There’s a reason why we have many aphorisms encouraging us to strike a middle ground in most of the life’s endeavors. Even things that have wonderful attributes can end up being a net negative if pursued overzealously.
In the context of education, technology offers a prime example of this idea in action. If deployed reasonably and moderately, eLearning technology contributes to a profound benefit. However, if you push things too far or too fast, technology can quickly become a bane rather than a boon.
The key is knowing how to strike the right balance.
Technology in learning: The perils of expanding access without structure
There’s no doubt that eLearning technology has been the impetus for critical changes to the way we teach and learn. Consider the example of high-speed Internet, which has made world-class education available to virtually anyone with an online connection, regardless of location.
Alternatively, consider the power of broadband combined with an advanced tool such as a learning management system, which allows educators to make learning vastly accessible and flexible. Online learning, supported by sophisticated eLearning solutions, has also been demonstrated to improve student outcomes by making the educational process more student-centered, interactive and engaging.
Given the power and reach of online learning, it is no exaggeration to say that eLearning technology has the potential to revolutionize education. Not only to school level but eLearning brings lots of success to high education as well. We must implement it judiciously to ensure that these changes are for the better. Prior examples warn us that this is not always the case.
Instances where technology failed the purpose
- A few years ago, economists from Duke University conducted a study examining the progress of one million economically disadvantaged middle schoolers who were given access to a networked computer. While it might sound counterintuitive, the study showed that reading and math scores declined after Internet access was granted. The adverse effects were particularly pronounced among the worst-performing students, whose reading and math scores dropped precipitously following the introduction of a networked computing device.The problem was not the computer or broadband access, of course. Student progress suffered because the technology overwhelmed the teaching. Students with unstructured access to the Internet chose to spend their time on non-academic pursuits, while mostly failing to use the technology for its intended purpose
- Similar problems have bedeviled educators seeking to improve classroom outcomes with the introduction of digital learning devices. The One Laptop Per Child program distributed free devices to children over six, aiming to close the digital divide and allow children to educate themselves via the Web. Unfortunately, researchers found that children once again failed to take advantage of eLearning technology in education in the absence of structured support and long-term educational planning.The lesson?
Technology by itself is no panacea for what ails underperforming students. Distributing devices may pique the attention of students, but they quickly become overwhelmed by the temptations and distractions of the Web and social media.
Striking the right balance
We have seen that expanding access to eLearning technology without support and structure can worsen the academic outcomes. While such programs are motivated by good intentions, they often fail because they are guided by a fundamental misapprehension of what technology can do, and what it cannot.
Hyper-adoption of new technology — without careful planning and implementation — is one result of the misguided sense that technology is a cure-all for what ails education. Buoyed by an understanding of the transformational power of technology (and an overly optimistic hope that it will quickly fix longstanding educational problems), educators and reformers often fail to evaluate new approaches rigorously. Student progress suffers when new technological initiatives fail to meet expectations.
That is a shame because even the technology that receives ridicule for being a time waster or intellectually worthless can have value. One example: action-oriented video games have been demonstrated to help girls narrow gaps in spatial cognition as compared to boys.
That is right — if used judiciously and with appropriate oversight and support, even video games can spur significant intellectual development. The key is finding a middle ground where technology is deployed in the right context and with the proper structure and guidance.
By striking this kind of balance, technology enhances the learning experience and facilitates student progress. To accomplish this, consider taking the following steps:
- Have detailed protocols in place governing the use of technology.
- Undertake a rigorous review of how the technology will be used to improve outcomes and how it will be implemented.
- Incorporate rules or behavioral cues to encourage the smart use of technology. For example, a school may limit the type of activity performed on a device, or restrict the amount of time such devices can be used. Alternatively, in the case of older students, institutions can use online learning platforms that have built-in cues that encourage students to stay engaged and on top of the material.
- Provide a sufficient degree of technical support. If students become confused by technology, they can quickly disengage and fall behind. Without proper support, students may become overwhelmed by the demands of using new technology.
- Pursue a balanced approach to education. Students spend enormous amounts of time online outside school hours. Traditional classroom elements (writing, discussions, reading, among others) are instrumental in developing cognitive skills. The classroom is often the primary place where students read, write and discuss academic topics at length.
- Use eLearning technology to devise new ways of doing things, rather than using it to reinforce existing classroom activity. eLearning technology in education is a tool, not a solution in and of itself. It does not replace great learning processes — it amplifies and empowers them.
There’s no doubt that eLearning technology holds power to radically improve our existing pedagogical processes and make high-quality education vastly more accessible. To deliver on that promise, we need to strike the right balance when integrating technology into our learning models. Choose the right eLearning technology and consider these points before investing in one.
By following the advice outlined above, you can ensure that you are using technology judiciously and to the ultimate benefit of your students.