he time when a degree or other qualifications served as a “one off” inoculation of learning, which would fit a person for a lifetime, has long-since passed. The business and leisure environment of the 21st century is constantly changing and with it career profiles, social relationships and job opportunities. The result is that people in most environments need updates in training which are appropriate, effective, timely and most of all, value for money.
In parallel with this business need, there has been the growth of the power and scope of digital technologies. The possibilities for the use of the internet as a tool for training and learning has come of age. E-learning is computer or technology mediated learning which does not have to take place in a particular location or even in a classroom.
In cases where face to face or manual contact with materials and equipment are not necessary, e-learning offers an alternative which both sees cost savings of e-learning over traditional training and enables better and on-going access for learners.
Anita Rosen in her book E-learning 2.0 offers examples of how it has worked in business and charities. Laurence Wilson of the Hospital Liaison Committee of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Leicester wanted to offer a training course for 5 hospitals in the Leicester and Trent areas to educate medical staff about the alternatives to person to person blood transfusion, which is forbidden by their religion. E-learning proved to be an effective mechanism for initial education of medical staff without compromising operating and care schedules. The pilot project was so successful it was rolled out across the whole of the National Blood Service in England.
The possibilities of technology-based learning are wide ranging. For example, e-learning also offers field-based staff such as engineers opportunities to undertake just in time training – using travel time as a learning opportunity and, on assignment, tablet computers turn a workshop into a training lab where staff can have hands-on experience learning new instruments and equipment in a supported way.
But e-learning does not have to be so formal nor does it have to relate just to the business environment. Technology is revolutionising adult learning. A recent OFCOM survey suggested that 77% of us are online and home and 56% of people use their smart device to access content including social media. This means that we can use our mobile devices for learning.
The new buzzword to describe the relationship between technology and learning is “EDtech” – education through technology. The UK government has sponsored a strategic body to act as a focus for start-ups in this field to link together traditional providers with technology firms to better exploit a culture of learning through technology.
With the growth of technology and constant streams of new “Apps”, technology that educates is allowing learning to take place wherever we might be. It is efficient, cheap and intuitive. For example, the app “Duolingo” on both Apple and Android devices, enables a learner to choose a language, practise it for say, 20 minutes every day and gain a degree of proficiency. The program is very effective in that it offers a range of tasks, corrects mistakes in real time, rewards you for achieving targets and sends you emails when you become a slacker. Learning is playful, fun and no risk to the individual, as far removed from the humiliation of failing to conjugate a verb in front of a whole class.
And it isn’t just in the northern countries too. The entrepreneur Akshat Srivastava launched a learning platform for educationally disadvantaged students in India. The Milliolights programme is a content based learning platform which will provide access through a range of channels and deliver skills to those who cannot access formal education.
In all cases there is a pre-supposition that people have access to technology, know how to use it and indeed want to use it for learning. There may yet be barriers to learning which technology alone cannot solve.
Will technology ever replace teachers?
No one knows the answer to this question but while it may be easy to see a tablet or smartphone teaching a person to learn the elements of a new language, it is difficult to see how the same could apply to all learning. Is it possible to learn to swim from an app or how to paint? And while “You Tube” provides many shortcuts for understanding technology in a vast array of “how to” videos, it can’t teach problem solving or the sensitivities of interpreting great literature or music. Nor can it teach how to debate, analyse and reach a new as yet un-thought of conclusion.
It appears that teachers can sleep soundly in their beds, at least for a while…