Thursday, 28 May 2015

Impact of technology on learning

Technology is having a profound impact on almost all aspects of education and learning. We need only to think of the Internet and all the information that it makes accessible to understand how much things have changed. Add to that a range of different devices, the expanded communication environment, and the learning communities that extend beyond the classroom and we can clearly observe a sea change happening.

The communication evolution

Possibly the greatest impact on education and learning has come from the development of a myriad of new communication methods, made possible by the Internet. This has gone hand in hand with a variety of new communication platforms, similarly enabled. The most impactful of these have been social media platforms like Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter. Along with these have come new ways of interacting and conversing, most notably what can be termed “text-speak”: a virtually new truncated dialect complete with its own spelling conventions and short cut abbreviations for phrases.

Allied to these developments in communication is a plethora of peer-based communities. These include discussion forums and other web-based platforms. Learners now find themselves able to access a variety of other interaction opportunities around the work they have been given in the classroom. They can discuss it with others on social networking sites and forums, they can post assignments for marking and they can get involved in syndicate groups at university.

All of this deeply changes the education model. Whereas previously it was a case of doing class work and assigning homework in a more or less closed system, with the relationship between teacher and learner virtually the sole learning relationship, nowadays learners have access to a much wider network of what can broadly be called “learning resources”.

The deluge of information 

While enabling a richer learning experience, this simultaneously poses challenges that learners need to learn to overcome. With such a deluge of information, which can be accessed via the Internet, comes the task of learning to evaluate the information. It cannot be consumed too quickly – the learner needs to digest, think about and apply it meaningfully. Similarly the learner needs to be able to sort good information from bad, to verify sources and to follow logical threads from one source to another. This places a serious responsibility on the learner – it’s not simply a case of finding information and immediately applying it. It needs to be thoroughly evaluated first.

Interactive textbooks and tools, and the Internet

No longer are learners confined to printed textbooks, possibly supplemented with visual documentaries. Today there are thousands of websites that offer videos, e-books, interactive study tools and assessments. Not only this, but the ways of accessing this information and these tools are numerous. Learners have laptops, tablets and smartphones.

The introduction of tablets into the classroom has had a significant impact on teaching methods. It is now possible for both teachers and learners to access vast resources quickly and easily, in real-time. Lessons can be supplemented by visual, multimedia and interactive elements instantly sourced online. Additional learning and study aids can be introduced into the live environment of the classroom, making it much easier for teachers to reach the learners at whatever stage of information processing they are during the course of a lesson.

A double-edged sword

Of course all of this technology can be both a good and not so good thing. At the same time as it enriches and expands the educational experience, it also poses brand new challenges for both educators and learners, which we need to become very familiar with to find inventive and responsible ways of overcoming. As much as technology can streamline and simplify the educational experience, it can also make it more complex and challenging. The solution lies in gaining complete familiarity and experience, and applying it as judiciously and appropriately as possible.