Educational technology at its best represents creativity, freedom and exciting professional possibilities. Yet, it’s a minefield of freemiums and premiums, bells & whistles, some tools that will help your school to grow and others that will distract you from your vision.
Whilst we need freedom and creativity for success, we also need ‘beautiful constraints’.
These constraints are influenced by our time, our pockets and our skills-sets. It’s very easy to be seduced by unsuitable or unnecessary technology if you are not cognizant of the true purpose of your elearning business.
Here are five things I consider whenever I dream about investing in a new piece of technology – and I’m quite a dreamer;)
Is it aligned with your vision and goals?
Here are some things you need to do before investing in elearning technology for your work.
Visualize, map out and plan what kind of elearning business you want.
Who will you teach or train?
What is your teaching philosophy?
What skills and talents do you bring into your business?
Do you have a mission statement?
What is your core message to yourself?
What is your core message to your clients?
You cannot hope to make wise investments in time or money without narrowing down your basic technological needs. These needs are expressed by your clients and by the infrastructure of your online courses.
The tools we choose to work with say a lot about who we are as professionals and which clients we hope to attract.
Does it get the job done?
I want to create content quickly without messing around with bugs and coding. I also want to have creative multi-media content for my students. Therefore I want to have powerful video-making, screen-capturing, comic-making, story-boarding, infographics, mindmapping and photo-editing tools, for example.
Many of these are free, up to a point. If you go deeply into elearning design, however, you will need to invest in some high-end tools, just as a professional photographer will eventually have to get a powerful camera in order to get featured on the National Geographic.
If, on the other hand, elearning is more minimalistic for you, you may be happy with some basic screen-sharing and Google Doc tools.
Here are two ways to conduct your own needs analysis regarding productivity:
1) Define your tasks; which have already been defined by your goals; which have already been defined by your vision.
Then find tools that get the job done.
2) Employ the 80/20 principle. Get a free trial and see if 20% of its performance can yield 80% of the results you want.
Do your clients, students and colleagues like it as much as you do?
Test-drive and pilot new technology across the board. The proof is in the pudding. I believe that whatever tools you use should be flexible enough for all kinds of learners with all kinds of goals. That’s why I always favor the blank canvas approach. Blank canvas tools and environments allow you and your students/clients to build, shape, develop, share, re-mix and recreate whatever is needed organically, naturally and intuitively.
Your technology should provide enough constraints for self-contained scaffolding, yet enough freedom to allow for autonomous learning, on-the-go learning with wireless devices, flipped learning, project-based learning, intensive courses, and so on and so forth.
Is it user-friendly?
Are you going to spend lots of time trouble-shooting and explaining why they have to use the tools or are you going to lead them into a virtual zone of proximal development?
I go for the zone – there is no better test for your new elearning tool.
What is the zone?
The zone of proximal development, often abbreviated as ZPD, can be seen as the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. The right tools guide students towards self-discovery with just the right amount of challenge to make significant change without overwhelming them.
Even more important than perceived outcomes is the feeling that emerges through engagement with one’s own thought processes and creative experiments. This gets teachers and students into an inspiring work-flow state, which, in and of itself, is another kind of zone where learning becomes one with …..
“Joy, creativity, the process of total involvement with life”
User-friendly tools facilitate creative flow and, in the hands of competent teachers, can be exploited to teach and learn anything beyond the most rigid of objectives or even exam restrictions.
Is it pedagogically sound?
Does your magical blank canvas tool lead to deeper learning, more creativity and more language acquisition or is it just a fancy must-have that you really must not have?
Taking all of the above points into consideration from vision to flow, remember that even the most user-friendly tools are pointless without a teacher who knows how to appreciate, facilitate and drive the inherent learning potential that these tools provide.
A simple example would be a story-boarding tool. A teacher with experience and passion could have students learn and create projects through storytelling that would focus on any number of skills from vocabulary learning to grammar.
Video-making can be used to enhance visual literacy, teach mean-making through a combination of word and imagery, and facilitate original thinking and creative engagement with language.
Pedagogically sound, for a language teacher, would be anything that facilitates learning, recycling, revision, memorisation, critical thinking, creativity, production and “owning” the language – for exams, school, business, or life in general.
For more information of harnessing technology for your teaching needs see my presentation below:
Food for thought:
Even if you choose the best tools and environments to build your vision and fulfil your mission, they will still fail you if you fail yourself.
Your best tools will always be your own mind and heart and the self-belief you need for calculated risk-taking.
You hone your mindset through reading, experimenting and joining elearning communities that share stories, edtech tricks and best practices.
Just remember that your colleagues and teachers will also be choosing tools to help you to continue in your own professional development.
Be aware, model best practices, question what leaders in your field are doing, and don’t be afraid to stand apart and do the thing that ”isn’t done”.
You can refuse to fail yourself through the art of cultivating beautiful restraints.
See your restrictions as challenges, learn how to open up new windows of opportunity, and teach your old self to learn new tricks.
Last but not least,
If you want to have cool tools, you’ve got to be cool too..!
How to be cool ….
Self belief and confidence
Care for others
Energetic and connected
Quoted from the Advertising Affect by Adam Ferrier and Jennifer Fleming.
Your tools, technology and environments will be flat and empty without the above cool qualities, so always consider who you are before considering what your tools will become in your hands.
References and acknowledgements:
Coolness factor quoted from:
The Advertising Effect; Ferrier. A, Fleming J; 2014, Oxford University Press.
Overcoming restrictions influenced by:
Beautiful Constraints ;Morgan A, Barden M; 2015, John Wiley & sons.
Flow: the psychology of happiness; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 2013, Ebury digital.