The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write,

but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. -Alvin Toffler


Kym gesturing to a diagram

​Kym Buchanan

CC 2018 | Kym Buchanan
Photo of Kym by Eva Donohoo

See also: Curriculum Vitae and Teaching Philosophy

Core Interests & Expertise

  • Education & Training
  • Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion (EDI)
  • Media & Technology
  • Psychology

PopMatters Staff Writer

Scholarship Agenda

Here are some of my big ideas.

I'm interested in how we become our best selves. So I'm interested in human capacities such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, perseverance, and resilience.

My core inspirations include Vygotsky's zone of proximal development (ZPD), Csikszentmihalyi's flow, Dweck's growth mindset, Mishra and Koehler's Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK), and especially Spiro's Cognitive Flexibility Theory (CFT).

When someone feels sufficiently safe and inspired, they can learn, grow, and perform within their ZPD. Just like the engine of a car, optimal performance emerges from a match (or resonance) of motivation, ability, and challenge. This match can also optimize learning: learning can be faster and deeper, with better retention. Furthermore, this optimal state can be inherently enjoyable and rewarding--the flow that Csikszentmihalyi describes.



To better understand this match, my research and development criss-cross the problem space of human capacities. My projects overlap at three desirable behaviors that I call the "Trying Trio:" Admit Ignorance, Take Risks, and Own Mistakes. These behaviors are desirable because they catalyze learning. Learners who confront their ignorance, experiment with strategies, and unpack their errors can learn faster and deeper, with better retention. We should foster Trying Trio behaviors in formal and informal education settings, and in workplaces.



I look for spaces and strategies that already catalyze Trying Trio behaviors. Pop media such as movies and video games already engage many learners, both youth and adult. For example, a student who is reluctant to take risks in a classroom may be far more engaged by a video game. This difference is partly because the different context can change whether the student expects to succeed and how much they value the outcome.



For generations, educators have tried to leverage shifts in context to increase motivation and Trying Trio behaviors. I call this strategy of shifting contexts "Playful Interest Bridging."



Shifting contexts can also improve a teacher's confidence that success actually reflects mastery of the relevant knowledge, skills, and dispositions, rather than luck or guessing. This is especially true when using games and other simulations. When a student has more freedom, their success is more clearly a result of their sustained effort and use of effective strategies.



Given my fascination with these issues, I'm part of the positive psychology movement. I believe that psychology should do more than diagnose and treat disorders. It should help us achieve productivity and happiness.