EDTECH CHALLENGE | by Jesse M. Langley

Getting technology integrated into classrooms is an extremely important move toward giving students the tools they need to succeed. But just getting new technologies into old classrooms isn’t enough. Reaching the true potential of technology’s transformational ability requires changing how we view technology.

Introducing tablet computers and an online component to classrooms isn’t just a way to support and reinforce other classroom activities and lectures. These tools can radically transform the education experience and improve education outcomes. They should also change the way we think about what education is and where it can happen.

The trend toward online learning may reflect the fact that education is evolving in a good way. And a positive education evolution shouldn’t be confined to the post-secondary sphere of the education space.

Why It Matters

There has been a bit of a tendency toward viewing online education and traditional education as a binary—mutually exclusive and competing with each other. But integrating online learning into traditional classrooms makes a lot of sense for several reasons.  The first thing to examine is effectiveness. Ultimately, if online learning doesn’t result in effective knowledge acquisition and good education outcomes there’s no reason to consider it.

In the U.S. Department of Education’s “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies,” one of the key findings is that “on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

Does Implementation Process Affect Education Outcomes?

If students perform better when an online learning component is added to the education equation, it seems odd that we’re not pushing harder for it. And it’s not as if achieving better education outcomes depend on how the online component is integrated either. The Department of Education also concluded “most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student outcomes significantly.”

So not only does online learning offer better outcomes, the implementation process that’s used isn’t a significant factor in that success.

What Online Learning Offers

It may be worthwhile to dig into exactly why online learning produces better outcomes.  One of the universal attributes of an online environment as it relates to student learning seems to revolve around engagement. It’s virtually impossible for a student to engage with educational material in a dynamic online process and remain a passive observer.  The nature of the online model requires participation in the process. So, students immediately have the possibility of remaining a passive uninterested observer taken away from the education equation. That in itself shouldn’t be underestimated as a major factor in better outcomes.

Another factor builds on student participation. Students experience a certain amount of autonomy and self-direction which can be as liberating as it is helpful. The end goal may be a specific piece of knowledge. But students are given multiple paths that all eventually lead to gaining that knowledge. One student may rely heavily on watching interviews with experts on a specific topic as one route to knowledge. Another student may engage with the topic through an interactive on-screen, game-like scenario.

Regardless of which method of engagement is followed, it leads to knowledge acquisition. And students can reinforce what they’ve learned with question and answer segments and advanced tutorials. That cements the information and also provides nuance and the tools needed for critical thinking and connecting the dots between information points. Integrating this technological capacity into every classroom won’t just affect learning outcomes, either. It will go a long way toward giving more students the tools they need to succeed—and transform education in the process.

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Jesse M. Langley is a contributor for EdTech Digest covering challenges educators face integrating technology into education and solutions that make sense. Write to: jessemlangley@gmail.com