The 21st century learning landscape demands a significant shift in the role, but not the importance, of the teacher. Smart use of relevant technology can help make that shift easier.
In June of 2014, The Atlantic magazine published a piece by David Zweig: “How You Know Where You’re Going When You’re in the Airport.” The piece was a short profile of Jim Harding, a designer who created the “wayfinding system” at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, the busiest airport in the world. His specialty? “The process of designing cues — from signage to lighting and color, even the architecture, anything at all — to help people navigate a built environment.” Harding’s system ensures that travelers can smoothly navigate from point to point in the airport, be it from one gate to another, from baggage claim to the taxi queue, or from security to the nearest restroom. He melds sophisticated technology, like the trains that whisk passengers from terminal to terminal, and small but critical details, like the font on bathroom signs, so they cohere into a kind of invisible hand that gently pushes the traveler around the airport without unnecessary distractions or diversions.
Harding’s work helped me think about the demands placed on learning in the 21st century. Harding does not create the environments in which his wayfinding systems live; he is handed a complex system — an airport, a mall, a hospital — and asked to simplify it for the user. More importantly, he has found that his systems are “most effective when they function as a kind of transient, touching just the most superficial (or perhaps, conversely, subconscious) part of our brains, conveying information without drawing attention to the conveyer.” Travelers’ minds are fixed on their own journeys and destinations, as they should be. Harding’s challenge is to leverage that intrinsic motivation as he wayfinds, creating a system flexible enough so travelers feel they are forging unique paths.