Technology Changes Learning Needs

With the abilities to connect and communicate globally through the use and advances of technology, our world is getting smaller… but certainly not simpler. With this shift from local disconnection to global openness and the world’s knowledge at our fingertips we as educators need to take a serious look at what needs to be learned and how the best way to learn it is to optimize true understanding.

David Perkins in Future Wise points out the following: (page 36)

  1. Knowledge involves much more than information…
  2. It’s good to have a lot of information, but information learned in a didactic way is likely simply to be forgotten.
  3. A big reservoir of memorized information is somewhat less pertinent than it used to be, with information on just about anything at our digital fingertips.

We as educators know that information memorized isn’t retained unless it is used in a meaningful way. We also know that bits of information doesn’t become the knowledge of any topic, unless we facilitate students to make connections and discover true understanding. We also know that in a ‘Google World’ information is available at our fingertips, 24/7. So if this is all true, what can we do to  help our students learn in their new world order?  Here are some practical suggestions:

  • Determine the big understandings in your content. What is ‘Lifeworthy Learning’ in your content? Chances are it won’t be the individual facts and bits of information some spend far too much time focusing on. As you plan your units and lessons ask yourself: “Is this going to help my students live a better life?”
  • Once you’ve determined the big understandings of your unit, now you’re ready to plan the best way to deliver the lessons. The old model of teacher as ‘sage on the stage’ simply filling student heads with bits of information is not going to work. We have all been in classrooms where we took copious notes and crammed for tests to get an A in the course, only to forget all that disconnected information once the course was over. We as educators need to think about how this new learning environment looks. Project-based and problem-based learning are two examples of how this can shift to a more student centered learning environment where students engage in what they are learning to become what David Perkins calls an ‘expert amateur.’

Basic education should build expert amateurism more than expertise. The expert amateur understands the basics and applies them confidently, correctly, and flexibly. ( Future Wise page 38)

  • Since information is at our fingertips the other piece of this is to help students question what they read. They need practice in decoding all that information so they can intelligently determine what is accurate and what is not. This is definitely lifeworthy learning. Finding and accessing the best information is key to our students’ survival on the super information highway. Embedding questioning and searching techniques throughout all lessons is key. Google Scholar is one tool that helps students find scholarly information that is trustworthy. Other important lessons center around search techniques, evaluating resources and learning how to critically question and analyze information media.

Our students’ world is different then ours was. They have much more opportunities for global connections as well as terabytes of information readily at their fingertips. What hasn’t changed is how we retain knowledge and truly understand what we have learned. To be able to take knowledge and successfully transfer it to our lives we need to manipulate in, apply it to problems, explore options, rethink solutions and communicate how we know what we know in real world situations. That is real learning. That hasn’t changed. Technology should make this transition easier… let’s say no to focusing on the small bits of information and yes to helping our students find the needed information and apply it to their life and world.


Making Learning Whole

I am embarking on a new growth opportunity centering around Teaching for Understanding, a framework to help design instruction and assessment that supports deep understanding. The framework comes out of Project Zero and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I’ve enrolled in their online course and am currently also reading Making Learning Whole as part of a book study with our district administrators.

Here I reflect on how ‘Making Learning Whole’ relates to technology integration done well. In the book David Perkins outlines Seven Principles of Teaching. The first is ‘Play the Whole Game’.  Think of this as engaging students in project-based learning, problem-based learning, case studies and other opportunities where they are finding and solving problems around the big understandings of the unit. These types of performance based scenarios can easily lend themselves to technology integration as long as the parts (the technology bells and whistles) don’t interfere or take students away from the understanding. I often say during workshops to think of the 80:20 rule. 80% of any technology integrated unit is the learning part with only 20% on the technology part. For instance students love to present their findings using technology applications but make sure they aren’t spending more time designing their backgrounds then focusing on the information they are presenting. (Unless the purpose is on techniques of persuasion through layout and design.)

It is important to note that these performance based scenarios also often don’t need technology to be done well. Remember purpose of learning first, then the tools. Technology can offer wonderful opportunities for students to collaborate and communicate globally, but often face-to-face role-playing and debate is just as important.

David Perkins also notes ‘the whole game’ need not be the big game. This is an important distinction. I have heard from teachers before that they ‘don’t have time to do a performance/project that takes on a life of its own and weeks to complete.’ They often will say I need to continue covering the content and move on to the next unit. The important idea here is engaging students in meaningful activities that make them think and solve problems around the knowledge they are learning. This can easily be smaller activities done that allow students to engage in problem finding and solving throughout the unit. We know that rote recall and memorization of facts, or parts, won’t allow students to truly understand the key ideas of the content. They need to ‘Play the Whole Game’, applying what they learn to solve meaningful problems.