From technology enhanced learning to technology enhanced learner


This Book Chapter published as From technology enhanced learning to technology enhanced learner in The New Development of Technology Enhanced Learning: Concept, Research and Best Practices, edited by Ronghuai Huang, Kinshuk, Nian-Shing Chen Foreword May 15, 2014. Springer, [Link] [Info] [List all Publications]

With the development of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s the possibility of technology-enhanced learning (TEL) as a global infrastructure became a reality. The first learning management systems soon followed, and within a few years organizations like IMS had already begun to standardize things like learning object metadata and learning design.

It is perhaps not surprising that the first forays into TEL looked a lot like traditional classroom-based education. That’s what the SAMR (Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition) model suggests would happen.[1] And, not surprisingly, from these simply beginnings TEL began to be augmented, modified and redefined. This volume tells that story.

Consider, for example, the models we used to describe learning. Whether it be the experiential learning of John Dewey or the social construction of Lev Vygotsky, we read a story concerning the organization and presentation of content in such a way as to enable the learner to absorb and retain a body of knowledge, whether through watching and listening or by experiencing and constructing.

But technology changes not only our understanding of learning, but even our understanding of the learners themselves. The reader will be familiar with Tapscott’s ‘digital natives’[2] and therefore with the idea that the ‘net generation’ reads and understands and thinks differently from previous generations. But what might not be more widely understood is that the globally pervasive nature of technology may be having a similar effect worldwide, as suggested by Huang and Yang.[3]

The concept of technology enhanced learning suggests that we are retaining the same old picture of learning and simply adding to it. But this picture changes when we think of the technology enhanced learner. Take, for example, what happens to the ages-old practice of storytelling when it is put into the hands of a child equipped with robots and projectors. A pilot student of students in Japan suggests that their motivation is increased and that they are drawn into discussions that deepen their understanding of the subject.[4] It’s not that they are simply learning more, they are learning differently. Moreover, the technology enhanced learner will have more and greater capacities than his or her counterpart in the pre-technology era. This especially applies to disabled or disadvantaged learners.[5]

As students change and adapt to the new technology, they begin to learn differently and to learn new things. They begin, for example, to speak and communicate with each other in different ways, even using their own language. I’ve suggested, for example, that digitally literate students ‘speak in LOLcats’, that is, they use internet memes as shorthand to communicate ideas with each other.[6] Marc Prensky urges not only to use their tools, but to speak their language.[7]

Perhaps we agree with the sceptics[8] who question whether we can associate generational preferences with new technologies. It can nonetheless be argues that TEL introduces new ways of learning, and even of communicating. What can we say, for example, of gesture based interfaces, except that they takes us from spoken and written word, the traditional media of learning, to a form of wordless mime. Technologies like the Wii and Kinnect have embodied digital learning (something even a few short years ago Dreyfus argued[9] was not possible). But it’s not just an enhancement of traditional learning; indeed, we read in this volume that while gesture-based interfaces have the capacity to enhance body-related experience, they don’t reduce cognitive load or enhance more traditional learning.[10]

My own introduction to TEL many years ago was in the form of online role playing games in what were then called ‘Multi-User Dungeons’ (MUDs). A person trying to solve a quest is engaged in a different sort of activity than a person trying to remember some process, facts or figures. The rise of gaming in learning, facilitated to a degree not previously possible with TEL, challenges our existing models of learning design and challenges our understanding of the learning process itself. Perhaps we should think of learning, not in terms of content, but in terms of system design and models.[11] Perhaps learning activity generation is more like game design.[12]

This again takes us not only into a new type of learning but also of an understanding of a new type of learner. James Paul Gee talks about this as the development of the learner’s social identity.[13]  In this volume the idea of the development of collaboration skills through game-based learning is reinforced.[14] We now begin to think of the digital learner as a person who thinks in models, who defines his or her identity working with others in a problem-centered environment is a very different sort of person than characterized traditional learning.

And, in essence, that is what this volume is telling us. Though its focus is on the current status of technology enhanced learning, the story it tells is of a learner, capable and even eager to use new technologies, accessing and organizing knowledge and learning in new ways, with new media, and as a result, thinking and seeing the world differently, and indeed, becoming a different kind of person. From technology enhanced learning we derive the technology enhanced learner, and as this volume makes clear, we are only beginning to understand the potential.

[1] Ruben R. Puentedura (2003). “A matrix model for designing and assessing network-enhanced courses.” http://hippasus.com/resources/matrixmodel/puentedura_model.pdf Retrieved April 12 (2011): 2013.

[2] Don  Tapscott (1998). Growing up digital: The rise of the Net generation. New York: McGraw-Hill. 1998

[3] Ronghuai Huang and Junfeng Yang (2014) . The framework and method for understanding the new generation of learners. This volume.

[4] Masanori Sugimoto (2014). Design of Technology-Enhanced Learning Environments That Connect Classrooms to the Real World. This volume.

[5] Mohamed Jemni, Mohsen  Baabidi and Leila Jemni ben Ayed (2014). Accessible E-learning for Studemnts With Disabilities: From Design to Implementation. This volume.

[6] Stephen Dowes (2009). Speaking in Lolcats: What Literacy Means in teh Digital Era. Slideshare. http://www.slideshare.net/Downes/open-education-projects-and-potential

[7] Marc Prensky (2004). Use their Tools! Speak Their Language! http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky-Use_Their_Tools_Speak_Their_Language.pdf

[8] Erika E. Smith (2012). The Digital Native Debate in Higher Education: A Comparative Analysis of Recent Literature. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology 38(3). http:// http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/download/649/347‎

[9] Hubert L. Dreyfus (2001). On the Internet. London: Routledge.

[10] Nian-Shing Chen and  Wei-Chieh Fang (2014). Gesture-Based Technologies for Enhanced Learning. This volume.

[11] Alke Martens (2014). System Design and Modeling of TEL. This volume.

[12] Chris Lu, Maiga Chang, Kinshuk, Echo Huang, and Ching-Wen Chen (2014). Context-Aware Mobile Role Playing Game for Learning.

[13] James Paul Gee. Learning and Games. The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 21–40. http://ase.tufts.edu/DevTech/courses/readings/Gee_Learning_and_Games_2008.pdf

[14] Valentina Caruso, Anders I. Mørch, Ingvill Thomassen, Melissa Hartley, Barbara Ludlow (2014). Practicing Collaboration Skills Through RFole-Play Activities in a 3D Virtual World.


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