Technology-enhanced learning research is exploring how the worlds of informal and formal education can be connected. Organising access to school intranets, school provided podcasts and social media at home is a start. But simply importing school into the home is not enough. Equally, allowing children to bring personal devices into the classroom can be seen as disruptive and dangerous. Yet evidence is emerging of the benefits of such devices when harnessed to target learning.
Technology-enhanced learning can reconceive the connections between formal and nonformal learning. Both worlds are transformed if young people are engaged in productive learning using personal technologies and networks within and outside the classroom.
RECOMMENDATION: Exploit the power of personal devices to enhance learning.
Preparing our children for the future is hard when we don’t have a clear idea of what the world will be like in 20 years’ time. But one thing is certain. They’ll need to be able to work together to solve problems. Teamwork is vital in the knowledge economy and there are new forms of collaboration that are not being exploited.
Technology can help, not just by encouraging people to work together, but by helping them profit from collaboration, to learn about things that would be difficult to learn alone. There are significant new gains that can be designed into technology-enhanced learning, preparing students for 21st century teamwork.
RECOMMENDATION: Catch the wave of social networking to share ideas and learn together.
Technology can help us analyse and understand how people learn. As technology takes an increasingly central place in education, work, and in everyday life, it becomes vital to understand how people learn with it. We are fortunate that the same technologies that enhance learning also give us fresh insights into the nature of learning. This is because the devices that students use can also serve as microscopes revealing, in close-up, the details of their learning. So the technologies can help us make sense of the learning process. This is important if learning with digital devices is not to become just a speeded-up version of what we have done for decades. Making sense of how people learn can help teachers, lecturers and workplace trainers rethink how they teach.
RECOMMENDATION: Use technology to understand better how we learn, and so help us learn better.
Understanding how people learn with technology helps to solve a long-running problem: how to assess what really matters – the emergence of understanding – rather than what’s easy to assess – whether someone can follow the rules. For far too long we have all been like the drunk looking for his five-pound note under the lamp post – he knows that this is not where he dropped it, but there is no light to look anywhere else! Now, with the latest artificial intelligence techniques, it is becoming possible for new forms of assessment to assist teachers and students alike, to attribute meaning to what students do, and to help teachers optimise their strategies.
RECOMMENDATION: Develop technologies to assess what matters, rather than what is easy to assess.
Everyone knows that it’s not always easy to apply the maths we learn in school to solve everyday problems. A substantial amount of time is spent in schools teaching people about ratios and percentages, but it doesn’t stop people getting into horrendous messes with their credit cards. A recent study showed that even people who spent all day looking at spreadsheets and talking to customers on the phone, had little idea how the numbers worked, or how to apply them to customers’ problems. And it’s not just an issue with maths. People can struggle to use any classroom learning in the outside world. Technology can help them make the learning they’ve acquired at school or college relevant to and useful in their work and leisure.
RECOMMENDATION: Allow technology to help learners apply their education to the real world.
Technology by itself doesn’t solve anything. The point is to design technology so that it addresses problems of learning and teaching. For example, we can design personalised technology which, courtesy of artificial intelligence, is sensitive to what learners know and how they work, and can adapt to optimise the feedback they receive. We are already used to computers that know our favourite websites, recommend what to listen to or read, and predict our text messages. This is just the tip of the iceberg: in the future, computers will know enough about us to offer a personalised learning, adapted to our strengths and styles. They can learn from us about how best to help us learn.
RECOMMENDATION: Utilise artificial intelligence to personalise teaching and learning.
Technology is moving beyond keyboards and mice. Increasingly, IT systems are supporting interaction by touch or movement, for example Nintendo Wii.
We have known for decades that learning is embodied in movement. Young children often use gesture to express ideas before they use words, underlining the educational potential of these technologies . Learning can reside in the flick of a finger sending an object across a screen.
The recent advent of cheaper technologies for providing haptic (touch) feedback, mobile tablet computers, large interactive surfaces and low-cost movement detection systems, leaves us well-placed to deliver learning that is active and fun. And we can also gather data that helps us understand how embodiment really works.
RECOMMENDATION: Go beyond the keyboard and mouse to learn through movement and gesture.
Doctors, architects, musicians – all take for granted software that enhances their creativity and productivity. Teachers need tools like that too.
Thanks to technology-enhanced learning they can have them. We can design power tools for teachers to make learning more effective and their time more productive. We can help them share expertise, give them the opportunities to think more deeply about what they teach, how they teach it, and what their students are learning. And we can exploit AI techniques that ‘know’ what teachers want, tapping in to their needs and those of their communities to make the process of being an education professional more streamlined, more productive.
RECOMMENDATION: Enhance teachers’ productivity with new tools for designing teaching and learning.
Many people are not able to take advantage of digital technologies, excluded from this major new medium for learning and for participating in the world. Nearly a fifth of the UK population makes little or no use of the internet. You know how it feels when you leave your phone at home? Technology can’t make up for inequalities based on race, or gender, or class, but without it, those gaps risk getting ever wider. With technology, the gaps can narrow. Technology-enhanced learning has the power to bring learning to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Enabling it to do so will help create a learning society for more people, and a more equal society for everyone.
RECOMMENDATION: Empower the digitally and socially excluded to learn with technology.
Sometimes it feels as if we are struggling under an information avalanche. Yet the massive increase in the volume and diversity of information does not necessarily make us all more knowledgeable. Access to information by itself does not guarantee wisdom or insight – meaning must be added.
Where does meaning come from? Humans rely on context and culture to transform information into knowledge; computers can’t do this – yet. Gradually though, as ‘semantic web’ tools come on stream, they are starting
to gather meaning from the web, not just information. We need to learn how to use these powerful tools that link data and create new ways of looking at information – turning it into knowledge.
RECOMMENDATION: Employ tools to help learners make sense of the information overload.
Computational thinking is a powerful and general way of exploring how systems and processes work, including societies, the spread of diseases, interacting technologies, and our own minds and bodies. As the world becomes more and more automated and digital, the language of computers needs to become the fluent second language of learners.
These kinds of new knowledge are the understandings required in the 21st century. We are living in a world of increasing interdependence and complexity. Science and maths underpin so much of everyday life yet too few people understand how they are done. Quite simply, this knowledge is currently owned by the 21st century digital priesthood – we have yet to democratise it. This knowledge is essential if we are to be productive and
RECOMMENDATION: Understand how computers think, to help learners shape the world around them.
Watching young children make sense of the world teaches us an important lesson: people learn best when they are making things, and sharing what they’ve made with each other. Reflecting on what you have constructed is a key part of learning. Until now, this lesson didn’t easily translate into learning more generally – you couldn’t make a model of the solar system, play around with the forces of gravity, or model the outbreak of the first world war. But now, with computers, literally anything is possible. Ideas that could only exist in the minds of people can now have a life on the screen. Not only does this bring them alive, it gives people the chance to construct their own mental representations alongside virtual ones.
RECOMMENDATION: Unleash learners’ creativity through building and tinkering.