Should the Tools Drive the Learning?

(cc) photo by MrPessimist

I spent Wednesday morning at the “Every Teacher Every Learner” conference in College Park Georgia. The event was organized by Woodward Academy and mostly for private school teachers from the area. I talked about contemporary literacy (learning-literacy) and about new pedagogies.

In reviewing and commenting on the backchannel transcript this morning, I ran across a comment/question that deserves a little more exploration here. The question was:

“Should the tools and environment drive the learning or vice versa?”

It’s a common question in the greater edtech conversation that begs the answer, “No! the learning drives the tools.” My answer, which I inserted into the backchannel, was “Both!”

One of the mistakes that I believe we make is believing that the principle purpose of these information and communication technologies is to enhance education – as we’ve known it. This is a reasonable assumption and the way that we have all promoted technology for education since the early ’80s.

However, personal computers and the Internet are the pencil and paper of our time.  Like pencil and paper, the productive use of these technologies will not end at graduation.  We continue to use them as we continue with our lives and work.  They are our prevailing tools of accomplishment.

But perhaps even more important to this discussion is the fact that we are preparing our students for life-long learning.  Many, if not most of the students I graduated high school with (more than 40 years ago) went to work in the textile mills of my hometown, fully expecting to spend the next 35 years doing pretty much the same job – a job that required almost no continued learning.  Of course, those jobs have moved thousands of miles south and west – and my former classmates who continue to be employed accomplished it by learning new skills, and learning to continue learning new skills.  

It is a defining quality of a time of rapid change, that you live a lifestyle of learning.

The readers of this blog live that lifestyle, and we know that information and communication technologies have changed the way that we learn.  We learn from large and small networks that we create and cultivate with machines that we carry under our arms and in our pockets.

If it is a learning lifestyle that we should be preparing our students for, and if these tools are a principle mechanism for that lifestyle, then to that degree the tools should drive the how and even what our children are learning in school.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.