Archive | September, 2013

Technology vs. Learning

20 Sep

technology infused classroom cartoonI’ve worked in the technology-based learning industry for more than a decade. I’ve developed numerous learning products that are supposed to help people learn. With one unexpressed caveat – if people are motivated to learn. Which most people intrinsically are not, for various reasons.

Corporate training
In corporate training, the emphasis is on mandatory employee training, the most common being ethics and compliance and software systems. What’s important is that the training module should be SCORM compliant, work well on the LMS, and compatible with the company’s intranet. Depending on the budget approved, text, images, and sometimes, audio/video is added to a page turner and the training is ready. It doesn’t matter if it bores the employees to sleep.

Electronic Devices
Numerous companies, both startups and established ones, are frantically building digital products and apps for learning. School districts are spending millions on buying iPads for their students on the premise that the kids need to learn tomorrow’s workplace skills. The problem is they don’t understand that knowing how to use an iPad, or any other device, is not a skill. The skill is how to use a device to research, collect information to build an argument, solve problems, and think critically. And these skills are not learned by using a device. These skills are developed by reading a lot, writing a lot, and by interacting with peers, teachers, and parents. This is the reason countries like Finland and Belgium spend a lot of money on hiring outstanding teachers. Their students rank at the top on reading, science, and math PISA tests.

Auto-graded tests
Auto-graded tests come in multiple flavors – multiple-choice, drag-and-drop, fill-in-the-blanks, and so on. Technology helps build these tests that students take and get result and feedback instantly, which is very important for learning. They know what questions they got wrong and why. The remediation path built in in some tests help them correct themselves. The tests take a lot of the menial task of manually grading the papers off the teachers’ hands and helps them save time. They can utilize their time on more useful activities such as designing curriculum, gathering content from the Internet, preparing for the lecture, and looking into the performances of their students.

The system works very well except when the teachers start relying solely on auto-graded tests. These tests are useful for testing basic facts, concepts, and calculations when the answer is either right or wrong. However, these tests fail miserably when used as a means to test higher-level cognitive skills.

Standardized tests
Again, unlike in the USA, countries like Finland and Belgium use very limited standardized tests and their students consistently score at the top in PISA tests. The No Child Left Behind program was started as a means to make the schools accountable, but the situation degenerated into a case of standardized test-crazy teachers and students engaged in a race to meet the standards without diving deep into the actual learning aspects. I’m not blaming technology for the standardized tests, but technology has certainly made it possible to increase its prevalence.

Example
Here’s a question: Why should Google build Google+ in response to the rising power of Facebook in the social networking sphere? These two companies operate in entirely different areas. It would require an extensive research on Google and Facebook to understand their businesses, products, future prospects, and strategy. It would take a student tens of pages to write an analysis of the two companies while answering the question with facts and opinions. A few multiple-choice questions cannot be used to answer the question because the answer choices limit the students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills. People argue that students still have to analyze the problem to answer the multiple-choice questions but it’s not the same as writing a research report.

Conclusion
Technology can be a wonderful teaching and learning resource if it’s used to solve real problems and not as a means to save time and effort. Learning is an intensely hard and time-consuming endeavor. Active involvement of and interaction with peers, teachers, parents, and other adults can help our kids develop a positive attitude towards learning and develop the skills necessary to succeed in tomorrow’s workplace. I’m not against using technology for learning. I’m against using technology for the sake of using it without trying to solve a real problem.

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