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Digital tools vs tools … e-Learning vs learning

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Started by Nathaniel Louwrens 24 Oct 2014 3:47pm () Replies (2)

Richard Wells recently wrote a blog post about why we should remove ‘21st Century’, ‘digital’ and ‘modern’ from phrases such as ‘21st Century learning tools’, ‘digital learning tools’ and ‘modern learning technologies’. Read his blog post An End to “21st Century” Learning Tools.

Richard makes the points to emphasise his point such as:


  • We’ve started saying in schools statements such as, “Now it’s time for the class to use their iPads”.

  • Digital technologies are embedded into everyday life in the developed world but schools set them apart.

  • Schools purchase devices and then allocate time-slots for their use.

  • “Punishments are organised for those learners found “off-task,” a judgement of “bad choice” applied to the student that is never applied to the teacher who designed the task being avoiding."

Debates occur quite regularly around this sort of topic and whether the ‘e’ at the start of ‘e-Learning’ should be removed. The idea that we should simply be focusing on learning and that technology is just a tool is the main emphasis of those saying we should drop the ‘e’.

Karen Melhuish Spencer blogged in 2012 about 2 reasons to keep the ‘e’ in e-learning. The points she makes are:

  • “the word ‘e-learning’ reminds us that this is a specialist field, that to use technology appropriately requires a clear understanding of the relationship between content, pedagogy and technology”

  • “for many schools and teachers, for a number of reasons, there still is little or no ‘e’ going on.”

So what do you think?

Are we at a place to begin to drop the ‘e’ and remove words such as ‘digital’ and ‘21st Century’ or is there still reason to keep them?

You might also be interested in these blog posts that consider whether ‘future-focused’ in regards to pedagogy is redundant.

Image courtesy of Flickr.


  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 06 Nov 2014 1:49pm ()

    This is such a great debate Nathaniel, thank you for posting these links as well. They make for some great reading, where NZ educators are reflecting on this visibly online.

    Language is evolutionary, so I’m not sure the semantics debate will ever go away when we talk about e-Learning, 21st Century learning or digital learning. Perhaps it shouldn't go away either? We're nearly 15 years into this century and for some institutions, the learning opportunities look largely similar to 40 years ago – pre-set material, teacher-directed delivery, reliance on retention of content. For others, language like ‘Modern Learning Pedagogies, 1:1 devices and Flexible Learning Environments’ are becoming the new ‘norm’. Conversations across the VLN and throughout Connected Educator Month are a testament to that.

    The idea that the future is here and that using language to identify e-tools can take the focus off what matters pedagogically - are strong debates. Having a collective understanding about what is e-Learning or What is an effective e-learning pedagogy? is possibly a good place to start. Think about how many different views or mental models you’d get from one ‘staffroom’ if you asked these questions?

    I also see this debate as a similar argument to when we’re discussing, improving outcomes for priority learners. Some may interpret this as 'quality education for all', others see the need to ‘call it out’, identify it for what it is. Sometimes we need to be specific when we say we’re ‘improving outcomes for Māori and Pasifika learners’ or we’re making decisions dedicated to ‘meeting diverse learner needs (those students with special educational needs)’, rather than generalising across the board, that way we can be deliberate in our actions to help make improvements in those areas.

    I’ve digressed. Back to the debate about language associated with modern pedagogies…

    Karen’s argument about phases of adoption and adaption is an important one. I suspect those practitioners that use e-tools seamlessly don’t use the same language as those who might be ‘starting out’ in the implementation of e-tools into lessons. Therefore, maybe the language is structured/scaffolded - based on understanding and application? Using explicit language around digital technologies, may aide in working towards the ‘empowering’ phase of using those technologies?

    Finally, learning can be powerful without the digital tools, and in some cases, using digital tools do nothing to enhance the learning - other than replicate a learning task in a digital format (IE: typing stories), which brings up the argument about the role of teacher…

    Are teachers' knowledge skills, knowledge and understanding imperative to the effective integration of e-learning (yes I’ve left the ‘e’ in)? What do you think?

    Visual pedagogy

    Image sources, Flickr and Visuwords

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