Feb 2015 KL without Maps and Manuals


Or Technology in Education

Susan Walter Expatriate Lifestyle Garden International School

KL Without Maps & Manuals

Three things about KL drove us to distraction when we moved here 18 months ago –  taxis, the road system, and the inability to go to one Mall and get everything on that day’s shopping list. Taxis seemed to be everywhere, but either impossible to flag down, or their drivers were too busy smoking to leave their ranks; no map or SatNav seemed able to help us navigate the sense-of-direction-destroying road system; and no Mall, however grandly named, had for example, both white school trainers and sun hats.

 Our frustrations were compounded by friends who’d been here for a while smiling and saying “Yeah it’s mad, but it’ll come in time“! So, after several hour-long drives from Mont Kiara to Bangsar, numerous soakings / scorchings trying to flag taxis, and tramping round Malls in the World’s 5th best shopping city, we began to wonder if we were ever going to acquire the elusive, easy-going expat life experience we saw others living.

Then another KL rookie, Big Pete, solved the taxi and road system problems and our lives were transformed. By technology. Technology, like the kids use. Technology, the one word in the context of education guaranteed to raise hackles and strike fear into parents and teachers alike the world over! It’s not the kids that are terrified of technology in education, they love it, it’s us grown ups.  Recent research into how the brain learns helps us understand some of the reasons for this great divide. By way of explanation,  let me share what happened when my “ten-ager”, Tas, and his Dad went about setting up his new Alienware game machine this Christmas…

Seven minutes in.

 “Have you read the manual?” (Dad)


 “Read the manual!” (Dad)

“Manual?” (Tas)

“This thick book that came with your computer.” (Dad)

“That? I don’t need it!” (Tas)

Forty eight…

 “Hah! Got it.” (Tas)

 A manual! Too funny.

 Tas, born in the 21st century, instinctively adopted the brain’s preferred method of learning; “real-life, immersion-style, multi-path learning” (Jensen 2008), trial and error to you and me, in the same way as he did when he learned to walk, talk, and unwrap a lollipop. And he augmented this approach with the tools he’s grown up with; Google, Skype, YouTube, etc.  Importantly though, Tas didn’t identify the Alienware as ‘technology’ like his Dad did, it was just something new to be explored. But it is this disconnect in teachers and parents minds, in our minds,  between technology, the classroom and normal life that seems to engender fear. We were not brought up with it. We still regard it as new,  a hurdle in our adult lives, so we retreat to our comfort zone – the manual or a map! We subconsciously ignore the natural learning process we see happening before our very own eyes, as we know by experience that “error” is a toxic word which we associate with failure. If we hit the wrong key we might just wipe the entire hard drive! But of course that doesn’t happen.

Ironically, it is one of the qualities we adults value so highly, experience, which stops us from learning and loving new things in the way our brains actually prefer. We are talking here about technology, but it applies to learning anything new – languages, musical instruments, yoga, anything. Our experience, and resistance to change conspires against us. We are creatures of habit, and we not only ignore what we can see with our own eyes but subconsciously class it as a threat which motivates us to actively defend ourselves against it.  I saw this defensiveness first hand with my education blog where the briefest mention of the fantastic way we use technology at our school set off a flurry of comments including one referencing Heinrich Pestalozzi, an educational reformist whose theories were developed 170 years ago,  before technology ever existed!

So how do the taxi and SatNav apps (MyTeksi and Waze) that transformed our lives in KL, tie into all this brain learning and fear of technology? Well, they show how we adults can break out of our comfort zones and learn like kids. We’ll learn new things if we need to. And current research is suggesting that adult learning is accelerated when we face change, and are immersed in new exciting environments. This means as expats, we have a huge advantage as travel really does broaden our minds as we move from old comfortable country to new, exciting country.  So, no wonder my husband no longer gets soaked hailing taxis, now drives multiple routes between Mont Kiara and Bangsar,  and is a complete yoga convert.

Susan Walter Expatriate Lifestyle Garden International School

KL without Maps & Manuals