eLearning in 2016 – what’s in it for our learners?

 Mr Darren Harbutt
 Educational Development Centre
When Marc Prensky wrote Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants in 2001 and noted:
“Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach”
he struck a nerve with many. Prensky has since gone on to play down the importance of the Natives/Immigrants divide as the century progresses, but the question of how today’s learners may be different from the past is still valid and should concern all educators. In the next couple of years universities will start teaching 21st century learners – our secondary and primary schools are already teaching students born in the current century - and Professor Sugata Mitra, perhaps best known for his innovative ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment, has gone as far to suggest that to best prepare young people for the future we could include just three items in the curriculum: reading comprehension; information search and retrieval skills; and how to believe, in order to “give the child an armour against doctrine”.
Whether ‘evolution’ or ‘revolution’ best describes how you view the recent technological advances in society, education reflects those changes and the increasing role of technology in our lives is undeniable. It also seems clear that technology is in no way an ‘add-on’ for younger people, it is central to their lives and their real and online worlds seem completely integrated (maybe a little too integrated for the tastes of some concerned parents). While these learners don’t expect us to create immersive World of Warcraft style online environments to discuss feedback on their latest term paper, a university experience devoid of digital technologies beyond a few PowerPoint slides on the LMS may well feel less engaging that in could be, somehow alien to them.
For concerned educators drowning in a sea of digital tools, perhaps a sound suggestion is to focus less on the tools themselves and more on what the tool can help to achieve to solve educational challenges. Not sure if your students have understood a lecture? Get them to post a ‘one-minute paper’ using their phones at the end of a lecture and read their interpretations. Tutorial discussions ending before a conclusion is reached? Encourage the learners to continue the discussion online between classes using discussion forums or Facebook. Lack of engagement with learners during large-class lectures? Set a couple of questions during the class and get learners to answers using phones, combined with a quick ‘think-pair-share’ activity with the people sitting around them. Three familiar educational challenges where the use of technology can really help to provide an answer but where the real skill is knowing which questions to ask, when to ask them and how to ask them; technology as an enabler, not as the end in itself.
Mitra, S. (2012, May 30) [GOOD Magazine]: Future Learning
Prensky, M. (2001): Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants
Prensky, M. (2009): H. Sapiens Digital: From Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom