Summer holiday learning: some tangential thoughts on multimedia

Here I am, diverted from the intended topic of my next blog because something came up that made me think laterally (which may or may not be a good thing).

Last night we drove to Sydney and attended Rembrandt Live. This was a concert by the Brandenburg Orchestra but, instead of being in a concert hall, it was held in the NSW art gallery.  We followed the musicians (in period dress) as they moved from room to room through the Dutch Masters exhibition of paintings from the Rijksmuseum.

Thus there was music (from an era I love, especially when it features period instruments and recorders) and paintings (from a school I really like) and this was accompanied by three dancers who also introduced an element of physicality and humour. There were even some background noises suggestive of a Dutch seventeenth century streetscape (but not the smells).  At the end we had a further fifteen minutes to browse the exhibition.  This was an event that recruited multiple senses.

It is obviously entertainment rather than learning but the element of engagement is common to both. It made me think about multiple media in teaching and the theories of effective learning and multiple modalities in Continuing Medical Education.   I won’t list the evidence (or lack of) right now as it really was just a thought bubble but perhaps it is one for you to consider as an educator.

I wondered if I learnt more this way. So here is some immediate feedback from a sample of N =2 (I include my husband who noted he appreciated the ability to focus on several different things).  It was initially a little disconcerting to hear applause for the dancers in the previous space while the musicians were playing in the next one. It certainly wasn’t boring.  It wasn’t too long and I appreciated being able to walk, stand or sit on the portable stool as needed.  I wasn’t therefore distracted by physical discomfort (brief snack could be had beforehand).  There was certainly an ambience.

So did I learn more this way? Well, I guess that wasn’t really my motivation in being there although I do like to gain extra knowledge from such occasions.  It was certainly a very enjoyable experience.  Actually we had previously attended the exhibition and I had learnt a lot more information from listening to the audio commentary so on this occasion I felt free to be more selective in what I viewed and to revisit particular paintings at the end.  This reminded me of the benefit of repetition for learning (and the Spiral Curriculum in Problem Based Learning).  Of course, before planning any new educational “events” for medicos, bear in mind we can be a serious lot with a disinclination to “waste time” and a tendency to let you know – so perhaps consider my musings as more of a metaphor than instruction manual.

Before we went to the exhibition we read a scathing review of it whose main criticism was that many of the pictures were the same as those included in an exhibition from the Rijksmuseum in Melbourne some years ago. We discussed this and decided that a. we weren’t sure if we had seen that exhibition (although we visited Amsterdam years ago and may well have seen the same pictures); b.even if we had seen them we had probably not appreciated them fully in the few minutes allocated to each in a walk through such an exhibition; c. if you enjoy certain pictures then you enjoy seeing them again when you have the chance (why else would you hang them on your walls).  In the medical education environment I can confidently state from experience that I am capable of sitting through the same lecture on an annual basis and still benefitting from it (things I forgot, things with new relevance etc)

Will my learning persist longer because of the multi-media? Well, we were motivated to buy a book (I am a sucker for museum gift shops)  called “A Worldly Art: The Dutch Republic 1585-1718” so I imagine if we go on to read some of this we will have moved on to a bit of “lifelong learning”. I might download Tulip Fever on my kindle or watch it on Netflix.  We might sit in our comfy arm chairs of an evening and share some interesting titbits of information that lead on to further discussion (and maybe a Learning Plan involving Google).  I have also recently started a botanical drawing course so I took a deeper interest in the Dutch still-lifes.  Sometimes the full impact of a learning event can be broader than you think.

Prior to the concert we walked through the Botanical Gardens and I enjoyed the height-of-summer cottage garden flowerbed. It reminded me tangentially that there often seems to be added value if you attend a conference in a pleasant place.  Such things are hard to measure but maybe should be a topic for further research!

2 thoughts on “Summer holiday learning: some tangential thoughts on multimedia

  1. Cathy Post author

    Hi James, Thanks for those thoughtful comments and questions. I agree it’s a tricky philosophical issue. I’m sure I don’t have an answer. I also think that those who espouse outcomes-based education (or other approaches) often don’t acknowledge that it too represents a particular philosophical position. Our views often seem self-evident to ourselves. I suspect the dominating worldview at the moment is that of technocratic managerialism and it leads to a focus only on that which can be measured. Process ceases to have value and only the end matters (and a quantifiable end at that). I would actually be content if we could just admit that values, attitudes, philosophies etc all underlie policies. I tend to think there are not just two options (is it enough to have sat with a painting or do I need to have changed) but there may be a third one where we assume something happens but we can’t measure it. I think all experiences are probably multifaceted so I would tend to favour crafting an educational experience so that there is a measured outcome (to satisfy that agenda) but so there are also aspects about it that may express aesthetic values or encourage the interpersonal or deepen experience or enhance reflection. All justifiable depending on one’s view of what being a person (or a doctor) is. Let the opportunities be there. And maybe “outcomes” occur further down the track anyway. Of course, if being a doctor is just following protocols then it’s a different matter. Perhaps we downplay enjoyment also. We may each enjoy a painting for different reasons. I’m a bit utilitarian so I would enjoy something if I felt I was learning. But I also have an aesthetic sense (which I think is a bit like a moral sense – it has been trained by my environment) and I’m happy to enjoy the beauty or skill of something without analysing too much. I hope I haven’t missed your point! I don’t think I can answer whether just having lived is enough – I have been known to say, at the end of a day that “I don’t think I’ve achieved anything today.” So much reflects personality, upbringing, culture etc.

  2. James Brown

    This raises a question that I often consider in what I choose to do and how I choose to engage. That question is; in what way does an experience or moment have justification in itself and it what way is it justified by its impact on what follows? In sitting with a painting, is it enough just to have sat with the painting or do I also need to have changed in who I am or what I know? This tension is evident in outcomes based medical education where the only credible measure is that which has changed. Is this the sum of meaning or is to have lived sometimes enough?

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