Learning from satellite navigation

I hate being given directions. My eyes glaze-over and I lose the thread. “Just give me the address!” I want to scream. I can tap that into my iPhone and satellite navigation will do the rest.

Satellite navigation has been used as an example to explain why feedback should not be too immediate. David Didau discusses his own SatNav and makes the following point:

“The problem is I get too much feedback. I know where I am, where I’m going and what I need to do next all the time. I never have to struggle. And because I never struggle, I never learn.”

The opportunity arose and I therefore decided to conduct my own completely unscientific experiment. I was visiting friends who had just moved to a new town. Whilst there, I had cause to visit the local supermarket; a 15 minute drive with plenty of junctions along the way (I’d forgotten to pack the Old Spice).

So I used satellite navigation to get to the supermarket and I then drove home without it. It turns out that I’d learnt the route just fine.

GPS_satellite_constellation

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10 Comments on “Learning from satellite navigation”

  1. David Didau says:

    The word ‘never was, of course, ill-advised.

    But what you describe here seems like a classic case of a short-term performance which may not last very long. The real difference between the feedback I get from my SatNav and the feedback I get from struggling with an A-Z is that routes of struggled over are stored in my head. I can review the routes, pick out landmarks from memory and see how they connect to other routes. I don’t seems able to reliably do that with SatNav journeys.

    The other issue is that I panic when I don’t have my SatNav available for routes I haven’t stored. This makes navigation a really stressful (for me anyway) process and I expect my fragile working memory is in danger of being overloaded by the anxiety. Much easier to switch on the SatNav and relax.

    It would be interesting to see if an experiment could be designed to test the durability of different kinds of feedback in a similar but controlled setting. Any thoughts?

  2. Could it be that there are other variables neither of you have yet mentioned? – though I notice that David brought in the question of anxiety, a not inconsiderable factor in learning something new.
    For example, priming. I know you, Greg, were brought up in a place not dissimilar to me (The Potteries), where, if my childhood is anything to go by, you grew up walking everywhere: to school, to play with your pals, to go shopping for your parents, etc, etc. and I would guess that you primed yourself to take notice of all significant landmarks on your forays. As a boy, I knew every ‘backs’, where every vicious dog lived, every shortcut and I only need to visit somewhere once or, at most, twice, before being able to remember it easily. And, I can do it after several years, as I have to in my current work.
    Do I have an extraordinary working memory? I don’t think so. What I do have is a fairly elaborate schema for applying to and internalising new routes.

  3. pterodidactics says:

    Did you decide before or after using the sat nav that you would go back without it? I wonder whether David doesn’t learn from the sat nav because he knows he’ll never need to perform without it. If you decided before the journey then maybe you were (perhaps unconsciously) thinking more about the route during the outbound journey. Or indeed as suggested above maybe you’re just a driver who thinks more about the route anyway. If we learn what we are thinking about is one of you thinking about the route and the other not?

  4. I hate satellite navigation. The voice that gives directions is irritating and I’d rather just look at a map, pay attention to the turns, write out the directions once and go for it. If I’ve written out the directions, they stick in my mind pretty well. I’ve used satellite navigation before and had to put up with things like being told to turn left at an intersection with a big “No Left Turn” sign posted.

  5. […] one facet of which is step-by-step worked examples. Ashman took up the GPS metaphor recently. He used his satellite navigation system in new environs and found himself able to re-create his route later without […]

  6. […] Meyer picked up on my post about this and decided to relate GPS to explicit instruction in mathematics. He had found a study […]


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