Saturday, October 28, 2017

At the MIT Media Lab

A LEGO-made scaled model of The Media Lab

Earlier this week I visited the famed MIT Media Lab here in Cambridge to talk about self-directed education and natural learning. An unschooling dad, Andre Uhl, who is a researcher at The Media Lab organized the visit for me and Ben Draper, who runs the Macomber Center for Self-Directed Learning--one of eight self-directed learning centers for homeschoolers/unschoolers in Massachusetts. 

It was a blast. This is a place where researchers have nearly free-rein to pursue their own projects, based on their own passions, and collaborate with like-minded tinkerers, engineers, entrepreneurs, scientists, artists, and often all-of-the-above.

Our visit included a personalized tour of The Media Lab from Philipp Schmidt, who runs The Media Lab's Learning Initiative. Schmidt was involved with the team who helped to create MIT OpenCourseWare, one of the original Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that became the model for subsequent free and fully accessible online content for self-learners. 

Schmidt and his team work closely with Mitchel Resnick and his Lifelong Kindergarten group at The Media Lab, where they explore how people learn, barriers to learning, and how to help remove these barriers to optimize learning. Resnick's new book, Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity Through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play, explores many of the key conditions that lead to deep, joyful learning. Embedded within MIT's urban campus, The Media Lab has a heightened focus on technology. Both of these learning labs, as well as Resnick's book, focus on the power of technology to facilitate learning.

Tuesday's Media Lab visit is hopefully the first in what will be a series of discussions on self-directed education, unschooling, and natural learning. The MIT researchers seem fascinated by how children learn in non-school settings and, particularly, how they teach themselves--often using technology. Schmidt, for example, is currently interested in how people use YouTube content to teach themselves all sorts of things. I told him my eight year old son would be thrilled to show off his YouTube-learned skateboarding tricks anytime!

As a hub of innovation and an incubator for pathbreaking ideas and technologies, The Media Lab is an ideal ambassador for self-directed learning. I am excited to see where our ongoing conversations about natural learning lead us. 

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