One of my great passions in life is using adult education theory to create learning-centered training – working out how learners can best learn so they then go on to flourish. A significant addition to this in recent years is digital education, to which there are mixed reactions among facilitators and learners. For facilitators, there can be a sense of loss around diminished (or maybe even 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 learning. This sense of loss will be increased 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 learners) feeling that digital is inevitable yet inferior.
Is this a fair conclusion?
Comparing classroom with digital like this can be like comparing apples with oranges, and concluding that oranges are inferior to apples because they lack certain apple-like qualities. Yet this is not a fair comparison since it overlooks unique intrinsic qualities of the orange. Equally, qualities of digital can be overlooked even though they have the potential to implement a learning approach that addresses longstanding issues in adult educational. 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 using PowerPoint presentations is partly digital education. The challenge is to see how a learning-centered approach can be implemented and even enhanced in each of these contexts.
But, should we be talking about digital education at all?
Recently I heard a debate on BBC Radio UK about this with the argument being that in classroom contexts we don’t talk of learners experiencing ‘pen learning.’ This is a valid point. Ultimately, it’s about learning and both digital and pen are ways in which to achieve this. However, since the digital component has a significant effect on how we answer our key design questions when developing training, I will continue to use the term in future posts in order to indicate its presence. It may be though that if a digital component becomes expected in future learning solutions then the ‘digital education’ 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?
Peter Tate is self-employed as an adult education consultant for Brainy Training Solutions and recently finished designing Financial Management training for the WaterAid charity. Previously he worked as a training designer for Hope Consultants, a UK-based international development organisation, where he created Dialogue Education-type training from existing video monologue content, and then prepared it for digital format. This was alongside study for a Masters in Digital Education with Edinburgh University, learning how to implement a Dialogue Education approach in online environments.