I just attempted the online Wason selection task, which is a simple test of understanding the application of conditional rules. Although it is simple, most people get it wrong. It seems that cognitive bias makes most people misinterpret the meaning of the conditional rules.
Even though I had heard of this task some time before (even heard the solution and explanation of it) I still made the same basic mistakes attempting it that 75-80% of people do, and probably because of the same cognitive bias.
Also like most people, I got the correct answer when the selection task was presented in a familiar social interaction scenario. Much as I sometimes imagine that I am an atypically abstract thinker, there is a part of my thought process that exhibits a very typical ability to understand how a rule applies when what the rule applies to is whether human beings are or aren’t complying with social rules.
Why is this true of most people?
One reason could be that the social contexts of problems occur more regularly than other contexts. That is not necessarily true in terms of how frequently these sorts of problems actually happen though, but may well be true in terms of how often people tend to even recognise these problems as problems that they could solve. Another way of putting this is to say that people are more predisposed to think about other people’s thoughts and actions than about the relations between the states of inanimate objects. This implies that a person’s readiness to seek to learn about something may depend less on the nature of the thing to be learned about than it depends on whether other people are interested in learning about it- people want to know about what other people want to know about.
I am currently reading (and enjoying) Free to Make which is about maker culture. Maker culture is all about people who like making things, and not simply as a way to possess things but for the enjoyment of making them. Wikipedia states that “Maker culture emphasises informal, networked, peer-led, and shared learning motivated by fun and self-fulfilment”. The key terms in the quote seem to me to be learning, peer-led, shared and fun. Amateur manufacturing is not (currently anyway) a realistic basis for meeting the material needs of the people of the world, but it is a powerful means of teaching people very valuable skills and attributes- familiarity with a wide range of technologies, problem solving, resilience, inventiveness and collaboration.
I can conceive of maker culture as superseding the culture of school and academia in the business of producing the dynamic and creative knowledge workers that will supposedly characterise the workforce of the successful early 21st century economy.
I think that basically most people need to have a place for human-feeling meaning in what they are willing to invest themselves in. Academic teaching of science and technology does not tend to do this well. This is hard to avoid considering that understanding of the physical universe does require abandoning a teleological way of modelling the world and accepting one based on abstract rules and objects purposelessly following these rules. It does not surprise me much that studying such phenomena would alienate a lot of learners. If though the inhuman worldview of science is engaged with initially as a means to a much more human end, that of making something that a human chose to make (and so invested their own purpose in), and better yet making it with other people, and better still to show to yet other people- I can see how people who would otherwise never see STEM subjects as being part of their interests could easily become enthused.
I have strong hopes that the best part of the future of EdTech is in its potential to turn learning into something that people make rather than something that people do.