Permission to play, an age-old problem?

In working on my thesis project, I have been contemplating the theories behind technology teaching and learning. It does not take long to come across the whole idea of the "net generation" and "digital natives". Concepts that have since been debunked in the literature, but are still rather prevalent in the discourses of practitioners and those academics who are new to teaching and learning with technology.

In teaching technology to professionals, one of the first things I need to do is give them "permission to play". They are always concerned that they will break the devices, but also, they have a need to know how to do it right. In my experience, the older the learner, the more likely I will need to re-iterate this permission to play as a way of learning.

This got me wondering. Are adults learning new technologies afraid to play because they are afraid to break something? Is this based on prior experience with technology? Or are adults generally adverse to playing, and especially, playing as a way to learn?

Give a child a mobile device, and they will hit every button and touch it ever which way until they can figure out how to make it do what they want it to. They will play with it.

Give an adult a mobile device and they will look at it, try a couple of techniques that worked for them on previous devices, and wait for someone to show them how it is done (or look it up on YouTube). They will spend a short amount of time playing and then give up.

These of course are generalities. There are always exceptions.

My question is, if you replace the mobile device with older technology is the pattern the same? Thinking back to VCRs, I'd say yes. What about pen and paper? What about something that isn't technology (learning to dance, play music)?

Is there a link between learning new technologies and the permission to play? Do younger people learn new technologies faster just because they have that permission to play, and are older people less likely to learn new technology because society has cause them to feel that they no longer have permission to play?

Is this phenomenon a new one associated with digital technologies, or an age-old program inherent to our society and culture? 

What do you think?


2 responses

  1. sensor63 Avatar

    Great post. I think that this is linked to all sorts of issues.
    1) relationship with what was horrendously expensive – unfriendly gear.
    2) relationship with tech people who prefer to maintain power by mystifying gear and making it unfriendly.
    3) attachment to old gear/ways of doing stuff
    4) learnt behaviour that u have to read the instructions first
    5) desire to maintain incompetence so not to change and maintain position in hierachy based on old mastery
    6) technophobia
    7) technodyslexia
    8) technonostalgia

  2. balimaha Avatar

    LOVED LOVED LOVED this post! U may have hit a goldmine here with the permissom to play thing. And yeah observing kids is v insightful.
    Was just talking to my adult in-service student-teachers today about their fear of creativity: they needed guidance on what to do when i wanted them to do some free-thinking. Same can go for technology: they think there must be “a” correct way of using it and are afraid to get it wrong (not break it, though, but actually in their own schools there is sometimes that, too, with hardware)

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