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Current trends in learning and teaching technology

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 5 months ago



The current major trends in learning and teaching technology do not all pull in exactly the same direction, but they do share this one attribute: a stepping away from seeing technology as simply a delivery mechanism and a stepping towards a more integrated view of technology as a tool used by students and faculty to achieve their own ends. In this move there is a recognition that technology will be central to their learning and achievement far beyond postsecondary education, that students should be presented with technological tools and techniques that they will be able to use outside the classroom, and that these methods be suited to meet the challenges of the new world of work.


The Rise of Participatory Culture


What is this new world of work? What is the nature of the new academic and civic engagement?


It is a world that is increasingly collaborative and participatory, and a world where that collaboration and participation is technology mediated. The MacArthur Foundation, in discussing the challenges of media education for a "participatory culture" states "Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement. The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking." More particularly, they identify the following as crucial skills for engagement with that culture:


  • Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
  • Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
  • Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
  • Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
  • Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
  • Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
  • Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
  • Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
  • Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
  • Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
  • Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.


While the examples here are phrased to support the MacArthur Foundation's digital media focus, they also provide a more general sense of the skills necessary for success in the current world. [It can be argued, of course, that these are not new skills, but that current technological trends have merely made more salient the skills that have always been the focus of a liberal arts education.]


Faced with this new reality, many academic technology departments are carefully evaluating their toolsets, and pushing to prominence those technologies that support such modes of work and thought: wikis, which support new modes of collaboration and collective intelligence; blogs, which provide a platform for appropriation, synthesis, and meaningful reflection; RSS, which provides an open framework for aggregation, and material for synthesis.


It is important to note that these particular technologies reflect the technologies of today; we in no way mean to indicate they will be the tools of tomorrow. In today's world it is assumed that tools will constantly evolve and change. What is important are the core skills mentioned above: the use of current tools is an entry into teaching students new modes of work and research which will serve them as specific tools evolve.



The Move from an LMS to a PLE approach


One of the more recent trends has been the move toward so called PLEs. A PLE, or Personal Learning Environment, is not so much a product as a way of reconceptualizing learning systems. Depending on the theorist, it can be seen as either opposing to the LMS, or Learning Management System, approach to education, or as supplementing it.


The idea was first introduced as part of a larger discussion at CETIS in late 2004, and while the debate has moved away from its initial software focus, the core idea is still the same:


We need to move from a provider or institution-focused set of capabilities to an environment where users 'assemble' their environment to suit their needs.


Stephen Downes recently described the transition as follows:

While the learning management system succeeded in emulating the classroom online, a second wave of applications and approaches, drawing on what has come to be described as Web 2,0, is redefining the concept of online learning. This second wave is characterised by the ‘personal learning environment’ (PLE). The values that underlie the PLE and Web 2.0 are the same: the fostering of social networks and communities, the emphasis on creation rather than consumption, and the decentralisation of content and control.


The are many reasons that this transition from an LMS to a PLE approach is necessary:


  • LMS systems, with their focus on course delivery and centralized storage do not integrate well with participatory culture.
  • As noted above, the skill of assembling technical solutions on the fly is a core skill in new technological literacy: LMS's come prepackaged, and modification is institutionally controlled
  • Students need to leave college set to learn for a lifetime; yet LMS's have no corollary in the outside world. Colleges need to graduate students with a knowledge of the types of tools they will use to accomplish their lifelong learning.



Does this mean institutions will throw away Blackboard, Sakai, or Moodle and start from scratch? Probably not. For delivery of course materials LMS's such as Blackboard may remain the best option. What the PLE trend makes clear is that LMS's serve specific needs of the institution -- serving the lifelong needs of our students is a different matter.


For those lifelong needs, loosely-coupled systems of multiple interchangeable pieces have proven to be the most robust. At its most abstract, a PLE may consist of several class blogs, an RSS reader, a Facebook page, several wikis, a del.icio.us account, the Google search box, a YouTube account, a system of email alerts, and a protopage to tie much of it together.


In such a system the student is in control of the evolution of their learning environment, and learns how to modify and extend their system as needed, swapping out pieces as their needs evolve or better solutions emerge. The student graduates understanding how to mix and mash their own solutions to problems they encounter.





Connectivism and the new World of Work


In his seminal article on Connectivism, George Siemens identifies the changes in the workplace that all current pedagogical practice must address:


  • Many learners will move into a variety of different, possibly unrelated fields over the course of their lifetime.
  • Informal learning is a significant aspect of our learning experience. Formal education no longer comprises the majority of our learning. Learning now occurs in a variety of ways – through communities of practice, personal networks, and through completion of work-related tasks.
  • Learning is a continual process, lasting for a lifetime. Learning and work related activities are no longer separate. In many situations, they are the same.
  • Technology is altering (rewiring) our brains. The tools we use define and shape our thinking.
  • The organization and the individual are both learning organisms. Increased attention to knowledge management highlights the need for a theory that attempts to explain the link between individual and organizational learning.
  • Many of the processes previously handled by learning theories (especially in cognitive information processing) can now be off-loaded to, or supported by, technology.
  • Know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where (the understanding of where to find knowledge needed).



This change has been underway for some time: one can trace the discussion of the effects of an information-rich society to Vannevar Bush's As We May Think, and Siemens observation that "The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today." has its roots work by Marshall McLuhan and others.


The issues under discussion here, then, have been evolving for quite some time. Siemens, however, argues that the Networked Age tips the balance dramatically, in ways most people engaged in the modern workplace will recognize. The questions raised are many:


  • How are learning theories impacted when knowledge is no longer acquired in the linear manner?
  • What adjustments need to made with learning theories when technology performs many of the cognitive operations previously performed by learners (information storage and retrieval).
  • How can we continue to stay current in a rapidly evolving information ecology?
  • How do learning theories address moments where performance is needed in the absence of complete understanding?
  • What is the impact of networks and complexity theories on learning?
  • What is the impact of chaos as a complex pattern recognition process on learning?
  • With increased recognition of interconnections in differing fields of knowledge, how are systems and ecology theories perceived in light of learning tasks?


According to Siemens, learning has to be seen as a network phenomenon, and that network is often (although not always) technology-mediated. The ways in which we encourage students to interact with the multiple networks to which they belong is a core part of their education, and a large factor in their future success.


Whether one wishes to go as far as Siemens in theory, the fact is educational practice must now grapple with these questions -- in how we encourage our students to interact with technology there is no pedagogically neutral ground. How we encourage them to use technology should be guided informed response to these concerns, and a desire to better align education with the challenges and opportunities of an information-rich networked world.




Selected reading:


Jenkins, H., Clinton K., Purushotma, R., Robinson, A.J., & Weigel, M. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Chicago, IL: The MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved Novemeber 3, 2007, from Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century


Hart, P. (2006). How should colleges prepare students to succeed in today’s global economy? Retrieved November 1, 2007, from http://www.aacu.org/advocacy/leap/documents/Re8097abcombined.pdf


Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved Novemeber 1, 2007, from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm


Downes, S. (2007). Emerging Technologies for Learning. Coventry, U.K.: Becta. Retrieved Novemeber 1, 2007,


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