I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams. –Hamlet

Vincent Van Gogh bounded within his infinite space. Van Gogh painted Starry Night from an asylum in Saint-Remy in 1889. Retrieved November 2, 2009, from http://www.vangoghgallery.com/painting/starryindex.html.

Once again, Hamlet refers to dreams (in this instance, as a negative). This is a statement of learning self-assessment. Hamlet could live blissfully ignorant were it not for this nagging consciousness of this other reality, this smooth space. It demands attention and wants to to break out. It is vast and omnipresent and interferes with the existing learning construct.

So what is the role of this bad dream? It is a bit of new information that intuitively feels important (intuition as learning). We just know it is important when we see it. Hamlet not only saw it. He heard it, interacted with it, let it consume him. Learning-wise, this bad dream is bad because it challenges existing constructs; it runs against the grain of an established worldview. It simply doesn’t interact well with existing filters. This requires creative destruction. Filters must be torn down and rebuilt; with each iteration, the filters become more refined and aligned with the learning reality of the individual. It is the scientific method; each successive iteration produces something better.

Failure is also recognized as a highly powerful learning tool; each iteration is an admission that the previous one didn’t work or has simply outlived its use. In project management circles, this might be seen as fast failure, that desire to eliminate erroneous logic or constructs early and often. Learning is essentially a push for fast failure. Hamlet recognizes the impact of “bad dreams” on existing paradigms; it essentially causes them to fail. These bad dreams are the ethos of smooth spaces; they are limitless possibility informing striated logic. Hamlet cannot continue on with the new information he has. Things must change.

The play’s the thing,
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

Play is the creative, seemingly illogical pursuit of knowledge simply because it is interesting. There is no obvious reward, no pragmatic gain; it is simply the pursuit of fun. Creativity is encouraged precisely because there is not inherent structure; stimulation is provided from the bright sun of sheer limitless possibility. Within that space, the learner is free to pursue whatever strikes their fancy. However, with each successive choice, with each point visited, a path begins to emerge. A logic will begin to be applied and a striation will appear. When confronted with this limitless smooth reality once again, sheer possibility will dazzle the learner into playful exploration. Our inherent curiosity as humans demands this.

In play, realities are forged from dreams, even bad ones. This oscillation between the smooth and the striated, this meandering path between infinite points in an open environment is revealing. It reveals the learning faculty of the individual; it reveals the structure of their worldview.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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