* The large number of statistics published on everyday use of technology, e.g. how many hours a day our learners are spending on social networking
* Increasing numbers of employers demanding flexibility and less time away from the workplace
* Ofsted inspectors giving instructions to embrace more technology
* A drive to make cost efficiencies and become more commercially sustainable.
All these reasons are very valid, but there is another important consideration, and that’s what learners want.
So how do we keep mindful of the environment we are working in and take on board the objectives of those in charge of the finances without losing touch of the fact that the learner needs to be at the centre of what we do? When it comes to training there are always objectives; for learners these come out of questions such as ‘why do I need to learn and what do I need to learn?’ Very often I hear people giving reasons for not using technology with learners, including “my learners need constant support” or “my learners need their programme of learning spoon fed to them”, but surely to prepare them for the world of work we need to be developing their independency and organisational skills. A lot of young adults, not all of course, know a lot more about taking charge of their lives than perhaps we give them credit for. How often have you seen a teenager feed their curiosity by turning to their mobile phone to find something out, or to organise a night out with friends on Facebook?
Watch a teenager on their smart phone and consider the skills they are using; research, communication, organising, comprehending, and in some cases analysis, synthesis and evaluation, even if they are in simplistic forms. They are comfortable using these skills and probably don’t even equate them to other areas of their lives. Technology enables us to harness these skills, to offer learners different methods for coming to the same outcome. No-one is saying that it’s easy or has the perfect formula for engaging the non-engaged, but by applying the skills that come naturally through the use of technology to learning we have the best possible chance of achieving it.
There is a wealth of different technology for learning and it would be very easy to take the approach of finding a great e-tool and then thinking ‘what can I use this for and what learners am I going to try it out on?’ But I wouldn’t recommend this approach. To ensure the learner remains at the centre of our developments the technology should be identified for a need and benefit. For instance, if learners are not great at communicating how can you improve this? The answer might be mobile Skype or Whatsapp, but your choice is likely to depend on which tool takes into account any barriers to the use of technology your learners might face.
A protected online learning environment offers safeguarding and support, and gives teachers the ability to integrate different resource types, e.g. video, audio, text and games to meet different learning styles. The flipped classroom model can improve engagement as it encourages online learning as the outcomes are visible when put into the practical face to face environment that follows. Technology does offer learners the freedom of independent learning, but there are skills that need to be developed to achieve this. Most of all technology can make learning more varied, interesting, fun and well supported, but if learners haven’t experienced how can they express it as their preferred learning style.
In an ideal world, learning using technology should be delivered by staff who are comfortable using it to learners that have indicated that it is their preferred way of learning. However lack of skills, and learner and staff lack of awareness of how technology can be used in learning often becomes a barrier which needs to be challenged.