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From Dave Bartram’s iPad Users Group Page. PatrickAngryBirdsThis is our grandson Patrick. Patrick is five years old, and has been very good at an iPad game called “Angry Birds” for some time. We’ve all marveled at how our grandchildren are so proficient with technology compared to us. I’ve been very curious about it and have wondered why this seems to be true. I’ve wondered if we, that is “older People” can learn the same way. I asked our daughter Emily, how Patrick learned to use Angry Birds. This is her response, “I know Patrick has spent time watching James and Sean playing Angry Birds(These are Patrick’s older cousins, eight and ten years old), but I think the bulk of his learning happened through simple play and trial and error.   Today at the lunch spot, he began a new game, and I observed his learning.  He knows the game’s basic cues, which seem to be universal, including the X to get out of a window, the back arrow to get to previous screen, the curved arrow to restart, and then he just goes and figures it out.   In fact, he interrupted me to show me some discovery, and he said, “The first time I did it, it was an accident.”  He is not worried about making a mistake because he knows about that restart button.   Today Patrick was looking over my shoulder as I was looking at a website, and his eye immediately went to blue hypertext (the rest of the text was black, of course).  He said, “Mommy, click on those blue words–what is it?”  In other words, he is just aware of a designer’s intentions: color changes to the text, underlining, symbols, etc.  Sort of like text structure in a book.  A reader knows to read words that are all in caps with emphasis.  A computer user knows to pay attention to the visual changes.”

How does Patrick Learn?

  • Watches and copies his peers
  • Learning through simple play
  • Trial and Error
  • He understands the universality of symbols
Many of us joke about “not reading the instructions.” Although Patrick can recognize a lot of words, he did not learn Angry Birds by reading the instructions or by being taught by an “expert.” How did he learn then? First, he watched and copied what his cousins did.  Second, Emily said, “his learning happened through simple play.” I think we have been conditioned to think learning only happens when we are “working” at it. We think it is serious business and has major consequences if we don’t succeed. It can be a stressful experience. At our age, why would anyone want to do it voluntarily. Third, Patrick learned through trial and error. The key word is error. Patrick has no fear of making an error. He has not yet internalized the idea that everything he does has to be perfect. Rather than being given instructions on the “right” way to do something, and having to memorize that in order not to make a “mistake”, he is free to try everything. Some things work and some things don’t. Often he learns from his “mistakes” by “accidentally” discovering how to do something new. Not only does he know more about the game, but he has more self confidence and less anxiety. Fourth, Emily pointed out that Patrick has mastered the basic cues or symbols of the game. He understands that certain symbols always mean the same thing, even when you are in a different game or say on a computer rather than an iPad. He is tuned into the fact that “visual changes” as his mother calls them, are significant. Even though he cannot read the words on the web page that his mother is looking at, he knows from experience that the blue underlined words meant that there is a link to something else.


Can I learn like Patrick Does?

In a word, yes.
  • Make learning fun
  • Don’t be afraid of mistakes
  • Embrace the use of symbols
Allow learning and using technology to be fun, not a chore. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect, it’s not necessary. I can not emphasize enough the importance of understanding the use of symbols or icons. The form of directions that work well when we tell someone how to get somewhere do not work well with technology. If I tell a visitor to Medford Leas how to get from the Front Desk to the Linden Room, those directions will be good today and still good a year from now. If I tell that same person how to reply to an email with the same sort of literal do this, do that, turn here, type of directions, the directions may not even work today. What if I am using gmail and she is using Yahoo email. What if the email interface changes as it probably will, what if she switches from her computer to an iPad? But if I help her to understand that there are certain symbols or icons, or even sometimes words that always mean the same thing whether they appear on the upper right side of the screen or the bottom left, she will be able to navigate and do what she wants to do.

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