Should Technology Drive Learning?

This was the first question at a recent #chat2lrn: “Should technology drive learning?” My initial thought was to the attitude that I’ve had for years which is that technology shouldn’t drive anything. It is the tool and the tool only. Trying to think about technology before learning is like trying to eat a recipe. This is the way I had always thought until my current job. I am head of learning technology at a large information company. The learning offered at this company was often outdated and out of synch with the expectations one would have of a high tech company. So the COO formed a global learning group and told them to “show me something I haven’t seen before.” This has led to a lot of frantic searches for the next clicky-clicky-bling-bling learning technology. It was my job to make this happen but I was wincing inside letting technology drive learning. Then I started talking to people about the existing material and I realized that they were stuck. Whether you like it or not technology sets the context for the delivery of ideas. Photography affected art. TV affected theater. Laser printers affected publishing. So the learning that was created before was still affected by its technology: projectors, whiteboards, rosters, handouts. For people to be able to see the possibilities for what learning can be, they need to see the technologies that are capable of delivering those possibilities. This may be counterintuitive, but think about it. The learners of today have had the rest of their lives turned inside out by technology. Why would we expect them not to expect that of learning. “What do you mean I have to wait for you to deliver my learning?” So here I am finding cool technologies like augmented reality and looking for content that fits. It does seem backwards, but it will also change how people choose to learn in the future. Personally, I’m not just looking for a tool to replicate old models of long boring courses. I see them as a way to break up content into small easily consumed components and then choosing the channel for each piece that best suits it. The truth is that technology doesn’t drive learning. Learners drive learning because of technology.

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