Could Your Learning Tool Actually be a Tech Tool?

by Renee Robbins on June 10, 2010

On Tuesday I had the chance to enjoy a  great #edchat conversation on Twitter.  #Edchat is a virtual meeting of learning professionals from all different genres that gather on Twitter and use the #edchat hashtag to hold a public conversation.  (Not sure what a “hashtag” is?  Check out this post.) The topic was How do we get from a “Tech Tool” mentality to a “Learning Tool” mentality?  Very quickly the group began talking about why pure “tech tools” are bad and how we need to shift to using “learning tools.”  I was happy to see a small movement in the group led by @eduinnovation and @chadsansing toward the need to define these terms.  It seemed everyone had their own opinion about what a “tech tool” was and what made some “tech tools” become “learning tools.” But, what’s the consensus and why is this difference important?

Here some of the comments I found to be especially interesting:

@drtimony- “the tool has to be an upgrade and should not jeopardize the lesson if it’s missing.”

@ketheredge – “tech should be part of curriculum not a separate class where you learn to email friends; email experts about a research topic instead!”

@stangea – “tech isn’t the “shiny object” anymore.  Kids view it as just more work if tools are not used well.”

@doctorjeff – “tell teacher no whiteboard, no paper, no pens/pencils, no computers – NO TECH – just teach.  Let’s see what they say.”

@hshawjr – “Integrate tech into the curriculum instead of using it as an add-on that is optional.”

@tonyvincent - “If technology is just an upgrade and not integral to learning, it will be thought of as just tech.”

So, what’s the difference?

My contribution was “a tech tool can become a learning tool when used appropriately – to support the lesson and not derail it.”  Even after the lengthy conversation (you can find a copy of the transcript here), I still feel that way.  A learning tool is anything, whether it is a iPad or a tree branch, that supports your lesson.  The key word there is support.  Too many corporate trainers, teachers, etc. see a piece of technology as a bright shiny object.  They see it as something that will spice up their lesson and make them more “hip.” (Obviously I am not “hip” since I use words like “hip.”)  Nevertheless, many times the technology gets in the way.  Instead of rushing out to include the newest technology into a lesson, educators need to step back and ask the question, “is this addition really going to make a difference in the effectiveness of my lesson.”  But, that’s not the only question you need to ask…

Why does it matter?

With so many new and different platforms emerging you can’t simply rely on the fact that you found something that seems like it will work.  That’s what truly makes the definitions of a “tech tool” versus a “learning tool” so important.  A true learning tool needs to be something that supports the lesson and is also the best choice based on all other similar technologies.  So, in addition to asking if the technology is really going to make a difference, you also need to ask yourself if this is the best technology available. 

Here’s an example that happened to me recently.  The ultimate goal of the project I was working on was to provide an informal learning environment – something that blended right into the work of the team.  Each member of a twenty person team had a great deal of experience with the product they were working on.  However each specialized in a different facet of the product.  Some knew the marketing strategy, some knew the mechanics, while others knew the history of why some decisions where made, an so on.  All of this information was important for each member of the team to be able to access (key there is the word “access” and not the word “know”).   In the end we looked at a dozen technologies that would make sharing this information easier for the team.  We finally decided, based on the work style of the specific team, the number of people that needed to access the information, and the amount of information that needed to be collected, that a wiki would work the best.  From a “tech tool” perspective we had made our decision, but in order to make it a “learning tool” we had to go one step farther.  Once we determined a wiki was the right method we needed to make sure we had the right wiki platform.  Do you know there are more than a hundred wiki platforms and packages available?  In the end we found the right platform and package to meet their technical needs and truly support their learning needs. 

Remember your job isn’t done once you think you find a piece of technology.  To really be sure it is a learning tool you need to go the distance for your learners.  Make sure your learning tool is the best possible learning tool for the job. 


P.S.  Are you interested in learning more about how wikis can help you and your learners?  The Complete Guide to Wikis: How to Set Up, Use, and Benefit from Wikis for Teachers, Business Professionals, Families, and Friends is a great book to help you get started.  The book features a whole chapter specifically on using wikis in the classroom.  The book is almost 300 pages and I think it’s a steal at $16 on Amazon.

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