(First in a few posts on a digital approach to adult learning)

Digital learning blended behind a book
Digital learning blended behind a book

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?

Comparing classroom to digital like this can be like comparing apples with oranges, and seeing oranges as inferior since they lack certain apple-like qualities. Yet this comparison is not fair as it overlooks unique intrinsic qualities of the orange. Equally, intrinsic qualities of digital can be overlooked even though having potential to address longstanding issues in adult education.
apple-orange hybrid photo
Photo by rmgirardin

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?

4 thoughts on “Digital training – inevitable yet inferior?”

  1. Can you please give a definition of digital training or digital learning? The two standard definitions of ‘digital’ (Google: “What does digital mean?”) are
    1.(of signals or data) expressed as series of the digits 0 and 1, typically represented by values of a physical quantity such as voltage or magnetic polarization.
    2. (of a clock or watch) showing the time by means of displayed digits rather than hands or a pointer.
    I don’t think you are talking about either of these. So please explain to those of us who are not training insiders what you are talking about!

    1. Sorry I made assumptions Arnold!
      You are closer with the first definition in that it is learning that makes use of those the 0 and 1 digits via a computer. It is also often online, so it can be the transmission of those 2 digits as well!
      It’s more a style of teaching though so I wouldn’t hold to that definition too strictly. When people refer to classroom learning as “chalk and talk learning” I take that to mean a broad definition rather than a strict one. Someone could still be doing a “chalk and talk” method even though they are only using a whiteboard!
      Hope that helps!! 🙂

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