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There are so many really great things you can do with technology in learning environments, but guess what?  Great teachers and professors everywhere have known all along exactly what it can’t do.  Here’s what I’ve discovered about tech in my many years teaching inside classrooms and out:

  1. Tech lets us reach across the miles. Recently, for World Pulse, I lead a training session that helped women from all over the world create strong and powerful elevator pitches that expressed the work they do in a quick and clear way. We had a live workshop for an hour!  With women all across the world!  We had a virtual classroom, and later I worked one-on-one to get things just right with each student via email.  There is no exaggerating the power of tech to connect us with a cohort of like-minded learners, who would never, ever be able to meet in a classroom. Awesome!
  2. Tech allows for individual pacing and space, and for continuous learning over time. Our client, Native CARS, has tribal members using their online learning out in the field to develop intervention activities for their communities – when they are ready, with the tools they need at the time they need them! No classroom will ever provide that, especially when you add the possibility of ongoing Q and A will experienced leaders and researchers–as needed.  Classroom teaching isn’t designed for this kind of ongoing learning. Great!
  3. Tech allows us to get the picture. We are currently working on developing an online module that guides learners through the process of clarifying and developing objectives.  Tech allows us to walk learners through a process step-by-step with visuals in a way a classroom couldn’t.  We can walk them right through it.  And they can access that anytime, whenever they need to do it.  Pretty amazing!

But tech can’t do everything, and here’s what technology can’t do, or does really badly: 

  1. Tech won’t make up for a bad teacher. Tech won’t fix the fact that the teacher doesn’t know how to teach.  There many smart, informed, experienced people who want to share what they know online. Some of them are good at building knowledge, and some are not.  Great teachers know that throwing knowledge at people isn’t teaching.  It’s downloading.  It may not help, and may even make matters worse.  Presenting knowledge is a way that creates knowing, builds skills, add up to something, and inspires further learning by connecting to students and to what’s meaningful to them is an art.  We all know it when we see it.  You learn.  It’s interesting.  It’s relevant and helpful.  It’s fun.  Tech can’t make that happen. It can even stand in the way.  For example, when I was a professor using clunky and half-useful software that sometimes didn’t work, and never did much.  It wasn’t helpful.  Good, and minimal, software, can create a great learning environment, but not great learning, not without a great teacher driving it.
  2. Tech’s technical problems can make it useless. My kids have a cool app they use at their school.  It works well, except that my kids pages have been blank for a month, and when I go to the troubleshooting pages, there are three categories, none of which apply to their app, all of which apply to their website, which I am not using.  So much for that.  Now, I have no idea what is going on, because the school doesn’t have an alternate form of communication. Now I have to call or email to get it fixed, and it takes so much TIME. It is an app that is supposed to make it EASIER for me to know what is happening in the classroom.  Is it worth it?  Maybe.  Barely.
  3. Online learning can be a huge waste of time and money!  I’m thinking now of a compliance-type training I had to click through at my old employer.  There were hours of it to do, and guess what, it all could have been covered in a staff meeting in 15 minutes, with maybe another 15-minute discussion where a scenario was shared and staff discussed what they would do, how they might comply, and any ethical issues that they found troubling.  Best practices could be reinforced in the group.  Done!  This would have produced better learning, better compliance, and saved the company tens to hundreds of thousands in elearning build fees.  Sorry elearning companies, there is a place for you, but not there.  What a waste!

The moral of the story is learning tech is great and amazing, but won’t replace substance, teaching skills, and common sense.  Not now, not ever.