What is digital learning?

Over the next two weeks I'm in New Zealand, doing a series of keynote presentations to teachers on the future of education and technology supported learning. The mLearn tour is sponsored by a company called Telco Technology Services who specialise in supporting teachers in New Zealand schools with technology training and provision.

As a part of the build up to this tour, which takes in the cities of Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland, I was interviewed for Interface Magazine. Two of the questions and my responses are below, but I wanted to elaborate, so here is a more complete response (my additional comments are in italics):

What excites you about technology in education?

It's the huge potential and great possibilities to move learning beyond the traditional walls of the classroom. Learning has always had a large informal component and now we're witnessing its fruition in mobile learning, augmented reality, gaming, and other technology-supported learning on the move. We're also in the age of the learner as their own node of production – it's exciting to see students working with their teachers to create, organise, repurpose and share content on a global scale through social media and personal devices.

We are in fact living in very exciting times, where change is occurring at a rapid pace. We live in unprecedented times where everything technology touches grows exponentially. Some of the new approaches on the horizon, such as learner analytics (where big data can be captured and applied practically to visualise how better learning can be achieved), and advanced networks which can connect people to each other globally, are rich both socially and personally. At the social end of the spectrum, these tools can offer infrastructures to benefit the entire community, whilst at a personal level, each students will be potentially able to benefit. 

The most important task now for all teachers everywhere, is to firstly begin to appreciate the huge potential these tools and technologies can have on education. Secondly, teachers need to make up their minds what they are going to do with these technologies. What really excites me about technology in education is that many teachers are already discovering new and innovative ways to use technologies such as Interactive White Boards, social media and touch screen tablets to liberate learning and democratise knowledge. As the movement grows, and more teachers become technologically savvy, so we will begin to witness the emergence of new pedagogies and powerful approaches to learning and teaching. We will see more students creating their own knowledge, and with teachers as arbiters and facilitators of that knowledge, as this happens, we will see a very powerful new kind of relationship between students and teachers emerging in schools, colleges and universities.

How would you define digital learning?

Learning is learning. Whether you use technology or not is relative. Using the tools and technologies I outline above will enable you to connect with more content and peers, more quickly and effectively. However, learning without technology is also a reality for all of us.

I have had several conversations recently with colleagues about this question. Many agree that learning is learning, no matter how you label it, but there are caveats. Last week in Sydney at the Future of Higher Education conference, I asked an expert panel why those of us involved in education are so obsessed with prefixes. We hear about digital learning, e-learning, blended learning, mobile learning, and even micro-learning. Students don't really care what the learning is called, as long as they learn, and ultimately pass their exams and achieve their grades. Does it matter what we call it and what prefixes we apply? Many of the above kinds of learning overlap considerably, and the technologies we use are similar if not identical. 

One of the best responses from the panel was that the prefixes are there not for the learners but for the professional community - i.e. teachers and especially academics - to gain some kind of purchase on exactly what we are discussing. I can see the point in this. But I still feel uncomfortable with the idea that we should differentiate between different kinds of learning. Ultimately, what ever tools are used, they must be used appropriately and effectively. I still hold to the belief that learning is learning. I wrote about this some time ago, when there were discussions about whether there were any differences between andragogy and pedagogy. Here's the bottom line: Learning will happen if the conditions are right, ad it will happen whether teachers and technology are present or not.

You can read the complete interview here in Interface Magazine.

Photo by Derek Bruff

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What is digital learning? by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Anonymous said…
Would technology-enabled/faciliated learning help? i guess too long-winded and not a great ring.
Anonymous said…
Steve, the point i think is simple. Well at least in some respects. Take for example this particular blog post. Would we be otherwise able to access and more importantly engage with it had it not been for the way it is enabled? I think so.
Simple perspective i suppose. I think what we have to do more is to find ways of doing things with the technology that we cannot ordinarily do otherwise.
Robert Schuetz said…
Thank you Steve, I enjoyed this post. However, I don't believe students will care much about exams and grades when they become self-directed in their learning. As you suggest, the conditions are right for heutagogy to take hold. Heutagogy is a term that I recently became familiar with. Here is my post defining and endorsing heutagogy as a foundation of modern learning: http://rtschuetz.blogspot.com/2014/02/can-heutagogy-save-education.html I am a loyal reader of your blog because you consistently teach me something new and meaningful. Thanks again, Bob
Steve Wheeler said…
Currently in UK higher education we call it TEL - short for technology enhanced learning
Steve Wheeler said…
Wholeheartedly agree, and that is a key point I make in the post following on from this one.
Steve Wheeler said…
I'm grateful for your comments Bob. I wrote about the idea of heutagogy about 2years ago on this blog, and enjoyed some dialogue with Stuart Hase, one of the two theorists who originated the theory. I believe it will become an increasingly important model of explanation as self determined learning through technology advances it's influence.
Mrs Hyde said…
Love the handles. Last year we in NZ called it blended elearning. Now it is "learning with digital technology". I remember when we changed from ink wells to ballpoint pens. Funnily enough, we didn't have a special name for it.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Steve, it's Len btw. Somehow i cannot log into my blogger.
Ideaon INC said…
Thanks for notifying about digital learning in a simple way.
Very helpful. I enjoyed the post. Thank you

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