TEL2 – What Are Technology Enhanced Learning Environments

Learning

But what is learning? Is it only the gathering of new information? Being able to process it and to do something with it? And what about skills, behaviors, values,… can you learn these things too or is learning restricted to familiar yourself with the contents of books and papers? Many different definitions exist and many more will be debated in the future. Off course learning can not be confined to the learning of mere facts, but everything that enriches us as a person, is to be learned. The way in which this occurs, depends on what you are learning. Trying to sculpt a statue is not something you can master by reading book on the subject. Learning the capital of Canada, however, can. Empathy will require a great deal of reflection and meditation instead of studying. Throughout the ages many able psychologists and sociologists have thought about this and came up with various theories about the subject of learning. The best known frameworks being:

I found an interesting thought on the matter, highlighting four approaches or orientations to learning: behaviorist, cognitivist, humanist, and social/situational (Merriam and Caffarella – 1991). It becomes clear that we have evolved from thinking of learning as an individual, factual event to a more open and social experience. However, in our digital age, I think there’s a need for even more evolution to the point where technology is taken into account when learning is debated. The theory of Connectivism is one that I got to know the past few years and for me it offers this next step in the evolution of learning theories. Downes, suggests that “Connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks”. Siemens adds “Connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity. How people work and function is altered when new tools are utilized”.

I was fortunate enough to participate in the CCK11-course (Connectivism and Connected Knowledge – 2011) where the whole theory was discussed with people from around the world in what is now widely known as a MOOC – a Massive Open Online Course. For me, Connectivism finds the common ground between learning in a social context, which to me is essential, and the addition of technology. We live in a world where technology is no longer an option. We work with it all day long, we use it in our everyday lives to assist in all our activities, so why shouldn’t we take this into account when talking about learning. “The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe” Siemens argues…

Technology

We live in an age where information changes so rapidly, pure factual knowledge is becoming almost obsolete. We are transgressing into a world where knowledge/information is everywhere. Therefor, to know something is nog longer key in our society, instead to know how to learn is! Technology is the vehicle enabling us in doing so. At this very moment, millions of people carry the worlds most elaborate encyclopedias, search-engines, books, videos, etc. in their pocket. Smartphones being our doorway to the world, they offer a lot of possibilities in the ways we engage with information. Where we used to gain a lot of knowledge in order to succeed in this world, it has become far more important to know how to find the right information in this massive stream of information that is directed right at us. Someone told me once “The flow of information on the internet is like a fire hose, shooting at us. The trick is to find ways to extract the bits we need and ignore all the rest.”

In this same technology enhanced world we are also more connected with others than ever before. Where our world used to be the street we live in and a few other people from our hometown, we now can connect and communicate with the whole world. This change of scaling is extremely important in the way we affect young minds in how and why they do things. In fact, we are now preparing students for a job that most likely hasn’t been invented yet. They have to be prepared for a future that is not known to us.

To summarize, the social (connected) aspect and the technological aspect of our society must be taken into account when we talk about learning and create learning environments.

Learning Environments

“Learning environments are environments where learning occurs.”

Most people will picture the image of a traditional classroom, with the teacher in front of a room of children, nicely ordered in rows, learning large quantities of information. But, as I opened up the definition of learning at the beginning of this paper, I would like to point out other times and places we learn in. Learning how to make a goal in soccer, trying to create a beautiful painting, taking care of patients in a hospital, etc. can you only learn this in the traditional classroom?

Learning occurs all around us, it happens all the time. Everything we do, every time we engage with others, teaches us new things. This being factual information or things like behavior, ethics, etc. We are likely to gain new knowledge at almost every moment of our lives, simply because we are continuously bombarded with information. Our brain connects these new nodes with others, resulting in new knowledge.

So what about learning environments. If life itself is learning and the whole world is a learning environment, what do we need schools for? Why do we need these institutions where knowledge is transferred? I think schools, and we as teachers, provide the tools to learn in an efficient way. We enable students to think and learn, by offering them the right sources, environments (social and logistical), assignments,… to let them grow and develop.

Technology Enhanced Learning Environments

As mentioned earlier, technology, being the inevitable constant presence in our current daily lives, how can we integrate this in learning environments as a whole? How can we engage students to use technology correctly and prepare them for this technological, digital world we live in.

In the past numerous of developers have tried to create digital learning environments, to name a few: BlackboardMoodleEdmodo,… They all, in their own way, offer more or less a digital translation of the traditional classroom. A place to offer course materials, a place to hand out assignments and to collect them, a place for interesting links, a forum, etc. These functions all are very good tools to offer content online, however, what is the point of copying the traditional school into a digital context, if technology of the 21st century has changed the way we live our lives? How can traditional learning methods work in a digital environment? Isn’t it mandatory that we change the way we teach/learn due to the fact that information flows differently nowadays? Don’t we have to change education towards our connected and digital world? A literal translation of the traditional school into an online school, simply won’t do.

So, although these “traditional” technology enhanced learning environments, serve a purpose in education, I think we need to be open to the idea of a personal technology enhanced learning network. By this I mean that we have to create our own Personal Learning Network (PLN) of tools we need/use to process and share information. Web 2.0 tools throughout the web offer tremendous possibilities in aggregating, remix, create and share (cfr. Downes – How to engage in a MOOC; personal interpretation of terminology). Off course, offline applications work as easily, yet we can see a trend emerging in creating more and more content online. Numerous tools/apps exist to enable all of the four mentioned techniques. An overview (nowhere near complete):

Aggregate:

Remix:

Create:

Share:

At this time, my own PLN looks like this:

PLN

Gamification is also an example of how technology can enhance the learning experience. As I mentioned in my post about the “Learning by Design” paper by Gee, there are a lot of principles used in the gaming industry that also apply in education. A lot of effort has gone in creating “serious games” like DemocracyDarfur Is DyingAmnesty The Game, etc. These games can also be used in educational settings where students are taught certain course aspects by playing the game.

Conclusion

I believe that…

  • …learning should happen in a social context. The stronger the network, the more knowledge it contains and the more you can learn.
  • …learning occurs everywhere, it is NOT limited to the classroom!
  • …technology is ubiquitous and therefore information is ubiquitous, thanks to new forms of technology (smartphones, tablets,…) you have the knowledge of the world in your pocket.
  • …education should use these networked and technological aspects in order to enable learning, fit for living in the 21st century.
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