When I was in elementary school, computers had just begun entering the classroom at the primary education level. My earliest memory of using the computer in the classroom was in 2nd grade, when the Accelerated Reader program began at my school. This was an add-on, but really wasn’t integrated into the learning process. In Middle School, teachers began using PowerPoints over traditional lectures and teaching methods. But again, this really did no more than serve as a faster version of whiteboards and overhead projectors. In high school, we used SmartBoards in class, gave PowerPoint-assisted presentations, and researched online. But in a school where student use of cell phones, laptops, and tablets were still banned in the classroom, technology wasn’t an integrated part of the learning process. College was a little bit better; some courses were taught online, several had required discussion boards, and data-heavy courses used statistical software in class. But still there were a majority of professors not allowing technology use in the classroom, and with no significant online or internet-based portions.
Compare this with actual learning preferences of those being taught, and research about the use of integrated technologies in education. Let’s start with this: as the first generation to be true digital natives, Millennials are not able to optimally function separate from technology – it’s ingrained in the thinking patterns. (Pearson et al., 2009) Overwhelmingly, Millennials respond better to digital communications, whether for sales/marketing purposes (Dapko & Artis, 2014), non-sales organizational communications (Wilson et al., 2015), or in and educational setting (Alvi, 2011). The final study does include, however, a hybridized course structure (where part of the class is online, part in-person) with the fully online courses.
My experience is not the only case where education has fallen ‘behind the times’ in the usage of technology. In a statement by the US Department of Education:
“Indeed, education is the only business still debating the usefulness of technology. Schools remain unchanged for the most part despite numerous reforms and increased investments in computers and networks. The way we organize schools and provide instruction is essentially the same as it was when our Founding Fathers went to school. Put another way, we still educate our students based on an agricultural timetable, in an industrial setting, but tell students they live in a digital age.” (2005b, The Plan section, para. 3)
So what’s the problem here? It starts with the mindset mentioned above of ‘We’ve always done it that way, so let’s keep going.’ I have actually heard a professor, in a Master’s-level course, say that, in her opinion, the best way to learn was repetition, repetition, repetition until it was memorized…..which is also entirely contrary to what most research has discovered. I think, too, that there is a reticence on the part of educators who are not digital natives, because the implication is learning an entirely new delivery system for education. Which is not to say that it can’t be done, just that inertia of ideas can be very powerful. There’s a misconception that integrating technology into the classroom will lead to students being distracted on their devices rather than working. And that certainly can be a risk, but lack of technology does not equate to paying attention. I am perfectly capable of daydreaming during a lecture without any devices or stimulus to help.
Integrating the internet as a part of the learning curriculum adds a new dimension that previously was unable to be offered: interaction, knowledge transfer, questioning, and the like no longer have to be limited to the narrow time-frame when all parties are available simultaneous. Asynchronous communication technologies (ACTs) allow for a much greater flexibility in learning than traditional models do. E-mail is probably the most basic form of this, but more often used in the educational setting are listservs and discussion boards. Discussion boards in particular allow learning to take place when thoughts occur. Unlike traditional in-class discussion, students can have time to formulate their thoughts into a more cogent argument, rather than having to support their point of view on the spot. And responses to posts can occur at anytime, lending to a mindset of always thinking about ideas, rather than reserving critical thought to the classroom. In these ways (and many others), the integration of technology into the learning process not only provides a more streamlined approach to learning for digital natives, but also introduces an angle which heretofore has not existed.
Alvi, S. (2011) Proceed with caution: Technology fetishism and the millennial generation. Interactive Technology and Smart Education, 8:2, 135-144
Dapko, J. L. & Artis, A. B. (2014). Less is more: An exploratory analysis of optimal visual appeal and linguistic style combinations in a salesperson’s initial-contact e-mail to Millennial buyers within marketing channels. Journal of Marketing Channels, 21:4, 254-267
Pearson, J.C., Carmon, A., Tobola, C., & Fowler, M. (2009). Motives for communication: Why the Millennial Generation uses electronic devices. Journal of the Communication, Speech & Theatre Association of North Dakota, 22, 45-55
U.S. Department of Education (DOE). (2005b). The Plan. In The National Education Technology Plan (para.3)
Wilson, E. V., Hall-Phillips, A., Djamasbi, S. (2015). Cognitive predictors of consumers’ intention to comply with social marketing email appeals. Computers in Human Behavior 52, 307-314