Wednesday, 3 March 2010

How do learning technologies enhance students' learning?

On Monday I attended a pedagogic research seminar looking at that very issue. The discussion based session was based around a couple of recent research papers aiming to develop a construtive critique of e-learning applications.

Njenga, J.K & Fourie, L C H (2010) The myths about e-learning in higher education, British Journal of Education Technology, 41(2), pp 199-212

US Department of Education, Officer of Planning Evaluation and Policy Development (2009) Evaluation of Evidence-based practices in online learning: a meta-anaylsis and review of online learning studies. Washington DC. Available at: :

The second is a really long report but the executive summary is really good and gives you enough if you can't face reading the whole thing.

The first article talks about technopositivists and tries to dispel the myths it claims these technopositivists make about technology and technology enhanced learning - things like "e-learning is a saviour: it's redemptive power is overreaching and every educational institution should adopt it" - there were 10 myths in all.

The group felt that the report was interested and raised some interesting issues, but was very one sided and the people in the room who used e-learning in their areas decided that if that was what a technopositivist "preached" then they weren't one. I kind of wondered where these myths were coming from and who was making the claims, because they were very far reaching and in some ways "extreme" - I have never heard advocates of using technology in education talk in these terms - they tend to be far more pragmatic in approach.

The second paper attempted to see if e-learning enhanced students learning or didn't. The conclusion was that blended learning was more effective compare to purely face to face or purely online and it seem that most of the practitioners in the room agreed with this. There was some discussion about whether e-learning is appropriate in all cases and about how to get reluctant staff on board.

There was discussion about whether it was a technology issue or a teaching/course planning issue - for some putting notes on a VLE is seen as e-learning - is it or isn't it? Making people meet targets for content on the VLE isn't necessarily going to enhance the learning experience for the student.

Staff need to see the benefits in e-learning in order to adopt it and then sell it to students in a positive and more meaningful way - and students need to see the point of it as well. We shouldn't just be throwing technology at something because it's a requirement more that we should be looking to what we want to achieve and seeing if technology can help us achieve that in a more efficient/richer way.

We also need to consider user-generated content and where that fits into teaching and learning.

And not to forget accessibility issues - technology should be used to help with this rather than to disadvantage student groups.

For me I think the important thing about "technology enhanced learning" is in the phrase itself - "enhanced" - it should be adding something to what we already do.

In the discussion we still seem to be seeing e-learning as separate from the "lecture" - there was the lecture and there was the supporting "stuff" you put on Blackboard (or wherever) - it came across as a definite distinction for me, whether intended or not. What about bringing the e-learning into the classroom rather than seeing it as something separate to the classroom?

All in all a very interesting discussion and as is often the way, raising more questions than it answers