The Undiscovered Country

30 11 2007

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it” — Alan Kay

When Alan Kay conceived the Dynabook, more than 30 years ago, it inspired a wealth of innovations, and is still a worthy “holy grail” for developers of mobile learning platforms today. Uniquely, Kay coupled immense technical vision and skill with equally brilliant pedagogical and philosophical considerations – his vision for the Dynabook was as much art as it was science.

In the early 1970’s, Kay had no mobile computers to work with. The smallest computers he had ever seen – the very first generation of “microcomputers” invented – were low-powered, bulky desktop machines with textual, monochrome displays, like this Datapoint 2200. Yet he had the ability to invent – technically and pedagogically – a mobile learning concept we are still pursuing, more than a generation later.

I wonder: if Alan Kay started fresh again today, would he take a new look at emerging learning models, such as George Siemens‘ theory of Connectivism… and through it, imagine compelling ways of learning that would drive the next 40 years of technological research and invention? If so, then what will be this generation’s legacy to the future of learning?

This could be Alan Kay’s greatest implicit challenge to the educational technologists and researchers of today. The vast majority of educational technologists are preoccupied with the use of today’s tools: internet-based Learning Management Systems, social web services, virtual worlds, and even mobile devices. In the struggle to master the tools of today – are we losing the vision to invent the future? Is there anyone out there proposing a fundamentally new model for enabling learning, with the power to spark our collective imaginations, the pedagogical imperative to be desirable decades before it can be achieved, and the ability to drive independant technological advancement towards the eventual fulfillment of that goal?

Somehow, Alan Kay glimpsed such an undiscovered realm, and ensuing years have slowly unfurled the petals of technical advancement that have allowed his incredible, completely fictional Dynabook to edge ever closer to reality. What revolutions for education, for technology, and for humanity, lie beyond the bounds of the mental and technological shackles we wear today – if we only dare to dream?

As surely for us as for Alan Kay, today’s most compelling dreams will determine tomorrow’s most engaging realities. The future will be just as we invent it.

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3 responses

6 02 2008
Dysthymiac

Dear Mr Low
I am another Robber Baron, and received your ‘Please link to me’ request.
I have been linking to you and all the other Robber Barons since I became one. None of them have ever visited any of my blogs to comment, although I have visited all of theirs and commented several times.
I have commented here several times, and at one of my blogs I actually did a post about this blog and linked to it in the post.

Blogging is a two-way street.

23 02 2010
The iPad and its impact on m-learning. | Mobile Learning

[…] written several posts about Dr Alan Kay in the past, but to summarise, Dr Kay is one of the greatest minds in the history of computer […]

14 04 2010
The iPad and its impact on m-learning.

[…] written several posts about Dr Alan Kay in the past, but to summarise, Dr Kay is one of the greatest minds in the history of computer […]

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