When technology experts start talking about eLearning, acronyms fly: HTML, CSS, PHP, AS3, etc. Not suprisingly, this results for educator is an aversion for technology, a shrug: “all that shiny stuff is fine and dandy, but in the end it’s just a gadget”.
Meanwhile, the younger students laugh at their teachers’ clumsiness with technology, and go back to playing with their game console. As for older students and professionals, they despair when faced with the complexity of eLearning systems supposed to make their learning easier.
Technology experts, seeing this, are surprised for a moment, then go back to their screen to find a new, better technology, which will solve all problems in a few hours of programming. Sure. I’d buy that.
This scenario, barely caricatured, explains why the development of technology for learning is so slow, costs millions to institutions and governments, all for a limited pedagogical benefit.
How can we break out of that deadlock?
In my humble opinion, two factors create this problem.
And it’s actually an old problem:
- A lack of communication between disciplines.
This question is vast, yet absolutely pressing in today’s society. It’s worth writing about a bit longer, but I’ll leave that to a future article.
You can’t solve everything at once.
- An lack of reflexion on the core problems posed by the very act of teaching anything.
These problems, very often, are pretty old, even if today’s context is different. What are these problems, and how can we tackle them in today’s society, so we can take full advantage of current technological tools for pedagogy?
One of the recurrent problems for teachers, and for a long time, is the students’ interest for the subject they study. How can you make a student passionate about mathematics, sciences, and literature?
To interest a small child in the world around him, the receipe is pretty simple: take a shiny object with bright colors, shake it in front of the child, and voilà, you have his complete attention for two seconds, five if you’re really good. Most pedagogical designs today adopt the same approach, using animations and little brightly colored characters to get the reader’s attention. For two seconds, five if you’re good.
Trouble is, the small child is not only interested in the object because of the pretty colors and the movements (that’s only the small nugget to indicate: “this is interesting”), but also because of all the discovering, exploring, understanding he can do with it: what is that strange thing? Does it look like this other thing I saw yesterday? Is it a toy? Can I eat it? This natural curiosity is the essential engine that gets the human brain started.
Why not take advantage of that as a factor for motivation? Using learning in itself as a motivation for learning, not bad. It’s a virtuous, self-maintaining cycle.
Information discovery can be used as a motivational element in our pedagogical designs, as can problem solving. Allowing users to build objects (physical or virtual) can also motivate learning.
Deep reflexion and efficient memorisation
Learning doesn’t only mean memorising lists and regurgitate them (this is only the first level of Bloom’s taxonomy of the cognitive domain). Learners need to be able to understand and apply knowledge, and demonstrate a capacity for analysis, evaluation and synthesis. This level of competency requires a deep learning process, based on the learners’s active implication on problems to solve.
As a consequence, it might be useless, or even harmful, to focus on impressive but useless graphics, to the expense of efficient scenarios. Content prevails on the package or, to be more precise, the package must fit the content perfectly. Design and technology at the service of a smarter pedagogy.
The same thing, but better
It’s unnecessary to create new problems artificially, just because we now have new technological toys to play with. They’re just tools anyway. How about just using technology to solve old problems we already have, crucial problems at the heart of the teaching and learning process?
Successful web companies solve simple and recurrent problems. Only, they do it better than others. Or in a more innovative way. Or they just massively simplify everything.
In the same vein, good pedagogical design allows the resolution of good old problems in education, only better than before.
So which pedagogical problem did you solve today, using technologies and good design principles?