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Learning design

What if anything was possible? Designing technology-enabled learning

What if, by utilising technology you were able to teach any concept not just in the standard way (eg. text, images and maybe a static video or two) but by utilising the full range of technologies currently available to fully immerse and engage your students and to impart the skills and knowledge required to truly achieve mastery of a concept.

To achieve this goal, when designing your learning resources don’t start by thinking about technology. Considering technology first often leads us in one of two directions, towards the “shiny” technology or towards the “known” technology.

Shiny technology

The “shiny” technology is where we find a learning technology that sounds cool and interesting, or is a current technology fad (eg. AI assisted chatbots) and implement it straight away. This approach does not take into consideration the impact or benefit to the students learning or how this will fit into the wider learning landscape the students may be a part of. While such technologies can be an amazing asset to a student’s learning, they need to be appropriate for the content being taught (eg. chatbots to allow students to practice their language and communication skills).

With the “shiny” technology approach we often forget to consider the educational outcomes we are trying to achieve and instead try to force the technology to meet our students learning needs with potentially negative outcomes.

Known technology

Alternatively, the “known” technology route is where we consider the learning technologies we are already aware of (eg. a discussion forum within a learning management system or a virtual classroom tool) and build our learning resources with those technologies in mind. Again, this can limit our ability to build the most appropriate learning for our students as it is dependent on the tools and technologies which we know.

Putting learning first

Instead, when designing technology-enabled learning forget about the technology completely, at least in the initial design phases. Technology choices should not drive the design of high-quality education, high-quality education should be designed and then enhanced by the appropriate use of technology. When designing your learning resources consider this: If you could teach your concept in any way, how would you teach it? It doesn’t matter at this stage whether your answer involved the use of technology or not, actually it is better if it didn’t. The point is to put the learning outcomes first, the technology will come later.

Imagine you wanted to teach your students what it was like to live on Mars, is text and an image or two the best way for them to learn, or would sending the students on a planetary excursion for the day to experience all the sights and sounds first hand be better? While this is not currently possible, this exercise is not about considering teaching methods that are/aren’t possible. The idea is to think about the best way of teaching a particular concept if there were no limitations. The next stage is then to consider how technology can take us as close to that goal as possible.

Selecting the right technology

Once you have determined what it is you are trying to teach and your ideal way of teaching it, this is when the use of technology comes in and you can start considering how you are going to use technology to best achieve your teaching needs. As mentioned previously, don’t head down the “known” technology path automatically, if a “known” technology ends up being the most appropriate solution, great, but only once you have considered other technologies that may better suit your needs. None of us can know every technology available to us, technologies evolve and change at such a speed that there are always new options available.

Research and a good search engine can be of great assistance, searching with a learning outcome in mind can help focus our technology investigations. Make sure you take into consideration specific learning technologies as well as wider technology options, sometimes the best technology solution to meet your need may not be designed or considered as an educational tool, but if it will work best to allow your students to understand a concept (and even in some cases gain hands-on skills) then it should be considered.

Imagine teaching cooking to students in a purely online environment, surely, they would learn best by hands-on practice. But how could you then track their learning and determine when and where they needed assistance. Consider if you utilised the ever-expanding range of internet-enabled devices, what if you could have an internet enabled cooktop that sent data back around the food being cooked by the student in their own home, would that suddenly open up new learning opportunities and content design considerations?

With technology changing on a daily basis, some of these what ifs are changing to how soon and we need to ensure any technology-enabled learning designed takes this ever-changing landscape into consideration if we best want to meet the learning needs of our students now and into the future.

The possibilities for technology-enabled learning are ever expanding and we need to ensure we keep pace, by selecting appropriate, student centred technologies that put educational outcomes at the forefront of our learning design process.

Catherine Duncan

Catherine Duncan

Catherine is a learning technologies and digital education practitioner with over twelve years experience across a variety of industries. She enjoys using her technical, educational and creative knowledge to assist organisations in determining their technical and/or training requirements and assisting them in finding the optimum solution.

One thought on “What if anything was possible? Designing technology-enabled learning

  • Kim Pappaluca

    Great article Cat! I agree that the learning outcome should always come first.


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