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How Technology Improves Learning

This presentation was made to the South London Training and Enterprise Council (SOLOTEC) conference.
When Jul 06, 1997
Where Lewisham, London

Summary of my talk:

How Technology Improves Learning

SOLOTEC Conference July '97

Richard Millwood

ULTRALAB, Anglia Polytechnic University

Learning

The model of learning which I have found to help me in understanding a range of learning contexts, is that where there are two main activities for the learner: expression and evaluation. Expression is 'what learners do', ie the mental response they make whilst listening or watching, the speaking, playing, acting and doing activities when young and old, and the writing, drawing and mathematical activities including those related to Information and communications technologies when they become a little more mature. Evaluation is the reflection on their activity which helps them decide they are on the right track. This reflection may be personal based on their own knowledge and experience, communal or social based on others' understanding of their expressions or possibly springing from the behaviour of a mechanism that they have controlled such as a computer. In all cases it is necessary for the evaluation to be timely, although not necessarily immediate and for the evaluation to be of sufficient quality to help move them forwards. Iteration of these two acts is of course essential and may be time-consuming where the learning is challenging.

Programmed Learning (1960-)

In the early sixties, programmed learning became fashionable, in which the learner was exposed to short questions or tasks, answered them and then marked their own performance based on an exemplary answer. The technique was self-paced and suitable for factual or arithmetical style questions. Arguably the scope for variety of expression was poor, leaving many learning tasks out and the evaluation was based on simple comparison by the learner. A particular failure of this kind of learning was that the learner's partially correct answers could not be encouraged and supported as a human teacher might. Finding these devices now is particularly rare, but nevertheless the concepts exist in much software.

The Bingley Tutor is an example of this kind of learning. You can read a question on a paper roll through a plastic window , answer it on the answer roll, wind both forward exposing the correct answer and 'protecting' your answer under a clear plastic cover. A hole in the cover permits marking of your answer before moving on to the next question.

Mark Sense Cards (1977)

In the mid seventies the teaching of programming (without a computer in the school) was attempted by asking pupils to mark with a pencil on mark sense cards. BASIC statements were carefully constructed and the 'pack' sent to the City of London Polytechnic by courier. The following week the pupils would receive a print-out with the message 'Syntax error at line 10', seek the fault, correct it and resubmit. Clearly progress was extraordinarily slow, nevertheless the pupils were excited by the process.

RM 380Z Low Res Graphics (1979)

In 1978, microcomputers came on the scene and I soon found myself writing simulations. My first was of a snooker table with one ball. Pupils had to estimate bearings and make the ball hit the pocket. I was surprised by the motivating effect and the way in which they rushed to the cupboard to get protractors to help them learn the angles. The 'evaluation' of their estimates came quickly as the ball bounced around the table and motivation to continue in a learning cycle was high.

Applications (1984-)

In the mid-eighties, with the advent of mature office software, information technology replaced computer studies and simulations and the applications approach was advocated. This empowered many to be more productive and reflective with writing, data-handling and charting & modelling with spreadsheets. The 'paper-full' office has resulted from so many people's increase in productivity in a range of endeavours. As an expressive tool, the computer has become almost a necessity but the evaluation of work done is by the self and others. This approach was seductive, vocationally oriented and safe, but led to the question: is that all the computer is there for?

Modelling (1987-)

The rise of modelling is interesting because it came from a realisation that making simulations (modelling) is a more demanding but fruitful activity than simply using simulations (other people's models). In this case the computer can help in both expression and evaluation and the activity need not be mathematical in nature. Making Choices is software developed at ULTRALAB to help learners model decisions, think about empathetic viewpoints and consider the consequences of their model. Modelling is one of the few topics in the National Curriculum not to be based in school practice and thus marks a radical educational departure which sadly and all too often is considered to be about learning spreadsheets.

Multimedia & Hypertext (1989-)

In the late eighties, the multimedia computer became possible and available. There has been a flush of good, bad and 'multimediocre' CD-ROM titles, with some resources being excellent and others poor. When learners start to make multimedia some interesting opportunities arise including the development of new literacies. The opportunity found in the multimedia computer to sequence-edit televisual material with the same concepts and skills as the wordprocessor may change understanding of television and film.

Online Learning Communities (1990-)

In the nineties the Internet has enabled the rise of the online learning community. These can be flexible and open offering new opportunities to learners but imposing new inhibitions. Learning can be supported socially where participation and debate are the key elements. Weaknesses include the lack of 'life' and the cost of equipment and connect time but as the various modalities of communication are developed and the community is 'wired' these hurdles may be reduced.

One such online learning community is Schools Online - sol2.ultralab.anglia.ac.uk

Future?

It is difficult to think about a future without online learning communities in which all have an identity and an entitlement to take part. The technologies of earlier times can be subsumed into Internet delivery and more importantly Internet discussion. Providing synchronous and asynchronous access to multisensory resources, allowing continuity to learners who do not or cannot attend school without interruption and making alternative learning styles possible are amongst the many likely benefits. Of course face-to-face teaching and learning will continue with the ICT possibilities providing support and supplement to the 'real' experiences.

(Words: 1123 )

Filed under:

Lewis Carroll describes a fictional map that had:

"the scale of a mile to the mile."

A character notes some practical difficulties with such a map and states that:

"we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well."
— Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, Lewis Carroll, 1893

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The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. education & The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. employment

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. project

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. professional

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. conference

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. publication

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. teaching

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'.selected for the PhD