I often agree that technology is leading to massive positive change in the way we learn and teach. The interview with Julian Baggini reminded me that it isn’t necessarily so. However much the technology allows us to personalise our learning, and disseminate our teaching, fundamental things about learning remain the same and have done since Socrates. We don’t really learn anything until we are motivated to learn. Our motivation can still be destroyed and depressed by bad teaching – of which there have been many examples in elearning, just as there have in traditional learning. I have seen Gradgrind at work with a white board and a set of tablet PCs at least as often as I have seen him with a stick of chalk. And this, as Baggini’s interview reminds us, is because we still bring ourselves along with our technology, so the instinct to rubberneck unashamedly at an accident and then talk about it to our friends can be transformed into taking a picture of an accident on a mobile phone and sending it on to our friends. Our basic instincts remain. Online, just as offline, we see both altruism and mendacity, excellence and mediocrity. The quality of the educator, their ability to scaffold learning and to inspire and motivate is still the key to good elearning. The difference for learners is the possibility of much greater choice of providers, to find the right one for them instead of being tied to a sole provider. The need to be a great teacher is still essential.
The physical learning aspects of Guitar Hero, Eye Toy and Wii Fit type games also point the way to more physical ways of learning abstract ideas. Could we see games develop that help children to calculate using very large spaces and movements, rather than sitting in one spot and tapping a keyboard or wielding a pen? Given big enough screens and classroom, learners could be put into situations that require whole body movements to generate data, so they interact physically with the academic curriculum. A mathematical series, or the periodic table could become part of the world that must be physically navigated for a successful outcome. It’s been happening for a while for fun on the streets of Akihabara and on entertainment venue screens, as players compete on Dance Mats and virtual instruments. Does it have something we can exploit in the classroom?