Why technology doesn’t do the learning?
Combining technology and content is common practice in e-learning. This is a great formula for providing information online, but there is a lot more to learning. The success lies in the third component, learning design. But what does it really mean and how to implement the principles of learning design?
Basics of learning
The learner, and the purpose of the learning, more than anything else, should determine the learning design. So it all starts from the understanding who are learners. Some still see them as empty canisters to be filled with content. Learning professionals see them from a slightly different angle. Malcolm Knowles who is considered the father of adult learning theory, has made the 6 assumptions:
Need to know: Adults need to know the reason for learning something.
Foundation: Experience provides the basis for learning activities.
Self-concept: Adults need to be responsible for their decisions on education; involvement in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
Readiness: Adults are most interested in learning subjects having immediate relevance to their work and/or personal lives.
Orientation: Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.
Motivation: Adults respond better to internal versus external motivators.
Okay. We know who are learners, but how they learn. Let’s look at what learning is not about and what it really is.
Learning is not a process for transferring knowledge from A to B, like the traditional sender–receiver model for communication.
Learning is an active, individual process through which the person is changed, taking place through lived experiences (Jarvis).
What is the problem with first understanding so many folks seem to share? It is not enough simply to assign or automate information in order to achieve learning. Somehow there is an assumption that if we just expose learners to content, learning will happen. It won’t. Information and ability to remember this information is only the premise of learning.
We need to understand that learning is an active process where experience has a central part. And if we talk about experience, we have to remember one thing: learners are connected to their experience through the reflection of that experience, and learning takes place through reflection.
When applying technology in learning, there is a growing realization that learning is less about information and more about communication. It leads us to another important aspect of learning: interaction. Learning takes place in the interaction between a person, the environment and a person’s behavior.
The essence of learning is much more complicated of course, but reflection and interaction are two most important parts of it. Understanding of learning gives us hint, how best to manage the learning process to achieve improved performance at work.
Why just technology doesn’t solve your learning problems
In developing e-learning there is a temptation to start with the technology and let what it provides drive the design of programs. Especially when technology, let’s say LMS has all the bells and whistles. So we can easily let ourselves carry away from a technological marvel. But should we?
Educationally as we already argued it would be better to begin by considering the learners and what is to be learned and then design technology to support learning. Technology is there to enable learning and to improve the learning experience. So, the key question is: can it make learning work better? If not, it doesn’t matter how smart the technology is or how many features it has, it’s just not appropriate.
Good e-learning like Kenneth Fee says is a combination of technology that works, meaningful content and effective learning design. These three components complement one another and need to be carefully combined: the design needs to make the most of the content, and the technology needs to enable both the content and the design, if it is to work.
What the heck is learning design and how it works
Learning design is not just about aesthetics. Learning design is best understood as systematic design of the learning process and learning environment with the aim to make learning more impactful, efficient, and interesting.
So there is two important aspects which need our attention :
Learning process. The learning process involves all the activities the learner is doing when learning. For example reflecting on the experience or interacting with others. However the nature of interaction can be different: instructors-learner, learner-learner, learner-content, learner-environment and so on.
Learning environment. The learning environment is all that surrounds the learner during learning. We can easily distinguish 5 types of learning environments: physical/virtual, social, psychological, intellectual and administrative. The environment in which learning takes place affects learning significantly. So the main issue is getting the environment right – and that includes getting the right LMS in place. The right LMS is one that allows learning design.
Overall it’s all about understanding how people learn and then designing a course to aid that learning. Whatever you do it is important to keep in mind the philosophy of learner-centred learning. The philosophy of learner-centred learning according to Fee makes the learner the focus, sees everything from the perspective of the learner, and fosters the development of learning resources and interventions that put the learner first. This means analysing and determining learning needs in terms of the individual learner’s needs; it means writing learner objectives from the learner’s point of view; it means getting learners active in the learning process and allowing them to choose how they learn; and it means involving learners in planning and reviewing learning. It means much more, too: it is the learner-centred philosophy that makes possible both a learning culture and a learning organization.
With so many different technologies and tools available, we try to enrich courses with many different kinds of components. Unfortunately, not all components are relevant and they often disturb learners rather than help them to achieve the objectives of the learning.
Without learning design you will just be making a series of tactical e-learning interventions, some of which may work while others won’t. But which, taken together, will not have a collective coherence.
In a nutshell, well-designed e-learning works; poorly designed e-learning doesn’t. You can ignore it. We have seen it way too many times. And the results are always the same. Eventual fail.