18 February 02005

Adoption of games and wireless technologies for e-learning

In the US, the New Media Consortium and the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative have published a 23-page report on new developments in technology that they predict will have an impact on "teaching, learning or creative expression". You can download the full report for free via Raimond Reichert's review in elearning reviews.

The review itself is an excellent summary and makes some telling points. I'm very sceptical about the faddism of some of the selections.

For example, the fad for 'educational gaming' has been around for some years now. The report predicts it will be adopted within two to three years. I think that's about what was being predicted two to three years ago, and I predict that it'll stay that far away until the idea dissipates, disappears or finds its niche in some corner of education.

I've sniped at this idea before, when mentioning that Ufi were commissioning the Institute of Education to research a games-based approach to Basic Skills e-learning courses. I wouldn't deny that people can learn from games: there is good evidence they can. But it's a big, questionable step from this to prescribing that the best way to get people to learn is to dress things up as games.

There's something fundamentally patronising and dishonest about this 'Trojan horse' approach to embedding learning in the clothes of a game. It assumes that learners aren't interested in learning and discovery for their own sake, that they have short attention spans, and that they are perpetually addicted to the 'pleasure principle' of having simple fun in everything they do. So you have to trick them by making the serious business of learning look like it's just messing around and playing. Maybe that's necessary in some corporate and public policy areas where there's a perceived need to 'train' round pegs into square holes, but implicitly educational gaming is giving up the argument before it's begun: it's saying that learning is drudgery, and the only way to make it work is to add enough sauce to take the taste away. If you disagree, comment below!

Even closer to the horizon — just a year away — are 'ubiquitous wireless' technologies. Of course, wireless networks are already in use in learning settings now. And they are becoming incrementally more widespread. So what will change in the next year when ubiquitous wireless is applied to learning? Some of the scenarios in the report reflect fanciful and unsophisticated understanding of how the application of technologies is moderated by social influences. For example: "using geolocation and cell phones, students on field trips could locate nearby libraries, museums, bookstores — and classmates". Never mind the privacy concerns of geolocation; never mind that it doesn't work reliably; and do these field trips involve dumping students in unplanned locations without maps or itineraries? If not, how much real value does the technology add? This reminds me of hearing predictions ten years ago of how video-conferencing was going to allow every student to be taught by the best subject-specialist teacher in the country.

Reichert's review of this topic is more subtly, and perhaps more tellingly, damning than mine. "These [ubiquitous wireless] technologies are quickly becoming commonplace," he says. "However, it is still unclear what the consequences for teaching and learning will be." So no-one knows how the technology will be adopted, other than providing an alternative means of connectivity, but the 'time-to-adoption' is 'one year or less'?!

As Reichert says at the end of his review, "It would also be interesting to see a 'reverse' of the Horizon report: Innovative pedagogical scenarios (i. e. learning designs) for which technology should be developed — instead technological advances for which pedagogy must be developed."

Elearning reviews is a useful resource, complete with RSS feed, for keeping tabs on a selection of the latest publications.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) E-learning, Reviews on 18 February 02005 | TrackBack
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