Annals of Iterative Learning

Anyone who knows how I actually work knows that I am a completely iterative learner. Which is to say that when faced with a new challenge in unfamiliar territory I simply dive in, see what works and what doesn’t, adjust, and repeat. Ad infinitum. Until I get where I’m going.

This is how I code astronomy applications in Perl, and it’s also how I find a vegetarian restaurant in Lisbon. If you’re along for the ride on an iteration that works it seems like magic; if I drag you along for the 25 iterations that came first it seems like I am insane.

I used to think that everyone worked this way, but apparently some people prefer to take the “get completely educated about the domain, then implement” route. Which is probably more efficient, but is much less fun and cuts out the opportunity for collateral learning.

In any case, this morning I watched Oliver engage in a classic case-study of iterative learning.

Oliver cannot type. Well, he can type, but as he cannot yet write words, his typing is limited to entering his Mac OS X password, and his first name. Because of this, he’s generally limited to visiting websites for which he has pre-established bookmarks (Treehouse, CBC, Croatian State Television, etc.) or websites that are linked to therefrom.

And let’s face it, no matter how much fun that Nana’s Helper game is to play, eventually everyone needs variety in their life.

I witnessed Oliver’s solution to seeking variety, given his inability to type new URLs or search for new content, this morning.

He’s figured out that if you drag a URL from your Firefox toolbar into the Firefox Google search, and then (and this is the important part) click on the “Images” tab in Google, you’ll see something like this collection of images. In other words, a visual list of related links. The rest is easy.

All of which explains how Oliver ended up at the Civil Rights Treasure Hunt website this morning without typing a single letter.

This solution, one that I could have never possibly imagined and thus would never have thought to teach him, was brilliant in a way that brought tears to my eyes. And it served to reconfirm my deeply-held belief that, at least for some sorts of kid learners, the best thing to do is to just get out of the way.


Chuck McKinnon's picture
Chuck McKinnon on August 2, 2007 - 22:36 Permalink

Amen and amen. My seven-year old son is very much the same.