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Don’t ask when software will improve learning

January 19, 2012

A recent article on Wired Campus is titled, Technology Is at Least 3 Years Away From Improving Student Success, and includes the following quote from the Higher Ed Tech Summit in Las Vegas:

We’re beginning to get lots of data on things like time of task, but we don’t have the outcomes yet to say what leads to a true learning moment. I think we are three to five years away from being about to do that. (Troy Williams, Macmillan New Ventures)

No technology per se improves learning. You’ve heard that from me before. There are tools that can help make processes more efficient, and some technologies are easier than others to use well. But a technology can’t inherently improve learning; it’s the way technology is used. Our goal should be to develop systems that incorporate the best strategies. When we talk about these things, we should emphasize the strategies that are being used and downplay the technology.

Technologies CAN help us incorporate strategies that we know improve learning, but a tool is not responsible for the learning. In the same way, it’s not the television that excites us during the Super Bowl, it’s the players … and the commercials. Here’s a quote I love:

Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn. (Herbert Simon, Nobel Laureate)

In this case, we might alter the second sentence: “Technology can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.”

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