Serendipity is the ability to find things by chance. It can be good fortune or luck but the emphasis is on the luck or chance part of the finding. You may experience serendipity when you log on to the internet searching for something you really want, and as you click away you come across something totally unrelated to your original search but far more important or just interesting to you. That is serendipity; finding something without looking for it.
Serendipitous learning is something that I find very exciting, both as a professor and as a learner. It opens so many doors and stimulates lots of interest. For example, as a student you may search for information for a particular homework assignment, or you may be researching a project for work, or you are looking for a new recipe using particular ingredients, or you are searching for new authors in a particular genre, it is so easy to get side tracked and to click far beyond your original question. Sometimes it is the visual that has me clicking through; I like a photo or a design. Before you know it you are off on a tangent pursuing something totally different but even more interesting or valuable.
Learning is enlightening business but sometimes we are stuck by the limitations of what we know or what those around us know. Of course there are many ways to learn about the world, but isn’t it nice to find those things that have a relationship to what we already have some, even if it is a fleeting, knowledge or interest in? Serendipity allows us to learn new things that are only tangentially related to what we already know. It allows us to begin to build connections and relationships to new and different things; it expands our world.
I know that technology is not the answer to many things, and I know that for some of us and our children we spend too much time in sedentary activities like the internet. But I also think some of these sedentary activities provide very athletic internal thought processes. Serendipitous learning can stimulate creativity and actions in other areas. They key is always balance – the balance between thinking and doing. Sometimes the thinking leads to more doing; and sometimes we find those things to think and do by chance or just luck!