Learning Technology – what next?

In 1965, George Moore observed that the number of transisters in a dense integrated circuit doubles every year and predicted in 1975 that the doubling would continue every two years (Moore’s Law). This proved to be accurate for the next 40 years, yet recently it has been predicted that it has reached a saturation point, thus causing the rate of progress to slow significantly. In this post, I argue that we may be experiencing a similar effect with technology in education, specifically FE.

 

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I want to set my stall out before you read on. I’m a huge advocate of learning technology and believe that it will play an important role in education going forward. I’ve written articles that have advocated the need to use technology, its importance and how to maximise its use here and here. However, just recently, I have started to question my thinking. In fact, last weekend at the UKFEChat Conference, Tom Starkey’s brilliant presentation on ‘Ed Tech and You’ got me reflecting upon my initial exuberance. Amjad Ali followed Tom’s presentation with a lovely post entitled ‘Don’t start with the APP, start with the gap’. In this post Amjad comments on the fact that many, including himself have chosen the APP over the gap (the learning need).

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I reflect on my use of technology and to be frank, I did this too. I jumped on every new app and piece of software going. Like Tom, I to loved shiny new things, regardless of what they did. I was trying new technology in every lesson. I was heralded as a pioneer, a beacon of best practice, damn I even became a Google Certified Teacher! To what end though? In retrospect, I’m not convinced that the learners I supported actually got the best deal. Sure, they had a bit of fun and learnt new digital skills in my class, but did they learn the core knowledge and skills any better than those taught in a more traditional classroom? Now this is no RCT, but my results were no better than other teaching staff if I’m honest.

 

I know I wasn’t alone in embracing and running with new technology in the ‘early years’ and I hope that I’m not alone in realising that there is a place for it and that place is when it serves a purpose – filling a gap. Aside from the fact that the technology I was using may not have had the impact I first thought, it seems less and less innovative software/apps are appearing – just more of the same stuff. I haven’t seen anything of late which has solved a problem. Sharing information and marking work was a whizz when I first came across Google Drive. Typing up marking and reports using ‘talk to text’ on my phone saved me hours of typing time, but that’s relatively old hat. Are we experiencing education’s version of Moore’s Law?

 

I couldn’t write this blog without mentioning the work of FELTAG. I’ve worked at three institutions since the initial recommendations and have spoken to many peers across the sector, but get the sense that things are slowing in this regard too. Though it has been great having a powerhouse in the sector and there’s no doubt that some institutions have embraced it, the vast majority are moving at a very slow pace (though this may not be a bad thing). I know of many institutions that are adopting the whole 10% thing, but it’s not always being done in the spirit of FELTAG, rather it’s being used as an opportunity to make savings. Sticking 20 learners in a room for an hour to complete a blended learning activity without a teacher isn’t, in my opinion, the intention of the proposals. Having said this, the work of Hattie (2009) has shown low ES for both distance learning (0.09) and web learning (0.15), so I’m not convinced that sending learners away to do this sort of thing is the answer either.

 

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The once bright flame of FELTAG is fading, a quick look at their website shows that the last news post was March 2015. This is in no part a reflection of the great intentions, but more of the priorities of a sector trying to save itself. But what next? There’s no doubt that technology will play a role in the future, yet in my humble opinion, moving forward more work needs to be done with the awarding organisations – those that create the curriculum we deliver. They need to build a curriculum that can allow for a different type of pedagogy, then we may see things speed up a bit.

 

I will remain optimistic and going forward in my new role as a Teacher Trainer will continue to use technology to fill the gap, but unless we see something worthwhile, you won’t find me embracing tech in the same way I did several years ago.

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5 thoughts on “Learning Technology – what next?

  1. Great blog Dan. If you haven’t seen it before, Itiel E. Dror has produced an interesting paper entitled “Technology enhanced learning: The good, the bad, and the ugly.” In his paper he poses some fundamental questions:

    What is Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL)? What, if anything, unifies learning technologies? And can they substantially, qualitatively, change the face of learning? Regardless of the technology, the learning material, and the learners, can we use technologies to enhance learning, and if so, how? Furthermore, how does TEL affect what learning is, and how does it affect us as learners?

    He reminds us that “It is naive and would be a mistake to think, let alone take for granted, that using technology per se will enhance learning. In fact, using technology often hinders learning because it does not fit well with the cognitive system. It is not the actual technology that is critical as much as when and how it is used. It is also important to beware of TEL, as too often it drives the learning rather than supports it. The fact that we can use technologies does not mean we should.” I think this might chime with the app/gap debate you mention.

    The FELTAG target of seems somewhat puzzling in this respect and perhaps nave. Does anyone seriously believe that replacing 10% of non-online provision with 10% on-line provision will guarantee an improvement in the quality of teaching and learning?

    Dror points out that “Training (whether traditional, e-learning, or blended learning) is intimately connected with and dependent on the human cognitive system.” And “..the processes of acquiring, storing and applying the information are critical. The question is how to achieve these cornerstones of learning and whether technology can enhance them.”

    He suggests “The answer is clear: The learning must fit human cognition. There is a lot of scientific knowledge and research on human cognition and learning. The difficult and tricky challenge is how to translate this theoretical and academic research into practical ways to utilise technology so as to enhance learning.”

    This leads him to pose two practical questions: “So, how do we use technology to enhance learning (acquisition, memory, and impact)? Can TEL help the learning to better fit the cognitive system, and if so, how?” He responds in the following way “To determine if (and what) technology is suitable for learning, and how to use it to maximise learning, we need to examine if and how it works with the human cognitive system.” “Ultimately, it is not what technology you use that counts, but what the learner takes from it that really matters.”

    Dror goes on to provide a useful framework for considering the use of technology to enhance learning. To quote: “Given the great importance of achieving the active participation of the learners, can TEL help accomplish this? The answer depends on utilising technology so as to promote what I call the three C’s of learning: Control, Challenge, and Commitment. Each of these is not easily achieved, but if technology can support them, then it can offer great gains and benefits that make TEL worthwhile.”

    The latter part of his paper discusses each of the three C’s in some depth, not only pointing out why they are crucial, but also elaborating on how technology can be constructed to incorporate them.

      1. You are very welcome Dan. You might find a follow up paper by Dror et. al also interesting. It is entitled “A cognitive perspective on technology enhanced learning in medical training: Great opportunities, pitfalls and challenges.”

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