The gear is less important than the gal (or guy)

Although the recognition is growing that blended learning isn’t primarily about technology, it’s still not uncommon to hear people suggesting that technology is a critical factor, and perhaps the limiting factor, in the growth of digital learning. Often such views aren’t stated directly in that way. Instead, an educator or advocate will say “if we only had x then blended learning would really take off.” “X” might be free content, better technology platforms, lower-cost devices, or something else. I don’t think the evidence supports this view. Although the spread of innovative technologies will help the field, implementing blended learning does not require the latest technology, nor does it require any technology that doesn’t yet exist. An analogous situation occurred to me during two recent mountain bike rides in the Arizona desert with two different colleagues. The rides had several elements in common: each was on rough, rocky, challenging terrain; and neither person was using the best, most recent, or most expensive bicycle. But the gear didn’t matter. These colleagues are both strong riders, and each ride was challenging, fun, and rewarding. Neither of them would have thought to say “I’ll go for a ride just as soon as I get a better bike.”

Perhaps because I grew up in suburban New Jersey doing few outdoor activities, as I’ve become involved in these activities I’ve observed with interest the scenes in places where these pursuits are common. I’ve noticed that people tend to fall into two categories: those who need the best, latest, and most expensive gear in order to take on a new trail or a new sport, and those who want to ski, bike, surf, etc., and will use whatever gear is available to them and make it work.

The people in the “make it work” category are almost always more successful than those who think they need better gear. The people in the former category have the desire to do something, and they know the gear is the set of tools they will work with. They use the best gear that they can afford, and it almost always works well enough. They enjoy the activity from the start, and over time understand it better, improve at it, and invest in the gear they need, with better knowledge of the equipment that will be best for them. Those who feel they need the newest and best gear often seem to think that if their equipment was just a little better, they would bike the harder hill, ski the steeper run, catch the bigger wave. While they contemplate how to get better gear, the people in the first group have figured it out with inferior equipment.

In the past few weeks we have been conducting about a dozen interviews with educators who are implementing blended learning. Among their common characteristics is a can-do attitude that suggests that they will use what they have, and make it work. The technology and tools don’t have to be perfect; they just have to be better than the alternative that schools and students currently have. In several cases educators have said that when they started they really didn’t know what they needed. They learned over time, and then when they were ready to make the investment (or convince a school board to make the investment) they were much more knowledgeable.

It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be better than the current situation. And if you wait for the perfect option, you may never get better.