Technology and the adult learner; ensuring a proper diet?


With the proliferation of technology these days its hard not to feel like its a smorgasbord;  endless information available to us anywhere  at any time in multiple formats on multiple devices.  We can carry more information in our pocket that all the great libraries of ancient times.   What impact does this have on our learning?  Does it help or hinder our ability to be fully engaged in the learning process, both as learners and as educators. Or does it serve as more of a distraction; promoting superficial, “fast food” learning at best?

 A huge buffet of content everywhere

Buffet-Open-All-You-Can-Eat-Flickr-Photo-SharingWhile in existence for over twenty years on-line learning is undergoing significant transformation. The recent shift to on-line learning supports the concept of “flipping the classroom” where learning is more student driven.  Being more self directed one would assume that an individuals  interests, passions, pursuits can help drive engagement.  But does our ability to access heaps of information help with engagement or distract and confound us.   Simply Googling “adult learning engagement” for this post yielded over three million results!  Rather than feeling “engaged” I felt a bit more “overwhelmed”…but equally thankful for the wealth of information available.

This wealth of information a can also provide both opportunities and challenges for the instructor.  Sophisticated learning management systems (LMS), such as Moodle, can supply evidence of a students access to information, resources and learning;  suggesting their level of engagement.   While powerful analytics and data mining can provide insight  it can be equally challenging for instructors to learn and adapt these new tools to their interaction, instruction and evaluation.  As “Technology that puts the classroom in students’ laptops” suggests;  increasingly it is a team that is involved in creating and providing the tools for the content to be delivered and managed.

As an instructor we need to be familiar with the resources that are available to the student. We need to guide them to good quality resources while encouraging their own process of discovery that keeps them engaged.  At the same time we can be open about our own challenges and opportunities with technology and seek out help when needed.

Knife, fork or spoon? does it matter what tools we use?

From Youtube, TedTalks, and MOOC’s (Massive On-line Open Courses) to a world where “there’s an ap for that” on our cell,  technology is  providing us an ever increasing array of  content delivery options.

Sometimes the challenges of navigating these options can be even more simplistic.  PIDP 3100 is the  first formal on-line course that I’ve ever taken.  Considering myself fairly tech savvy I logged in and set up my profile right away, started investigating the resources and bought the text book…in digital format.  Rather than break out the highlighter and sticky notes I had to figure out my e-reader.  Honestly,  it was a bit of a challenge for me to get used to. I discovered that I personally like having a hard copy text to reference.  I had to learn something before I could begin the process of …learning something. Sometimes that’s what technology does.

As an educator we need to be aware of the barriers that technology can present to individuals engagement and learning.  Not to stereotype too much but this can be especially true with adult learners who may not be as familiar or comfortable with technology.  What constitutes “new technology” to some might be an “everyday tool” to others.

It would be helpful as well to check our attitudes toward technology and how its used in the classroom environment.  In many classrooms I’ve been in students have their cell phone with them, often on their desks – at the ready!  At first,  its tempting to edict that they be put away but I was reminded recently by some ESL students that technology is just a tool. In this case they were actually using that tool to be more engaged; actively translating what I was saying. The Oxford University Press  in their article Cell phones in the adult classroom: interruption or resource? offers some good practical advice in managing the use of cell phones in the adult classroom.

Some examples of acceptable use of cell phones in the class might include:

  • Using the calendar to schedule meetings with other students
  • Taking notes using a note app or recording function
  • Audio recording the lesson (with teacher’s permission)
  • Looking up unknown words
  • Adding peers to their contacts list
  • Photographing board work or homework assignments
  • Sharing photos when related to class content (for example, family photos on a family unit or holiday pictures on a holidays unit)
  • Doing web searches

Source:”Technology That Puts the Classroom in Students’ Laptops.” The Globe and Mail

We need to develop an awareness and acceptance for the technology people are familiar with; perhaps with an open discussion with students. We should exhibit some flexibility with how information is delivered and what tools student use to access the information and when they access it.


 “The Happy Meal” – gamifying it!

mcdonalds-happy-meals-3d-printingIf depth and breadth of information combined with a  wealth of content delivery options alone cant encourage engagement what else can we add?

There is a current trend to the  gamification of learning; especially in corporate training environments. Gamification involves breaking learning down into small bite sized pieces that offer rewards,  levels, and even competition.    Admittedly there is an  attraction to using game theory in learning   but is it really the Holy Grail of engagement that some suggest.

In  the corporate world, where results are measured at the bottom line, evidence is growing  that gamification can have a dramatic affect.  How To Make Corporate eLearning Fun: 3 Gamification Examples cites the effectiveness of gamification in the training of McDonalds and Walmart employees.  Do corporate results actually show a measure of engagement in learning simply because outcomes are being met?  For me the jury’s still out but there are certainly welcome elements of gaming that technology can help us bring to the classroom.  Frequent and instantaneous feedback along with rewards and a sense of accomplishment all contribute to engaged learning.

It doesn’t require and ap  to incorporate game theory and technology in to the classroom;  just a little creative thinking.    It can be as simple as asking for an answer to be texted with the fastest time winning.

There’s no set recipe for incorporating technology that will ensure engagement and,  in fact,  relying on technology alone to increase engagement might be a mistake.   As an educator  its important to strike a balance in achieving learning outcomes whilst making it fun. In the end technology simply provides us a vast array of content and delivery options that we can use as tools to help drive engagement.

As educators we need to  set the table and provide a  buffet filled with all sort of options that encourage “healthy eating”.   As a general rule for most diets we can also indulge in a few treats along the way; everything in moderation.


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