Written by:

Holly Macdonald


August 5, 2009

orcaAs I mentioned previously, I went on a trip recently to the Johnstone Strait to kayak with orcas. 

It was a truly immersive learning environment, as we did not have email, internet access or telephone.  Just marine radio, which was tuned into only the weather channel or the whale watching channel.  How was it immersive learning?  Well, we learned about the feeding patterns of marine mammals by observing, asking, discussing and postulating.  We listened to the hydrophone (really, the coolest experience) when we couldn’t see whales to see if they were within listening distance.  When listening, one of our guides talked us through which pods were vocalizing and then shared her collection of orca calls from her ipod.  We talked about what scientists knew of the calls and which pods sound like what: donkeys and space pigs were some of the terms that were used!  The camp was loaded with books and we found that using them as reference books and talking through them was more effective (old-fashioned crowd-sourcing) than reading them on our own.  We looked at marine charts and studied the symbols to look for insight as to why the whales would be there and not here.  We asked about other behaviours, we shared observations (an orca “blow” has a distinctive pop to it, while the other marine mammals did not).  Since we also saw minke whales, pacific white-sided dolphins, dalls porpoises, California sea lions, seals in the water, we were able to branch out to comparing marine mammals.

So, what did I learn about immersive learning?

  • Motivation is really important – I wanted to know all this stuff and have harboured an orca fascination for years
  • Multi-sensory is good – sound, visual, tactile and even smell enhances the learning experience
  • Wisdom of crowds – we were on a tour with people we’d never met, but we all shared our pre-existing knowledge and new discoveries
  • Learning can be ancillary – the great thing about kayaking is that you are on the water and while it is calm you can just enjoy the view, but you can also focus on your paddling which focuses your brain on something else which gives the brain a rest
  • Pre and post event learning – since this was a surprise, I wasn’t able to do pre-trip research, but when I returned, I went straight to the website where you can listen to the orcas live.  It enhanced my learning about the magnificent mammals.  I even set up a ning group for us to share photos, videos, references and to keep in touch.

The next time I’m thinking about creating a learning event, I’ll think about how I can learn from this learning experience.