Debating debates: have digital technologies improved the quality of education?


Personal learning means doing it your own way

This week on H800, we’ve had to analyse a debate held on The Economist website in 2007. The proposition was that digital technologies have added little to quality of most education. My gut reaction is to oppose the proposition but I can see why the proposition is appealing. After all, there are plenty of examples of useless smartboards, CBT-type training, boring e-learning, dull PDF manuals and teachers relegated to clicking robots. It is possible to argue that the potential of technology has not been realised by citing such examples. But that’s an easy way out. I believe that digital technologies have and will continue to enhance the quality of education in the following ways:

1) Access: more people than ever are using technology as they find it to enhance their education – in developed and developing countries. I read about the women in Bangladesh who receive cellphone English lessons thus allowing them to apply for jobs they didn’t have a chance before. Open Universities are providing formal education of a high calibre to many who would not be able to otherwise. Sometimes it is a choice between no education and a form of education. That’s quite a big deal.

2) Resources and forms of representation: educational materials are now available more readily and to a wider range of people. Different forms of representation suit different learning styles. Open Educational Resources is an important step to the sharing of quality materials; meanwhile sites like Youtube, The Khan Academy, wikipedia flourish. The activities of citizen-teachers and citizen-publishers are proving that in a favourable cultural environment and with the right tools, educational resources can be created, curated and shared.

3) Personal Learning becomes a habit: digital tools are teaching us that if we need to know something, do something or find something, we can use web 2.0 tools and social software to communicate and collaborate in ways not possible before. We don’t need permission to learn, and we are developing our own personal learning environments outside of any formal school or environment using tools such as Twitter and other social networks.

After all, education is about how to live, right? Digital technologies are enablers, enabling personal learning, just-in-time learning, informal learning, learning when we don’t know we are learning – as well as allowing wider participation in formal learning. Maybe education has changed and we haven’t realised it.

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