Potential And Pitfalls Of Digital Learning
Friday, 07 September 2018
By Assoc Prof Wong Meng Ee, Early Childhood & Special Needs Education Academic Group
Depending on how technology is utilised, digital learning can be a boon or bane to education. Where is the fine line between its benefits and afflictions?
Technology is transforming the way we live. It complements many of our daily activities, and permeates the way we learn.
In fact, in today’s technology-dense environment, we have many preconceived notions of what digital learning means. Through the combination of technology, digital content and instruction, digital learning affords individual learners full autonomy and control over the time (when), place (where), path (how) and pace (how fast) in which they acquire new knowledge. That technology is able to transcend these once immutable pillars of time, place, path and pace has broken down traditional structures and created potential for individuals with different learning styles to access information. At the same time, technology has enabled the transmission of content and knowledge to learners in ways that were previously not possible.
In evaluating the potential of technology, one must also consider its pitfalls, such as malwares, viruses, cyber scams and privacy issues, which have become an integral part of our digital experience.
In the education industry, for instance, the ease of accessing information online has given rise to more plagiarism, even if many of these infractions were unintended. Technology has also improved many aspects of our lives. Yet, the time gained from being more productive seems to have been outweighed by the expectation to do more through multi-tasking.
Have we become more efficient? A recent research out of the Stanford University suggests that we need to review whether we are indeed more productive in seeking to be more efficient.
We know that habitual switching between tasks can stress a person’s ability to retain and process information effectively. This clearly is not conducive for learning. It is important for us as teachers to be mindful of students aspiring to achieve more by performing too many tasks in a short time rather than to focus on a few within their abilities and do them well. The outcomes of multi-tasking may not always be beneficial and is aptly summed up by a well-known adage ‘He who chases two rabbits catches neither’.
Perhaps the greatest pitfall in digital learning is the technology itself. Fundamentally, is technology accessible to users? In espousing digital learning, teachers need to ensure that all students can access the digital content both in school and at home. Without this assurance, it will create a digital divide among the students and introduce another barrier to learning, defeating the very purpose of using technology to remove the hurdles to learning.
Two other common pitfalls deserve caution. The first is in treating technology as a panacea that will enable students to learn independently and overcome all conventional learning challenges. Unfortunately, this is not quite the case. There remain many underlying problems that digital learning alone cannot adequately support.
The other is the misconception that teachers will soon be replaced by technology. Where technology is an indisputably valuable aid to pedagogy, it is a tool to be used by teachers to connect and enhance their students’ learning journey. This is especially the case for students with disabilities or special needs, where assistive technology cannot replace the encouragement and emotional support that can only come from the social interaction between students and teachers.
Let us recognise that technology is an invaluable aid, but it is not a silver bullet.
This article was first published in the September 2018 issue of NIE’s quarterly newsletter, NIEWS. Click here to read more.