Recently, I received an Apple watch as a gift but could not even figure out how to loop the strap around my wrist. I realized that it is time for me to go beyond self-instruction into collective trial-and-error learning. Inspired by Woody Zuill’s work on mob programming, I came up with a mob learning technique.
A team (“mob”) of people take turns learning how to use a device through trial and error.
Use an Apple watch to perform different tasks.
10 to 60 minutes, depending on the complexity of the tasks and level of ignorance of the mob members.
Supplies and Equipment
- Apple Watch
- Laptop computer
Organize a mob. Gather three to six participants to form a team (that we shall call the mob). The ideal size for the mob is five.
Assemble supplies and equipment. Place the watch, the iPhone, and the laptop in the middle of the table.
Prepare a wish list. Hold a brief discussion to brainstorm different goals you would like to achieve with the watch. Write two to five of these goals on a piece of paper.
Here are three tasks we wanted to accomplish:
- On the watch face, display the local time and also the time in Timbuktu.
- Make the watch display my twitter feed.
- Set the timer to beep once every 2 minutes.
Select the first learner. Using any convenient criterion (for example, the youngest, the tallest, or the one without glasses), select a participant to play the role of the learner. Give the device and supplies to this participant. Explain that all other participants will play the role of observers.
Assign additional roles. Distribute these additional roles to the observers:
- Time keeper (who uses a separate watch or smart phone to keep track of 5-minute intervals)
- Note taker (who jots down important steps in the procedure for achieving the wish-list goal)
- Nagger (who keeps reminding the others to follow the rules and regulations)
Begin learning. The timer begins to keep track of the time. The learner announces the wish list goal that he or she is trying to achieve and picks up the watch. Using logical thinking and trial and error, the learner tries to figure out how to achieve the goal. Throughout the process, the learner keeps providing a running commentary on what and why he or she is doing. The other participants observe what is happening. They also ask questions of the learner and make suitable suggestions.
Switch the learner. The time keeper announces the end of the 5-minute period. The learner hands over the watch to the person seated to the left. This person becomes the next learner.
The new learner’s task. The new learner continues from where the previous learner left off. He or she uses the same approach of doing things and talking aloud. The learner may also describe problems and ask for help from the previous learner and other members of the mob. However, no one except the learner can touch the watch.
Continue learning. The role of the learner keeps rotating at the end of every 5 minutes. Depending on the complexity of the goal (and the ignorance of the mob), each participant may have more than one turn.
Reach the goal. Whenever the mob members feel the current learner has reached the wish-list goal, this phase of the activity comes to an end. The mob may also decide to end this phase if it realize that the wish list goal is beyond the current capabilities of the watch.
Replicate the task. If the wish-list goal is reached, the current learner resets the device to its original state. The next participant now goes through the same procedure to achieve the same goal. Since this is more like a test, the observers don’t coach this learner.
Continue with a new goal. After everyone feels that he or she will be able to reach the goal, and if time permits, the mob can proceed to the next goal on the wish list, and repeat the collaborative learning procedure.