I was having a conversation today with a colleague and, without much thinking, I slipped these terms into our conversation about people’s attitudes toward engaging with new technologies. I thought, hmm, maybe I should think about this a bit more. And on reflection, I think that these terms help to frame some issues EduTech and KM people often face.
I first used these terms when training workshops on continuous learning in the 90s. I don’t know where they originated from, but I must have picked them up from the team of trainers I was working with at the time. So they’re not terms I’ve made up. I’m sure lots of educators use them. Here’s my take on how they’re normally used to describe people in a learning context:
- Explorers are continuous learners who actively seek new learning opportunities. They extrapolate their experience into different contexts and construct new meaning from what they find.
- Tourists will take on most new ideas, they’ll do the work they’re given, they’ll make an effort to learn. They’ll do as much as they need to get the job done if they see that it’s relevant.
- Prisoners are reluctant learners. They have habits that they can’t unlearn easily. They’ll do as their told, if forced to, but not much more – often less.
Now I also reckon that these terms are a good way to describe people’s attitudes towards technology. After all, learning to use technology is still Learning. Here’s how I’ve translated them:
- Explorers will actively seek out new technologies and constantly try to find how they’re relevant to contexts they’re familiar with. They learn how to use these tools by applying them to different situations and construct or invent relevancy. By understanding the tools and the contexts, they’ll often find solutions to problems where others can’t see that there’s a problem in the first place. They thrive on open access to technology – and they will find it, often at the expense of IT security. For them, obstacles are merely challenges to be overcome – and they don’t give up easily: they iterate.
- Tourists will appreciate how technology can improve how they do things. They’ll be open to the benefits and advantages, but they might need to be persuaded of these. For these people the tools must work first time, every time, and the benefits must be explicitly obvious and clearly relevant to their context. If all these things are in place, they’ll happily take on new technologies. Once they do, these people are powerful allies.
- Prisoners will have their own way of doing things that has always worked. They’ll see no compelling reason to change. In fact, they’ll usually find every reason not to. They’ll say, ‘technology for technology’s sake‘ when a new tech idea is tabled; and they’ll say, ‘told you so‘ when technology fails to deliver. They’ll point out the obstacles and go stand behind them.
Now you can probably guess that I like to think of myself as a bit of an explorer, but I flatter myself and I know that I’m dreaming when I compare myself to some people that I know. And in defense of prisoners, ‘prisoners’ are the barometer against which any change to the technological climate needs to be measured, and carefully if it’s to succeed. Prisoners often have a good point, they often have well-tested ways of working that get the job done. Change might indeed be a bad thing. The risks that technological ’solutions’ might bring, can often weigh against the benefits of not changing at all. So where does that leave us?
I’m a firm believer that if you give people access to technology, enough people will use it to make it worth the effort. Without open access to technology, people are handed a reason to give up, lose interest and become averse to any new technology we might wish to introduce in future. And although restricting open access because of the risk of security threats seems a common and plausibly valid corporate position, it also seems to engender a culture where prisoners can thrive – I don’t think that’s what we need.