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How Does Technology Facilitate Learning?

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Learning From Technology

Some of the first educational technologies were illustrations in 17th-century books and slate chalkboards in 18th-century classrooms. Educational technologies in the 20th century include lantern-slide and opaque projectors, later radio, and then motion pictures. During the 1950s, programmed instruction emerged as the first true educational technology, that is, the first technology developed specifically to meet educational needs. With every other technology, including computers, educators recognized its importance and debated how to apply each nascent commercial technology for educational purposes. Unfortunately, educators have almost always tried to use technologies to teach students in the same ways that teachers had always taught. So information was recorded in the technology (e.g., the content presented by films and television programs), and the technology presented that information to the students. The students’ role was to learn the information presented by the technology, just as they learned information presented by the teacher. The role of the technology was to deliver lessons to students, just as trucks deliver groceries to supermarkets (Clark, 1983). If you deliver groceries, people will eat. If you deliver instruction, students will learn. Not necessarily! We will tell you why later.

The introduction of modern computer technologies in classrooms has followed the same pattern of use. Before the advent of microcomputers in the 1980s, mainframe computers were used to deliver drill and practice and simple tutorials for teaching students lessons. When microcomputers began populating classrooms, the natural inclination was to use them in the same way. A 1983 national survey of computer uses showed that drill and practice was the most common use of microcomputers (Becker, 1985).

Later in the 1980s, educators began to perceive the importance of computers as productivity tools. The growing popularity of word processing, databases, spreadsheets, graphics programs, and desktop publishing was enabling businesses to become more productive. So students in classroom began word processing and using graphics packages and desktop publishing programs to write with. This tool conception pervaded computer use according to a 1993 study by Hadley and Sheingold that showed that well-informed teachers were extensively using text processing tools (word processors), analytic and information tools (especially databases and some spreadsheet use), and graphics tools (paint programs and desktop publishing) along with instructional software (including problem-solving programs along with drill and practice and tutorials).

The development of inexpensive multimedia computers and the eruption of the Internet in the mid-1990s quickly changed the nature of educational computing. Communications tools (e.g., e-mail and computer conferences) and multimedia, little used according to Hadley and Sheingold, have dominated the role of technologies in the classroom ever since. But what are the students producing? Too often, they are using the technology to reproduce what the teacher or textbook told them or what they copy from the Internet.

Our conception of educational computing and technology use, described next, does not conceive of technologies as teachers or repositories of information. Rather, we believe that, in order to learn, students should teach the computer or use the technology to represent what they know rather than memorizing what teachers and textbooks tell them. Technologies provide rich and flexible media for representing what students know and what they are learning. A great deal of research on computers and other technologies has shown that they are no more effective at teaching students than teachers, but if we begin to think about technologies as learning tools that students learn with, not from, then the nature of student learning will change.

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