(First in a few posts on a digital approach to adult learning)
One of my great passions in life is using adult education theory to create learning centered training – working out how learners can best learn to help them go on to flourish. One significant addition to this in recent years is digital training, which has had mixed reactions among facilitators and learners. For facilitators, there can be a sense of loss around diminished (or non-existent) face-to-face contact with learners, with loss of visual cues for assessing levels of engagement and comprehension. There may also be a feeling of reduced sense of community with digital. This sense of loss is more so if the motivation for digital is extrinsic, maybe to try to cut costs or to make the training available to a wider reach of people. It could also be an attempt to make it appealing to ‘digital natives’, those who have grown up not knowing anything other than being surrounded by technology. These factors can easily leave facilitators (and likewise learners) feeling that digital is inevitable yet inferior.
Is this a fair conclusion?
Of course, unlike apples and oranges, classroom and digital is a spectrum, from fully classroom, through to classroom with a digital wraparound, to digital with residential components and finally on to fully digital. Strictly speaking, even a classroom course with PowerPoint presentations is partly digital. The challenge then is to see how to implement digital in order to enhance training in each of these contexts.
One approach is to directly replace classroom components with digital equivalents, such as video replacing lectures and group Skype replacing tutorials. But this does not take advantage of the strengths of digital and is unlikely to convince that it can add anything significant to the educational experience. Instead digital is best integrated at design stage, when basic questions about the course are being asked. I shall consider these strengths in future posts.
But, should we be talking about digital learning at all?
Recently I heard a debate on BBC Radio about this with the argument being that in classroom contexts we do not talk of learners experiencing ‘pen learning.’ This is a valid point. Ultimately, it’s about learning and both digital and pen are ways to achieve this. However, since the digital component has a significant effect on how we answer our key design questions when developing training, I use the term in order to indicate its presence. It may be though that if digital becomes expected in future learning solutions then the ‘digital learning’ term will indeed no longer be needed.
How do you primarily think of digital in the context of training – a sense of loss or a sense of gain?