For many educational technology advocates it is not difficult to be absorbed by the wealth of technical ‘treats’ technology has to offer and succumb to the assumption that the learning process is somehow improved by the chosen technology. In turn, such an assumption can lead to a failure to prioritise how technology is applied to learning and teaching. Compounding these problems further is the lack of emphasis placed on determining how people use computers to learn both independently and in collaboration with other learners.
For learning to be successful, it is important online providers construct learning environments that adapt to students’ individual needs. To achieve this type of learning calls for environments in which a detailed understanding of the complex processes of teaching and learning rests not just on the quality of the curriculum materials, but also on the choice of content and the interface design strategies that encourage learners to think, analyse, process, and reflect on the information provided. However, to be truly effective, students also need to be prompted to recognise their own cognitive processes and assisted to optimise the rate at which they can be best enabled to learn independently and through social interaction.
The issue of whether the use of technology actually supports or even enhances learning is a longstanding question that is still open to considerable debate. There are however two areas of technology application that hold the potential to develop students’ thinking and analysis skills. First, a more rewarding and motivating learning experience can be established in (physical or virtual) environments where the lecturer adopts the role as a facilitator of the information and knowledge construction process. Second, through direct, context-related interaction and feedback, students can be assisted to develop a deep awareness of their learning and thinking processes, and thereby gain the cognitive skills required to effectively manage and analyse unfamiliar information.
An individual who is aware of their own thinking processes experiences metacognition characterised by the ability to analyse and define the problem at hand; reflect upon what is required to derive a solution to the problem at hand; devise a plan to deal with the problem; and to regularly monitor their own progress. The new computer and information technologies afford the type of interaction and feedback that are conducive to cognitive and metacognitive development.
Mastery of cognitive (and metacognitive) thinking and analysis skills requires students to examine the relationships between data, information, and knowledge; derive meaning through identification of the relationships and patterns among data and information; understand the role of context in determining meaning; and apply new insights to the process of generating knowledge. To neglect or to fail to impart such skills can disadvantage students preparing to graduate in a future that for the most part, is being driven by technological innovation and change.
The current capabilities of digital technologies for retrieving, producing, storing, and disseminating data and information, are a given. Another given is that information and communication technologies are here to stay – there is no point either ignoring the impact of technology on education or hoping that it will not make a difference to the way people access information and learn. What is not clear is exactly how the untapped processing power of current and future technological capabilities can be fully harnessed so that the design, organisation, manipulation, and display of learning content and the design of human / computer interface displays will genuinely enhance the quality and depth of student learning, or conversely, whether there will be an adverse effect on students’ capacities for knowledge building and innovation.
Quinton, S. (2006). Contextualisation of Learning Objects to Derive Meaning. Chapter in Koohang, A. & Harman, K. (Eds.), Learning Objects: Theory, Praxis, Issues, and Trends. Santa Rosa, California: Informing Science Press. pp 113–80.