The Bonsai Incident

I just finished reading “The Element” from Sir Ken Robinson Ph.D., a must-read for everybody interested in education or personal development. The “One Element” is the activity you’re designed to do, that you forget time and space doing it.

He states that the human creativity and intelligence is nearly infinetely and most of all, diverse. I understand this in the sense of Howard Gardner’s “Multiple Intelligences“. I think therefore it is not sufficient to create a test like the Meyer-Briggs-Test that only holds like 5 or 6 categories to describe a human being, all his plans, feelings, dreams, and behaviours. For nearly 6 billion people you’ll need 6 billion categories.

Robinson compares the thrive for knowledge of humans with the thrive for growing within fauna. I think everybody who has ever seen a bonsai tree or ever has cut one can see that. A Bonsai will keep growing only within the possible conditions. As long as there is the slightest chance, it will grow! It is not getting as tall as it could, but it doesn’t give up either.

Manfred Spitzer wrote in “Learning: The human brain and the school of life” that every animal is optimized for a specific task. Birds are optimized for flying, the cheetah for running, and the human? The human is optimized for learning! No creature is better in adepting to new situations. So why are so many humans that much discouraged about something they are designed to do?

It could be, that often in education methods and knowledge is forced on children and nobody cares to explain why this knowledge is important for them. Nobody cares if this knowledge is useful to them or if only one of them is talented at what he is trying to teach to them. Additionally sometimes if learners try to verify their understanding of the content by asking questions, their opinion is not appreciated if it doesn’t match the one that is taught.

So how could learners or possible learners be motivated intrinsically? Could personalization be an option? Would personalized content be an motivating factor to boost or even initialize thrive for learning? I think if that’s the case, computers could help to determine a template for learners, based on several profiles of learners.

What’s your opinion? Could there be a personalized learning? Would it motivate learners? Could computers help with personalizing content? And if, to what degree would you think they can be of help?

4 Responses to “The Bonsai Incident”

  1. Computers could be used to package learning in a way that the learner identified with and found of use. For instance a young lad who hated maths and arithmetic and thought he could not grasp these subjects was able to calculate the odds for a horse race. He didn’t see this as arithmetic and racing was something that interested him (interest is probably the most important reason for deep learning) so he was able to realise that he sis have a skill for numbers. This gives the confidence to tackle arithmetical problems and to see a reason for his learing.

    A great post. Thank you.


  2. admin says:

    Hi Christine,
    thanks for your comment. That’s exactly how I see it. I think all humans are made for learning, that just some are scared of it simply because it is declared as a learning process. Maybe a personalization could help to disguise the learning process as something that they actually like. Would you think it is possible to determine interest of a person from his facebook account for instance?
    Let me know what you think.

    All the best, Tillman

  3. Hi Tillman,

    I think that in using something like FB to determine the interests of a person would work in theory, but the persona that person portrays would have to be accurate to themselves. (Sometimes things are put on peoples pages as a joke and could be mis-interpreted.)

    I once spent half a day when I was in my early 20s answering hundreds of questions (to the best of my ability) to determine which career path I should take. The top suggestion was accounting which is a subject I have no interest in and no natural ability.

    So in summary, yes, the learning process should be tailored to an individual but we need to be careful in how we gather the information which we then use to design the personalisation.

    Interested to hear your further thoughts.

    Best wishes,


  4. Can’t find a way to contact you re. your studies. You can contact my through my email and Twitter. @mystoso



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