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The Digital Learning Revolution Will Not Be Glossy. Or LTE.


Part one of a two-part series

Class on laptops   Featured resized 600The true Digital Learning Revolution has not yet arrived. If you go into a classroom and see every student with an iPad on wifi, full 1:1, you are not necessarily seeing a Digital Learning Revolution. Counting what type and how glossy and how many are the digital devices is not how you tell.

Because the Digital Learning Revolution is not about digitizing conventional learning. Not even about increasing access.

It’s not about digitized problem sets - even if they are gamified. Not even if the problems are scored instantly; nor even if the problem sequence can be varied based on responses (aka "adaptive learning"). Textbook-like problems presented digitally, no matter how entertainingly wrapped in back-story, music, interesting side-bar links, procedural hints and immersive 3-D exploration, are still just this: use previously memorized patterns and procedures to get THE right answer.

It’s not about digitized asynchronous lectures. By their nature they are not interactive. They are passive. Yes, even if talking heads and filmed overhead grease pen scrawls have moved from VHS-access in the 70's to YouTube-access 40 years later, lectures are not the Digital Learning Revolution.

And it’s especially not about the advent of the latest digital hardware vehicles. Tsunamis of digital hardware have washed into many classrooms, many times. From Apple IIe's in the 1980's to Apple iPad II's in the teens. With interactive whiteboards somewhere in between. First off, the change in how most subjects were taught day to day was minimal. Worse, it did not become the "new normal" for students or teachers to even just use them day to day. There was no killer app. No deep penetration. No Digital Learning Revolution - yet.

Of course, revolutionizing the learning itself depends on the content in the digital vehicles. And if that content is just a digitization of the conventional, then no matter how glossy and retina the screen, no matter how anywhere or anytime or speedy the access, the learning will still be "conventional" learning. By the way, how well has a focus on conventional learning, a focus where the content is considered a commodity, done over the last four decades?

Note moreover, that a narrow view of digital content + student, without taking into account the teacher's interaction with new content and a new learning process, is also not the Digital Learning Revolution. Because the Digital Learning Revolution occurs at the intersection of the student, and the content, and the teacher. So even new digital vehicles, even holding radically different content (such as interactive videogames), or, rather, especially holding radically different content, will require a comprehensive re-tooling of teacher understandings, processes, and goals. That is, if there is to be a Digital Learning Revolution, as contrasted with well understood, conventional goals and processes.

Beyond Hardware

What about the other major digital game-changer of the 21st Century, you say - access? Searchable access to the world's libraries of content? Anywhere anytime access to the cloud through cheap personal hand-held devices?

You are a participant in that access revolution. So, look around you, what is your experience? Have you experienced, or seen a Digital Learning Revolution? A communication revolution to be sure - connectivity is off the charts. And it's certainly easier to find, cut, and paste, even into videos, than ever before. Consumption from the cloud is off the charts. But it’s not a revolution of learning.

The digital access revolution did not bring the Digital Learning Revolution along for the ride.

Again, the key is content. And that a Learning Revolution must involve three interacting components: student, content, and teacher. A Learning Revolution requires the teacher for social, evaluative, motivational, and yes, human communication. The Digital Learning Revolution will require humans. The best sort of humans: teachers who help others grow and improve.

The content required for the Digital Learning Revolution is a big deal.

In the next installment: we should expect digital content for free, right?

Andrew Coulson

About the Author

Andrew R. Coulson is Chief Data Science Officer at MIND Research Institute. His team of data analysts evaluate program usage and measure student learning outcomes. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewRCoulson.

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