Saturday, November 12, 2011

Using Technology in Education / Training

Technology used in education (formal school education) and for training (business training, non-formal education) takes many forms: simulations, communication, interactive, virtual, games, etc…  The use of technology in education and training have been reported to be both effective and non-effective.  Listed below are two examples of recent research relating to using technology in education along with a brief summary of their findings.  Following, I have identified a list of four items to consider prior to using technology in an education or training setting. 
Vanderwater et al. (2006) pointed out that "technology use has no intrinsic value per se, but instead has value only with respect to the activities it displaces" (as cited in Bavelier et al., 2010, p. 694).  For example, if a student is already working on math problems at home, by introducing technology to help with their math abilities probably will not show too much gain.  It is when a student does not work on math problems that introducing technology could aid the student to begin working on math problems - thus benefitting that student.
Vogel et al. (2006) conducted a meta-analysis which compared traditional teaching methods with games and interactive simulations. They viewed which teaching method had the highest cognitive gains for the learner.  What they found was: "those using interactive simulations or games report higher cognitive gains and better attitudes toward learning compared to those using traditional teaching methods" (Vogel et al., 2006, p. 237).  Some limitations were identified however.  For example, the interactive simulations had to be experiential for the learner, it could not be controlled by the teacher or the program, in order to be effective.  Although this study provided interesting results, highlighting benefits from games and interactive simulations, comparative analyses could not be conducted with traditional teaching methods due to a lack of data from the literature.
When determine which teaching methods and materials to choose for a training program, when the need for a training program has been identified, a few things should be considered.  
  1. If technology is to be used as part of the training, the expected outcome from the technology should be determined a priori.  What is the outcome that you expect from the learners through the use of this technology?  Is this outcome possible without the use of the technology?  Do the learners understand what is expected of them prior to using this technology?  This item relates to the point identified above that technology only has value based on the activities it displaces, in this case the outcome expected from using technology in a training environment.
  2. When technology is being used for training purposes, are the learners free to experiment, or are they being guided and told what to do at each step?  In order for technology to provide effective training the learners need to have the ability to freely experiment with the content, to be able to interact through the technology, and be able to make mistakes without consequences.  This item relates to the previously mentioned research identifying that interactive simulations or games can provide higher cognitive gains.
  3. An additional item to consider is the type of learners that this training will be addressing.  If the learners are mostly self-directed learners than the technology may not be necessary.  Self-directed learners are motivated and they will absorb the material and research beyond the content presented in the training material, with or without new technology.  However, if the learners are not self-directed learners the technology may provide a means for effective learning transfer.  
  4. Lastly, a caution to consider is that the technology being used for training cannot be too demanding of the learners.  If the technology is hard to use or learn to use (a steep learning curve) then the learning will be lost.
Bavelier, D., Green, S. C., & Dye, M. W. G. (2010). Children, wired: For better and for worse. Neuron, 67, 692-701. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.08.035
Vogel, J. J., Vogel, D. S., Cannon-Bowers, J., Bowers, C. A., Muse, K., & Wright, M. (2006). Computer gaming and interactive simulations for learning: A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Computer Research, 34(3), 229-243.
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