There are exciting new possibilities in education technology and the learners of tomorrow will benefit from those who are driving change today. The very pedagogies we use to engage and connect with our learners are being challenged like never before as the walls of the classroom melt away to a more collaborative and customised education platform. Connected devices will revolutionise the way that learners interact and engage with information in a way not seen before. (Heinrich, L, 2014)Not all will willingly embrace new technologies and there will be those who simply don’t have access to it. However education technology has been around for some time now and we are now living and engaging in technology that now appears old to some but new to others. (Doring, 1999,18%) It will be the challenge of governments to incorporate new technologies into the curriculum and skill their teachers. New technology has created opportunities for collaboration and engagement outside the classroom and the ability to engage in learning experiences in a real and meaningful way will provide hope of success and lifelong learning enthusiasm.
- Pedagogy in a digital age
There was a shift in the 1990s from the internet being a suppository of knowledge to a place where crowd wisdom could be harnessed and used for work, learning or pleasure. (Surowiecki, Canole, G., 2012.p.49)Once technology afforded new ways of accessing knowledge and information it was a game changer for education.
“We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday, and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.” Margaret Mead(1980)
There are many beliefs that currently underpin education pedagogy that predate the digital age, (Heppell,1999,p.20) so the challenge for education specialists is to consider how fixed knowledge can be included in a learning environment where new networks,collaborations, connections and innovation are driving learning experiences that are afforded to students in the new digital environment. (Brown ,S.,2012)When creating learning experiences pedagogy and assessment cannot remain fixed on information gathering and regurgitation of knowledge based on fixed predetermined tests but rather to the broader experience where learning is relevant and meaningful. Starkey suggests that we are moving from ‘knowledge based’ learning to ‘critical thinking’ based learning and this shift will allow for more connectedness when it comes to the learning environment. (2011, p.19)Students will seek to gain autonomy and the ability to be masters of their own learning through experimentation and meaningful dialogue. (Ravenscroft, 2011,p.46,Haesler, 2015)These learning experiences come about through networks, connections and collaboration.(Bereiter,2002, Gilbert 2005, Simens, 2004), p.21, Ford, 2008,p.77)
Ford suggests three ways in which teachers can develop different pedagogy modes in order to engage with students in the learning environment. (2008, p.77)A cognitive view of learning considers that learners construct and build upon their own internal knowledge structures and representation to engage with new learning opportunities. In contrast he also suggests a humanistic view where the goal of learning is self-actualisation and fulfillment in the learning experience comes from both cognitive and affective levels. Lastly he considers a socially/situated perspective where learning becomes interactive and is between people and real world contexts. When the possibility of these theories are combined with positive learning experiences through structured experimental learning then these theories are useful in supporting the development of learners’ process capabilities. (Levy, 2003, p.303.)Knowledge gathering and use therefore becomes intrinsically woven into the students learning experience.
- Ford’s theories may align with modern pedagogies about the changing nature of knowledge gathering and interaction however Doring adds that the learning experiences afforded in the process speaks to one of the core values of teaching which have not changed , “Education is a fundamentally conversational business.”(1999, 18%) Once knowledge is acquired (in whatever mode it has originated) it then transcends into further application or concept understanding by the learner that may lead to a connection with others and engagement beyond the knowledge itself. (Doring, 1999).Whilst constructivist theory may align with modern approaches to learning it is not new and whilst the use of technology can be incorporated into this view it is by no means only dependent on the use of technology for this engagement to occur. (Imel, 2001,18%)Quality teaching engages knowledge and dialogue in such a way that the teacher and the learner feel safe in the learning environment and they curiously explore knowledge and critically evaluate and reflect on this information to achieve mastery of a skill or concept. (Mayes, 2000, 18%)
- Furthermore Merrill (2002, p.85) develops the concept that learning needs to be meaningful and complexities within a learning experience will develop knowledge and skills over time regardless of which method is being used. Access and engagement with knowledge is driving new approaches to pedagogy and there can no longer be rigid approaches to how learners engage inknowledge or knowledge activities but rather the emphasis lies in the interaction with multiply theoretical approaches creating flexible solutions that cater for different learning styles and situations. The use of knowledge may not always be experienced in an institutionalised manner but rather learning experiences can take place with parents and family, learnt at home, in museums,libraries, through hobbies, the web or life experience. (Wing, J. 2008, p, 3721)
With new developments in pedagogy come new opportunities for delivery, engagement, assessment and skill development. Understanding the digital environment is vital to understanding learning in a digital age. There is an expectation by digital natives that technology will be woven into all aspects of their lives and that includes learning and education. (Bauman, 2005, p.30)
Young people in particular want to make sense of the world they live in and the internet of all things provides a platform for exploration and connectivity as a means of engaging in learning and creative thinking with issues they feel are relevant and meaningful to them. (Wenmoth, D, 2010)
Therefore in the face to face learning environment there is an expectation that blended learning will be part of the learning experience. (van de Ven, 2014)Blended learning might simply supplement course work and reading of online articles however it can also include simulations and collaborative experiences that may occur in more than one place. (Bonk, Kim andZeng. 2006, p.92)Technology enabled learning is only as good as the learning principles that underpin it so planning and preparation are key before implementation.(GlobalEducation Leader’s Program, 2013,29%) With the opportunity for learners to access the internet learning becomes an everywhere and anytime activity and global connectivity soon draws learners from a know-how and know-what activity to one that is supplemented by know-where. (Siemens, 2004.)Learner engagement is at the forefront of curriculum development and including blended learning opportunities will be essentially important to building confidence in learners who are living in a digital age. These opportunities will allow learners to be more creative and innovative than ever before and Craft concludes that learners can “extend ideas or hypothesise using imagination in order to achieve alternative and innovative outcomes.”(2003,p. 115)
“Blended learning is both simple and complex. At its simplest blended learning is the thoughtful integration of classroom face to face learning experiences with online learning experiences.”(Kanuta, Heater og Garrison, Randy, D. 2004.)
Challenges for digital learners
“Today’s learners need to manage work/life balances, social entrepreneurialism, development and projection of their identities, communicating across national and international boundaries,contribute to knowledge, manage career paths, exercise judgments,,reflect/plan/seek, support others and address threats.”(Bethan et. al. 2009, p.56)
Technology can be overwhelming and all-consuming and there will be some resistance by learners to participate and manage technology in their hyper-connected lives. (Kramer, M. 2014) Whilst technology can afford great opportunities it can also be invasive in our lives and learners may crave ‘off the grid’ time and look for authenticity in products and human connections. (Neidhardt,H., 2014) Face to face interactions may be the desired mode of learning for some individuals and the digital environment will not engage everyone. Some learners will be required to engage in blended learning as curriculum that is currently used and in the future includes learning in digital environments. (ACARA, 2012,p.3) Whilst Institutions and Colleges can provide the infrastructure for digital environments there will be some learners who will struggle to engage in this mode due to their life experience using technology, their access and time available to use it and their interest. (Canole, G. 2012,p.52)These learners may be disadvantaged in digital environments competing with learners who are confident using technology.
Jenkins argues that learner’s will need a new a set of ‘digital literacies’ to cope with the new participatory culture associated with blended and online learning. (2006,p.56) Some learners expect to “…find information online quickly and easily. Yet these same students are often novices when it comes to searching and finding information.” (O’Connell,J. 2012) Digital natives come with a range of experiences and often these learners don’t use critical thinking in order to dig deeper into what they are researching. Learners will need to be transliterating with an ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media. (Newman, et.al. 2011, p.42)This will be difficult for learners with learning disabilities and those with poor levels of literacy, numeracy and social skills. Technology may therefore become a barrier to learning for these learners. However this does not always have to be the case and technology has been developed to assist these students and overcome their learning adversities.
- Challenges for digital educators
Education is influenced by economic, social,cultural and political change and the complexities in global education technology inevitably impacts learning and learning opportunities. (Selwyn, N, 2013, pp.14-15) Schools in particular have become reliant on pedagogies that are interdependent with structural hierarchical relationships and formal systems of regulation and are often seen as incapable of responding adequately to the challenges posed by new digital technologies. (Bentley, 2000, p.357, Craft, A., 2003,p.123)Furthermore Institutions are struggling to maintain technology infrastructure due to the pace of new technological advances and mobile devices and there is becoming a disparity between the ‘rich’ technology learners’ use at home and the outdated and antiquated technology they use in their physical place of learning. (Prensky, M. 2001,p.1) These inefficiencies are further hampered by teachers who do not have the technological ability to use these tools and integrate them into their teaching programmes. (Selwyn, N, 2011, p.27) Further opportunities for professional development for all teachers and those who are school leaders will be necessary if widespread implementation of these new learning technologies is to be afforded at a local and global level. Funding for these opportunities will be the challenge of governments and policy makers in the future and will be vital for widespread change and innovation in the education sector. (Banks, K., 2014)