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Tech-enabled learning must benefit students

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Technology-enabled learning is a major buzz term at the moment, with everyone from public to private schools and higher education institutions trying to get in on the action.
But for this new frontier of learning to produce the desired results, there must be a clear strategy about what needs to be accomplished and how, experts say. It is not enough to merely drop some technology into the classroom and take it from there.

“The best approaches to technology enabled learning recognise that learning, like all development, involves complex, social beings engaged in complex intellectual, social and psychological processes that happen in a fluid space,” says Dr Najma Agherdien, instructional designer at The Independent Institute of Education. “It is also true that what and how people learn influences what they are able to do with what they learn.”

Agherdien says that online learning at higher education institutions should be deliberately structured to promote the skills needed in the world of work, and that it is not enough to simply upload some PDFs and courses in an effort to claim tech credentials for the institution.

“Key to success in the workplace is the ability to consider problems and scenarios and select the appropriate knowledge needed to resolve the issue,” she says.

“It is vital that graduates in the workplace know how to, and are able to access knowledge they do not already possess. This means they need to know how to find sources and then to evaluate the relevance of those sources for the situation that needs resolving, rather than having all the answers memorised.”

IIE senior instructional designer Hermien Geldenhuys says the workplace-ready approach means that technologically-focused learning should be structured not to transmit content only, but to let students grapple with the content in its real world application. For instance, don’t just teach them how to use PowerPoint or Excel, but let them use these programmes to resolve actual scenarios.

“This is achieved by focusing, in the first instance, on the objectives and themes of content and then posing questions which have no simple yes or no answer,” she says.

“Students are then given resources to explore and to formulate answers to these questions. Students are also given opportunities for further reading and exploration, guided by activities in which they are able to collaborate with peers and collectively find solutions to the problems being tackled.

“Finally, the process should include opportunities to reflect on what was learnt, to ensure students draw connections between what they had to consider and what was learned. Formal assessment in the traditional academic sense should conclude all exercises.”

Geldenhuys says the workplace of today demands problem-solvers and critical thinkers who are able to deal with ever-shifting challenges and that the workplace-geared learning model is not only effective in terms of the learning itself, but also in rendering workplace skills second nature, so that the mechanics of resolving a task does not take focus away from the actual task that needs resolving.

“Students respond positively as soon as they overcome some of the initial anxiety that comes with not simply being spoon-fed,” adds Agherdien.

“This approach also empowers students in terms of gaining a solid skills base from which they are better able to focus on technical content. In the workplace, there is no time to fiddle with trying to understand the platforms on which you need to solve problems. The solving of the problems and execution of tasks should be the only focus, not the tools with which you make this happen.”

Geldenhuys says that tracked and graded activities should be used throughout to ensure that students and lecturers build evidence of the learning and development and are able to intervene where learning does not appear to have been effective. Furthermore, such tracking helps to build a portfolio which can be used during the job search.

“This approach provides opportunities to collaboratively solve problems, participate in discussions and to reflect on a student’s learning. There is no more space for institutions of higher learning to simply ‘tech up’ their existing content, or create an online repository of PDFs.

“Technologically enabled learning should ensure that graduates are truly work ready. Not just from what they have learnt about their field of study, but because they are able to apply what they know in the real working world.”