This paper considers some of the major issues in the field of learning technology. It seeks to identify areas in which technology has greatest potential to contribute to the learning process, and also those areas in which the application of technology is inappropriate or detrimental.
Issues described include the support of different kinds of learner, learning environments, reusability and accessibility. Questions raised include the changing role of learning in the information age, the extent to which learning materials may be re-used and how misunderstandings between the various contributors to learning technology projects may be overcome.
The paper concludes with a description of a hypothetical example of an effective application of learning technology.
What is Learning Technology?
Learning Technology, Educational Technology, Instructional Technology, e-Learning, Computer Assisted Learning (CAL), Computer Based Training (CBT)….. One or more of these closely related terms seems to occur in almost every discussion on education and learning these days. But what do they mean? And how might they shape the educational landscape of tomorrow?
A widely accepted definition of Instructional Technology is that provided by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology Definitions and Terminology Committee. “Instructional Technology is the theory and practice of design, development, utilization, management, and evaluation of processes and resources for learning.” (Seels & Richey, 1994).
This paper employs a slightly simpler definition of learning technology as any application of technology, particularly computer and information technology, which contributes to the learning process.
Learning technology per se is not new. The first maths teacher to bring an abacus into his classroom was using technology to aid learning. Projectors, tape recorders and televisions have featured in schools for decades. Even the use of computers is in education is not new. Riley (2002) describes how simulations and modelling programs “were in the mainstream of 1980s computer-assisted learning”. This author can remember a modem connected teletype unit in his maths class of the mid-70’s.
However, rapid advancements in the power and capability of desktop computers along with the proliferation of the Internet have led to intense interest in the potential of the computer as a learning tool.
This paper seeks to provide an overview of learning technology and to explode some of the myths about surrounding the field. It identifies areas where technology is most able to add value to the learning experience and also raises a number of questions which need to be addressed if the potential of the discipline is to be fully realised.
What Learning Technology Can – and Cannot – Do
Learning Technology has the potential to bring improved learning opportunities to a larger audience than has ever previously been possible.
It is able to support a more active learning experience through a high degree of learner involvement, thus promoting a deeper understanding. Dale’s “Cone of Experience” (adapted from Wiman & Meirhenry, 1960) suggests that people remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they hear and see, 70% of what they say and write, and 90% of what they say and perform at a task. Confucius makes the same point even more succinctly: “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand”. My own experience as a student on a master’s course in multimedia revealed that I learned least in formal lectures, a little more in organized tutorials, and most of all during the completion of assignments. Active learning is an effective approach for developing deployable skills.
Learning Technology places the learner in control of their own education. It is better able to meet the individual’s learning requirements by providing a (potentially) unique experience to every learner, tailored to their individual circumstances and characteristics.
It is able to support communicative and collaborative activity irrespective of the physical distance that may separate participants. Communicative activity reinforces and extends knowledge promotes a broadening of understanding through the sharing of ideas. Even where an individual comes into conflict with the group consensus, that conflict forces the individual either to justify their opposition or else to modify their belief.
Schacter (1999) analyzed five large scale studies of educational technology (including a meta-analysis of over 500 individual studies) covering a range of ages and levels. Schacter concludes that “students with access to computer assisted instruction, or integrated learning systems technology, or simulations and software that teaches higher order thinking, or collaborative networked technologies, or design and programming technologies, show positive gains in achievement on researcher constructed tests, standardized tests, and national tests”.
Fletcher (2003) argues that technology-based instruction is effective because it allows greater individualization and Interactivity than traditional classroom instruction. Fletcher concludes from the evidence that “technology-based instruction will reduce the costs by about a third and either increase achievement by about a third or decrease time to reach instructional objectives by a third”.
Learning Technology does not obviate the need for work on the part of the learner. It is not yet possible to download knowledge and experience directly into the brain. To understand something we must engage with it, a process which requires effort.
Learning Technology does not obviate the need for work on the part of the educator. Delivering content electronically does not automatically transform it into an effective aid to learning. In fact what might have been a very good aid to learning in its original form may lose its merits through inappropriate “electronification”. The most effective use of learning technology requires considerable planning and effort on the part of the educator to best exploit the strengths of the target media.