How “progress” can inhibit learning

Exciting and innovative learning technologies are produced every day, each with the capability to enhance the ease with which education can be administered and accessed. But are we really paying attention to the potential drawbacks of all this “progress”? Seb Schmoller, former Chief Executive at the UK-based Association for Learning Technology and OEB 2012 keynote speaker, outlines some instances where education has taken a step backwards, rather than forwards, as a result of Technology Enhanced Learning.


“[The step backwards has occurred] to the extent that technology-enhanced learning seeks to represent things using technology. But not everything can be represented with technology (for example, ideas, processes, techniques), and there is a danger that this will narrow a learner’s experience. Furthermore, technology-enhanced learning encourages a focus on measurement, when not everything can be measured.” In some cases it can even be “a force for impoverishment rather than for good – perhaps we see this in the US school system, with the new focus on measuring learner progress and teacher effectiveness with online tests.”


While the plenary session in which Schmoller is delivering his keynote speech is titled Learning Futures: Over the Horizon, he believes that there is a danger in constantly looking ahead for the next new technology and neglecting the present.


“William Gibson wrote ‘the future is already here: it’s just not evenly distributed’. For this reason, I am sceptical about ‘technologies on the horizon’, because what is on the horizon for some is in the here-and-now for others. And I think we should concentrate on the smooth and effective use of technology rather than on technologies per se.”


With technology-enhanced learning comes great change, such as the digitisation of educational books and journals, but many academic publishers are placing the contents behind paywalls. Schmoller feels that these inhibit learning and that they are often priced unreasonably compared to their paper counterparts.


“When a paywall requests a small payment, then I am usually content to pay. But when a paywall is requiring me to pay more to access a digital copy of a 15-page scholarly paper than it would cost me to buy a physical copy of a 200 page book – just on the basis of reading the paper’s abstract – then I think that the publisher is taking advantage of me.


I think the current situation could be improved either by articles being published in journals as open access material, with the production costs met by reasonable article processing fees, or by articles being placed in open access repositories so that readers without access to a journal subscription can read the same, or nearly the same, material from the repository in which it has been placed, instead of in the journal in which the article has been published.”


Furthermore, he argues that in the future, academic publishers will have to get used to openness and re-evaluate their business models “…because this [openness] is increasingly the expectation of citizens, especially in relation to knowledge produced as a result of publicly-funded research. In addition, publishers will have to consider the long-term impact of the Internet and of the zero marginal cost of extra copies of published works once digitised. Both will force publishers to find new business models.”


With all this talk of innovation and the future, what does Schmoller regard as the most important changes afoot in today’s technology-enhanced learning industry?


The first is “doing some things on a very large scale, supported by technology”, as demonstrated by the current crop of MOOCs, while the second is the change in perception of technology-enhanced learning from “a delivery medium or method for education”, to “a crucial and central part of the underlying environment in which learners learn.”




Seb Schmoller will be a keynote speaker at the plenary session, Learning Futures: Over the Horizon on Friday November 30th from 9:30 – 11:00.


For more information on the upcoming ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN sessions, as well as the full programme and list of speakers, please click here.

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