Thursday, March 01, 2007

Programmed Learning

As I was listening to Guy Steele from a talk he gave at Dan Friedman's 60th birthday, I was a little shocked when Guy voiced the relationship between B.F. Skinner's Programmed Learning method and the style of the conversation used in the Little Schemer.
I didn't really think of it that way, and now I'm trying to sort out why I have a negative feeling about Programmed Learning and positive feelings about The Little Schemer.

What both seem to do right is quick iteration: rather than lecture (which bores me to tears), they instruct with a running conversation, Socratic style. I think what's different, at least in the examples that Guy gave, was the degree of difficulty in the questions. In the examples with Skinner, the respondent answer in one-word sound bites, and there's a feeling of rote memorization and little thinking. In contrast, in the Little Schemer, the questions require a lot more out of the student. The stepping stones are spaced widely.

So there are two ideas I'm picking out of this: just as in Agile development, I should be aiming toward iterative learning. At the same time, even though the iterations are fairly regular, the goals in each iteration shouldn't be trivial, but have some real substance behind it.

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