E-learning more about education, less about tech

Using high-tech gadgets simply as means of delivering learning content not enough, experts say

Thomas Reeves, a professor emeritus of Learning, Design and Technology at the University of Georgia, speaks Wednesday during the e-Learning Korea 2014 conference at Coex in southern Seoul. (e-Learning Korea 2014)

With the flow of high-tech gadgets into education, many thought that e-readers are on track to replace paper textbooks completely.

This appeared to be the thinking behind the comments of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan when he said, “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete,” and South Korea’s recent policy to expand the use of digital textbooks.

But Thomas Reeves, a professor emeritus of Learning, Design, and Technology at the University of Georgia, said that focusing primarily on the technological aspect of digitized learning will not be enough to enhance the quality of education.

“Technologies, media are vehicles for instructional methods. Instructional methods are what account for learning,” he said. “It has zero impact, per se, by itself.” Reeves said during his keynote speech at e-Learning Korea 2014. During the two-day conference at Coex in southern Seoul, scholars from around the world shared their views on recent trends in e-learning such as Massive Open Online Courses and Flipped Learning.

Much of the focus of existing research on e-learning today emphasizes “things” like how to utilize smart devices, Reeves said. Technology is important, but not the most crucial aspect of digital learning, he said.

Reeves likened the various means of education to taking aspirin: No matter what way you deliver the drug, it is the acid compound that relieves the pain. As long as the course materials and teaching methods are kept the same, there are no significant differences in the outcome.

Although the actual focus should be on the pedagogy, Reeves said some people continue to assume that technology will be enough to improve education.

Reeves said rather than focusing on “things,” like how to use gadgets to teach content, e-learning research should be more about “problems” impairing the learning process. They include ineffective teaching, poor learner motivation, failure to engage learners and a lack of preparation for the real world.

In his book “A Guide to Authentic E-learning,” he said that designers of an e-learning environment should focus on being careful not to make their courses so that the learner has to find one right answer to the tasks, and the educator simply delivers re-packaged knowledge and assesses how much the student knows.

Instead the ideal model would have robust objectives, content providing multiple perspectives, experimental instructional designs, and authentic tasks. The technology should provide authentic simulations with problems related to the real world, and the role of an educator should be a mentor and a facilitator rather than trainer in both teaching and assessment.

In spite of the shortcomings, e-learning has the potential to take education to the next level. In addition to delivering learning content to more people faster and cheaper, technology allows students from all over the world to collaborate online with each other, said Reeves.

“They learn about other cultures, they learn how to communicate with other cultures. To me that’s one of the most important outcomes of 21st century education,” he said.

Read the entire article by Yoon Min-sik on the Korea Herald at http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20140918000767

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