As this year speeds towards its end, concepts of 21st century learning twirl like autumn leaves around in my mind. How different is learning today? And is it indeed so different?
On the one hand, we have an ever increasing choice of web tools and platforms to choose from and integrate into classroom practices. These tools are not merely toys, nor mindless clicking games – they are learning tools, educational trinkets, which in different ways, appeal to a multiplicity of learning talents, whether those be problem solving, critical thinking, autonomous learning or creative production, to name a few. There are necessarily different outcomes from this broadening of choices and educational impacts. Some of these impacts can be registered by classroom educators (e.g. the degree of engagement, the opening of school walls which challenge and enrich learners, for example) and in many places more formal studies are undertaken to inquire into the impact of today’s practices with digital learning.
One determining impact is the necessary digital literacy skills which both learners and educators need to acquire and develop. This set of skills is far from static; as someone who curates tools and platforms which are of interest to education, (Digital Delights for Learners) I am constantly surprised by the rich novelty which I encounter everyday. With ever more platforms and tools, so too the learning process continues, learning how best to integrate them into our lives and teaching/learning practices.Yet, it is not merely learning how to use these tools. As I have suggested before, integrating tech in education is not only about the tool – it’s about the learning and a different set of literacy skills which are an integral part of our lives today.
“To be literate today involves more than the “three Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic. It requires skills to navigate a connected world, a world that is both much smaller geographically and – at the same time – much bigger, in pure information terms, than the one we knew BG (Before Google).”
Dudeney ends his article by calling the reader’s attention that “if we remain largely illiterate in digital terms, we risk ending up as an irrelevant nuisance in the day-to-day lives of the people we profess to help.”
E-learning, digital learning is not just “e-learning”. It is learning. Learning how to use a tool for different purposes, (how to search for information, how to use a drop-down menu etc). It is learning with the myriad of connections that all learning includes – learning by oneself, learning with others. It is learning what to share, how to share and when to share, or in other words, learning about one’s digital identity and imprint; it is learning about cyberbullying and how to deal with such issues one may encounter online. It is learning how to be a life-long learner because of constant technological development, how to become an active, participating learner today. Above all, it is Learning.
It may appear fairly easy to think that by offering a list of tools and possible reasons to use technology, that this will improve the attitude of dividing learning into “learning” and “e-learning”. There are plenty of examples which are published regularly. A recent article comes to mind, How Technology Can Improve Learner-Centred Teaching. These lists are helpful, offering clear encouragement to educators.
However, I would like to begin seeing a possible end to the distinction of “e-learning” and instead, the acceptance that yes, there are digital resources, we live in a digitalized world, and it is all Learning.
Like Phil Ryan, I don’t believe that there are simple solutions – there are no “cookie cutter solutions”. Instead there is the need to understand that digital literacies are an integral part of learning today. With these literacies, learner autonomy, collaborative learning, task-based learning, project-learning and so many other names for activities and teaching approaches, all come into focus at a more complex level.
A learner will find distractions in class whether with or without Facebook. A student will attempt writing down every word a lecturer says with or without a keyboard. In the first scenario, it is not the technology which is distracting the learner – a learner can easily read a book under the desk if not interested or motivated in the lesson. In the second example, it is a case of good note-taking skills – not the fact that a student is using tech.
On the one hand, we have a wealth of digital tools enriching our daily lives. On the other hand, there are many skills which are not determined by technology (e.g. summarizing, note-taking as mentioned above, and so many others which are part of academic education). Together they are all learning.
Could it be time to stop chasing shadows and just enjoy the ride of tech in education?
When Worlds Collide: Technology Meets Education – Phil Ryan