E-learning and ‘edtech’ are currently huge buzzwords in education, as the tidal wave of the internet and the digital revolution, already firmly ensconced in our homes and businesses, marches voraciously on into our classrooms and universities. From class blogs and school e-twinning schemes to scholastic ‘apps’ and online courses, education is going electronic. For those who have yet to experience the e-learning revolution, there is a treasure trove of rich benefits and exciting advances just waiting to be discovered, but some believe that there are also major pitfalls that must be carefully avoided.
Engaging Young People
The new wave of exciting online learning programs and educational games has brought teaching into children’s own territory like never before. Rather than associating school with boring essays and dusty blackboards, pupils are finding ways to learn whilst having fun, in the online world with which they are already familiar.
The use of social media in education has been particularly successful in engaging and exciting young people about learning, allowing them to share and play with their peers and to use sites like Myspace and Facebook to set up and collaborate on projects in an exciting and immediate forum.
Education for All
The movement of education to the internet has opened up a whole new realm of opportunities for students of all ages and backgrounds, from all over the world. Suddenly anybody with an internet connection can attend a series of world-class lectures at Harvard University using video streaming, whilst online universities and degrees invite pupils from the most isolated backgrounds to study alongside their peers. Thanks to education technology, the opportunity for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to self-educate has increased exponentially.
The opportunity for young people to engage with other schools and students across the world has opened up a hugely rich insight into the lives and customs of different cultures and religions, providing a diversity of experience hitherto unimaginable in the school classroom. E-twinning allows profitable and exciting links to be formed between schools from different countries, sharing information about completely different cultures, lifestyles and traditions.
For teachers and educators, the introduction of personal learning networks and sites like twitter and web 2.0 have enabled the beginning of an exciting worldwide network. Here education resources, tools and ideas can be shared and spread at the click of a button.
Getting Left Behind
There is a risk that the boom in online learning and education technology has shifted focus away from traditional teaching methods and classroom practice. While the advantages are enormous, there is also a risk that the injection of money and attention in one direction may leave a vacuum behind. Not all education takes place online, and it is important that we also continue to value and develop our offline teaching practice, to support those educators working in a more traditional environment.
A New Generation
It has been difficult for some older or less techno-savvy teachers to get on-board with the new media wave in education, with fears that their lack of experience with computers may leave them out in the cold and facing criticism for their ‘old-fashioned’ teaching methods. It is vital that governments and schools provide training and support to induct teachers into new e-learning programs and train them to use education technology effectively.
Many well-funded schools and colleges have reported exciting strides in e-learning and fantastically successful conversions to digital courses and iPad-only lessons. However it is important to consider the dangers of excluding schools in more disadvantaged areas, where tight budgets and over-full classrooms make it impossible for pupils to benefit from access to the same kind of modern technology. In many inner city state schools in the UK, pupils still share old and faulty computers between a whole class, a far cry from the slick e-learning success stories of pupils using brand new laptops to bounce blue-ray questions and answers across the classroom. In addition it must not be assumed that all pupils are able to access a computer or the internet at home, putting some at a disadvantage outside the classroom too.
Distractions and Dangers
Whilst the internet provides a plethora of exciting and informative educational resources, it is also rife with less school-friendly distractions and even dangers. The temptation to slip off onto social networking or online gaming sites may make classroom control a challenge, and the ever-present threat of adults with ill-intent must always be considered. And alongside the meteoric rise of e-learning, internet bullying has sadly soared as well. Tight control of electronic parameters by teachers and parents is important, but can be difficult to enforce, and internet safety must always be a top priority.
With a lack of face-to-face contact may come a severing of the bond between teacher and pupil and the human connection that is so important to successful learning. The dangers of some pupils slipping off the radar or going unnoticed by a teacher in e-learning have been well documented and it is vital that face-to-face engagement and traditional teaching methods continue alongside new technologies.
The new opportunities and resources presented by education technology are enormously exciting, but it would be a great shame if our excitement about them caused us to lose the valuable personal educational techniques built up by teachers in classrooms over the past decades.
Do you think there are more pros than cons to e-learning? Have you used education technology successfully in the classroom or benefitted from online teaching? Let us know using the comments box below!