval and filetype:ppt retrieval amplify serendipity - enabling one to chase one's curiosity when encountering related or interesting facts or concepts.

My interest in macrophotography of spiders and other small insects is driven by my curiosity - and when I encounter something I don't know or understand, Google and my friends come to my rescue a large faction of the time. How powerful is our curiosity as a learning motivator? Just after we were born, we had limitless curiosity - and we managed to learn the language of our parents during our first couple of years of life. Then something happens and often parents and teachers try to restrict our "boundless curiosity - our whys and how-it-works sort of thing. Eventually our childish curiosity is virtually extinguished as formal schooling provides both a foundation of essential skills and add-on knowledge that followed the "just-in-case" I need this fact or concept. Formal schooling is focused on the average learning, not the individual learner. Without reigniting our childish curiosity - most will tend to become "average" - with a cost in reduced innovation.

Spiders are everywhere, but most are quite small - with bodies ranging in length from a few millimeters to perhaps a couple of centimeters. We pass many of these while walking from A to B - but never notice - we look but don't see. Spiders provide a way for me to focus my curiosity and slowly I"m seeing more and more. What I see and photograph reveals how little I know and here Google (text and image searches), Wikipedia and other repositories provide "just-in-time" insights into the questions generated by my reignited childish curiosity. Repeatedly observing this or that - I can see behavioral patterns that lead to more questions. I love this kind of learning.

So there you have it - chasing my curiosity in an Internet-centric world is fun and often quickly resolves my question. I photograph spiders because I enjoy the technical challenge and because spiders exhibit very interesting behavior. Consequently spider photography is a fun way for reigniting my childish curiosity and chasing my curiosity with both camera and Google search -both important elements in what folks call life-long-learning. In this context life-long-learning is free and effortless for the curious.

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C. Frank Starmer