From Ed Tech to Learning

This is the start of a series of posts about moving the conversation around technology in education from Administration to Learning. You might want to read the subsequent posts about Learning Pathways, Video for Learning and Groups that Learn.

I’ve been working in educational technology for the last 12 years and during that time I’ve come to the disappointing realisation that the mission of most Ed Tech is focussed only on facilitating administration of education. On top of that, the products that aren’t addressing administration needs are essentially concerned with the distribution of content. And lastly those that seek to to allow interaction are vastly underpowered, featureless and second-rate. In a golden age of digital technology, where access and the ability to develop solutions is more available than any other time, it’s a sad state of affairs.

To me there’s a clear disconnect between the technologies that are available and what’s possible in terms of learning. This intersection is something that I’m not just interested in, but passionate about. It’s thinking about technology for learning, not for the administration of it. It’s about shifting the terms away from the institution and towards the learner, and for them to be able to utilise technology for their personal process of learning.

It’s really time we start moving beyond the consumption of content and focus in on the process of learning – of how we develop an understanding and making sense of a topic. It’s in this space that we’re really missing any specific technologies and tools, and it’s an area that’s not particularly well supported at the moment.

Ed Tech is stuck on the administrative aspects of universities and schools and helping them facilitate learning by creating spaces, delivering content, assigning students, receiving and returning assignments. But the actual learning? Well that’s left completely up to the student. There isn’t a defined set of tools for the student to engage with to help them learn, and quite often they’re just left navigating a dump of content – a whole series of PDF files, web based documents, videos, books and resources. And that’s it, at that point the vast majority of Ed Tech stops. There seems to be an assumption from that point on learning happens, we’re not quite sure how, but given the lack of learning tools then I’d say it’s something akin to osmosis. That by simply being in contact with content that we learn. There’s no further support of learning itself, it’s now up to the students to develop their own processes for not only consuming the information, but making sense of it. We rarely teach the skills required to take notes, organise information, sort through data, develop our ideas, and there are even less technology that enables or support learners do those tasks. Even though it’s at that point that the actual learning is taking place!

Yes we have assessment tasks, and yes good assessment helps to process content into something more tangible and coherent, but even then we’re stuck with outdated and modelled forms and methods. For most LMS’s the prowess of their assessment capabilities is in their quizzing tool. Seriously, quizzes? At the same time we can always rely on good old essays. Except for the fact that you can’t, not with essay mills and plagiarism (or more commonly non-adherence to academic publishing standards) running rife. Instead of rethinking their existence we now spend millions of dollars on surveillance systems and punitive tools like Turnitin. Assessment could be the saviour, but what great assessment tools are out there? What assessment tech have you seen beyond replication of existing systems and methods?

There is a gap in the tools that we have today, and like I’ve said before, it’s these gaps that create a really interesting space

If we want to innovate then we have to concentrate on the problems – the gaps, the cracks, the spaces in between – because that’s where the exciting change can occur. That’s where you find eager and keen participants, problems that really need to be addressed and where investment options are available. It’s also where you’ll find the opportunity and problems that demand creativity and engagement. It’s where good work comes from.
– A final word on MOOCs & EdTech for 2013 – Tim Klapdor

It’s those gaps and spaces which are the areas that I’m still really excited by. When it comes to most “Ed Tech”, the commercial juggernaut that software in education has become, that I feel incredibly jaded. I’ve been doing this too long that I don’t just know that it’s constantly reinventing the same old methods and practices just with a different back or front end, I’ve seen it happen. More than once. Ed Tech is stuck and is spinning its wheels.

But, if we start thinking about and conceptualising technology as a tool for learning – how do I utilise this technology in order to learn? Then we’re going into new spaces.

Over the next couple of weeks my plan is to plant some seeds – to acknowledge that there is tech out there that does fit this model (huge fan of DoOO, annotations tools and wiki spaces), although often it’s just coopted and hacked to do it – but to also share some of my ideas about this space.

What could we do if we focussed on developed technology for learning?

This post is the start of a series on Technology for Learning. I wanted to flesh out some ideas for technology that would enhance the process of learning and empower students – pathways, groups and video.


By Tim Klapdor

Passionate about good design, motivated by the power of media and enchanted by the opportunities of technology.

2 replies on “From Ed Tech to Learning”

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