Introduction

The massive ambitions we share, as a nation, for education cannot be met without technology. Crucially, they cannot be met without technology designed to help people learn. For too long learning has been subsisting on the crumbs of technologies designed for other purposes. It is too important and too complex for that to continue.

The Technology Enhanced Learning research programme has spent more than four years developing systems and software that, for example, use artificial intelligence to teach teenagers algebra and help autistic children with their social skills. We have created virtual islands where young people acquire the confidence to tackle some of life’s bigger challenges. We have exploited the potential of giant touch-screen tables to encourage young children to work together. We have taken sense-of-touch technology – the sort that makes that gaming controllers vibrate – and used it to train dentists cheaply and effectively.

The potential for learning is clear when we consider the technologies that are present in homes and in people’s pockets. But there is little sign that this kind of technology is being adequately exploited for teaching and learning.

Of course some schools are pioneering the use of technology in learning. But too many are struggling with cumbersome networks and outdated computers and a fear of all that lurks on the internet. Meanwhile, their
students are busy at home setting up servers to allow them to play online games, or making videos to upload on YouTube, or socialising with their friends on Facebook. They and their parents may be perfecting their digital photos on their multi-touch tablet or doing the week’s shopping online. Colleges and universities are making headway, but there is much more that can be done. And the possibilities for lifelong learning are endless, though yet to be thoroughly realised.

Driven by the desire to discover, create and communicate (and play and shop), people of all ages have developed impressive skills in order to pursue their own interests. Somehow, this has not yet transformed learning and teaching in the same way. Partly, this is due to a reluctance to change what counts as learning. All forms of professional life have been transformed by technology, but we are wary of making radical changes to what is taught and what is learned. Yet this is where change is most needed – to learn the new things that matter in the 21st century, and find new ways to teach and assess them.

There are signs of change: new technologies like tablet computers are helping to turn the tide as is the long-overdue recognition of the importance of teaching children something about the art of programming. And of course almost everyone in the UK has a powerful computer in their pocket, even if they have to switch it off when they enter the school.

Education at all levels needs technology that is designed for learning and teaching, not the leftovers of systems designed for quite other purposes. Without it, our schools will languish, locked in an analogue mind-set while the rest of society goes digital. Our economy, our children – indeed all of us – will be the losers.

This report addresses 12 key themes, with recommendations that will be relevant to everyone involved in learning – including teachers, policymakers, lecturers and workplace trainers. Our ambition is to feed these into the debate, to provide focus and, where possible, evidence that can guide policy and practice. As such, our recommendations are not simply demands on government or a set of unrealistic calls on the public purse; they are an attempt to map out the territory of what we – academics, industry, policymakers and practitioners –
should recognise as crucial for getting the best out of technology, and finding effective and productive ways to invest for the future.

The Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) research programme is:

  • a £12m programme funded by the UK ESRC and EPSRC from 2007-2012
  • designing and evaluating systems to advance our understanding of learning and teaching in a technological context
  • supporting eight large interdisciplinary projects
  • working to achieve impact for emerging research results and
  • mapping progress on key themes

This report was prepared by the TEL programme task group:

  • Professor Richard Noss London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, University of London, Director of the TEL programme
  • Dr Richard Cox School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Diana Laurillard London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, University of London
  • Professor Rose Luckin London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, University of London
  • Professor Lydia Plowman School of Education, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Eileen Scanlon Institute of Educational Technology, Open University
  • Professor Mike Sharples Institute of Educational Technology, Open University

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