Nudge Learning: Connect by Disconnecting by Yusuf Ibrahim



The world of social media and blogging, has opened a number of doors.  I communicate with so many more people now and have experienced a rich tapestry of ideas, resources and discussions that in my former life didn't exist.  There can be no doubt that the social technological revolution has allowed us to share more and spread more.


Just as previous revolutionary advancements brought great progress, they also presented challenges.  The industrial revolution for example, enabled perhaps the most striking and rapid advancement of civilization.  It began the process of globalization and has allowed communities to flourish across the world.  This progress has inevitably been accompanied by a number of bi-products: pollution and war for starters.


The architecture of life seems to continually bring with it a blend of advancement and new challenges.  I cannot think of an example where progress on a global scale has been made without there being some unforeseen consequences. 


This dichotomy reminds me very much of Pandora's box.  In stealing heavenly fire from Zeus, Prometheus incurred his wrath.  As revenge, Zeus presented to Prometheus's brother Epimetheus: the beautiful, charming but deceitful Pandora.  Epimetheus was in love and married Pandora.  As a wedding gift, Zeus gave Pandora an alluring box.  It was so intricate, so compelling and yet came with it the infamous instruction, 'do not open the box'.  


Of course, she couldn't resist.  Nor should she have resisted.  The fire Prometheus took was the cause of Zeus' wrath.  But he needed to take the fire.  The wonder, intrigue and fascination of being able use fire is akin to Pandora wanting to know what was inside the box.  We all want to progress and we all need to progress.  Just as fire has sparked our advancement, it has burnt us in the process.  The secrets inside Pandora's box have equally allowed us to progress beyond what we could conceivable imagine. Yet it has done so opening our eyes to solutions as well as problems.  Such is the case with the rapid advancement of social media.  It gives us so much reward and potential, but not without it's dangers.  But we should still embrace it.


A Delicate Balance


I have restructured my choice architecture to give more time to read, share and spread ideas.  It has worked as I have grown my knowledge and understanding of the world, however, I have also been conscious that my time on social media has been at the expense of others.  These others being the most important in my life: my family.  There is a saying that 'charity starts in the home' and I do feel that social media has started to encroach into my life.  Enter the picture above.  It's funny how things can sometimes just line up.  There I was, sitting on the couch scrolling through my twitter feed when I came across an article where a second grader wrote, "I wish my mom's phone wasn't invented."  If I'm honest, the concept wasn't new to me.  But the detail of the article and my further exploration around it did take me aback.


There can be no doubt that our smartphones have changed the social dynamic of the family environment.  They have changed the nature and structure of relationships.  I'm sure you have all been guilty of being part of 'that' restaurant table where all are on their phone at the same time.  As a parent, I have certainly been guilty of delaying and even dismissing my children's requests for attention because I have been looking at something on a small screen.  By the same token, I also taken pictures that capture wonderful social moments with my family, my environment and my food!  But what is the impact?


Social psychology teaches us that we (and in particular, young children) learn through vicarious reinforcement.  Much of our learning comes through observing what others do at a subconscious, automated level.  Our schema are heavily influenced by our environment.  Within the last ten years, a new dynamic has been added.  Our smart phones.  As predicted by Nicola Tesla in 1926, the phone has become our vehicle to access the world.


And that's what I do.  I access the world.  The problem is that my children experience me doing this.  A lot.  Last week, before reading the article, we were sat at the dinner table.  My wife and I had our phones out.  We don't always, but at this point we did.  We noticed that our two children had brought with them 'their' phones (they don't work - but they pretend to use them).  As we were eating, both our children mimicked the sort of thing we would do as adults.  Have a few spoon fulls of food and then check the phone.  My youngest even pretending to scroll up and down using his finger before holding his phone over his food, making a clicking sound.  He is four years old!  As parents, we have made a point of limiting their screen time.  In line with our Montessori ethos, they rarely watch television and rarely use screens.  But they see us use them far too much.  Our phones have clearly created a new process in their schema of behavioural interaction.


So, should I stop using my phone? Yes, and no! 


The choice architecture of phone usage


We have to acknowledge that our phones and time on social media provide us with great benefit.  It allows us to learn and share information at a rate never before seen.  Of course there are real dangers and this post is not going to deal with issues around the impact of social media on self esteem, mental health and relationships etc...  Even when using social media for the right purposes, it is important to pay attention to the structure in which we are doing it.  How can I influence my choice architecture so that I can make better decisions for myself and those around me?


In this case, how I can I make sure that I continue to use social media to thrive, but not at the expense of my children and those around me?  I need a nudge.  A nudge doesn't appeal to our direct conscious.  It appeals to our subconscious decision making processes.  This is so important.  It means that I am not going to say to myself "no phones when around my children" or "no phones at the dinner table".  I am not going to try and solve the problem through will power.  Will power does play a part, but far less than perhaps we might assume.  The solution is to ensure I have designed my choice architecture in such a way that I will use my phone and engage with social media when appropriate.


The first thing is to identify the difference between appropriate and non-appropriate phone usage, and this requires some reflection.  I want to make my family time clear and distinct.  This means that I need to have spaces where my phone is used and spaces where it isn't.  Taking inspiration from how landline phone's work (remember these!), I am going to keep my phone next my charger.  These are in my bedroom and hallway (I bought an extra one - splashing on my architecture!).  So my phone is allowed in the bedroom and the hallway, but not in any other living spaces.  I am not going to take into my living room, dining room or kitchen (unless I want to take a photo!).  Crucially, I am not going to tell myself that I can't use my phone.  Only that when I feel the need to use it / check it, I need to physically get up and go to the phone.  So far, I have significantly reduced my phone time and increased my family interaction time.  I have managed to connect more by disconnecting...


Don't waste your will power!


Will power is important.  It is, however, limited.  Put a delicious chocolate gateau in front of you, or a pack of biscuits and see what happens.  You should access your will power only to follow set of the structures you put in place.  From then, if your structures have been designed well enough, you should notice a great difference.  There has been a lot attention paid to mobile phone usage in cars - clearly illegal.  Try putting your phone in the trunk.  Don't test your conscious decision making processes while your driving and you feel a vibration or hear a ping!  By paying attention to your the your choice architecture I believe you really can open Pandora's box.  Just like Pandora, we have to. 


Yusuf created teachernudge to help us understand what makes for the best learning experiences amongst parents, families, children and whole communities.  We are all choice architects. We all create the environments in which decisions are made. He want us to reflect more on this architecture because fundamentally, no one wants to be a bad teacher, a bad parent, a bad person. No one actually is. Sometimes we just haven’t quite got the design right. And that is what we can fix.


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