Our society and business life are highly digital, but the educational institutions are only just taking the first steps in becoming digital. The digitalization of teaching and education cannot be achieved by purchasing computers, tablets or interactive whiteboards – as counterintuitive as it may seem, thoughtlessly acquired technological equipment often proves to be an obstacle slowing down digitalization. Digitalization of the school should always involve enabling new, more efficient learning and teaching processes in information technology – making new processes possible – not simply replacing the pen or the blackboard with an electronic version. Technology must always bring added value to pedagogy.
Information technology can be used to enrich teaching and increase its methodical diversity, thereby providing students with better prerequisites for learning new things. However, using information technology in teaching and learning must be carried out systematically, based on the strategic goals of the curriculum and the educational institution. The main focus in using technology in teaching is not on learning the technical skills, but on utilizing information and communication technology pedagogically in different subjects and themes. In fact, the greatest benefits of using technology are gained from systematic use, closely linked to the learner’s learning process.
Information technology acts as a medium in teaching situations when it is used to distribute learning material, for example. The learning material may either be created by the teacher or it may be available on the Internet. Nowadays, there is a large amount of ready-made material available online, such as learning objects, video clips and online journals.
Searching for information is a key application of the Internet and information technology. Web and social media are vast sources of information, and in fact, the Internet been described as a ‘worldwide library’. There are plenty of sources online that can be searched via search services as well as article databases. Usable information for teaching and learning is also available on Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org), a collaboratively created online encyclopedia.
One of the most important applications of technology is communication. Computers and the Internet allow us to send e-mails and make voice calls from one device to another, as well as hold video conferences. Learners can use IT to communicate with each other, for example, or they can be in contact with experts in different fields. The dialogue between learners and tutors online is another form of communication. A computer is no longer just a computer, it is also a central communication medium.
Content creation tool
Information and communication technology is at its best when learners use it to create their own content. Learners can create their own texts, images, sound, music, etc. naturally on computers or mobile devices. A more advanced form of utilizing information technology involves learners creating interactive content and using programs and algorithms in their output.
The web and social media in particular can be used to publish the learner’s or the whole group’s joint output. For example, the learners can create an online magazine or publish their own pieces of music or video clips. Publishing the learners’ output often has a very motivating effect – “the output is not just made for the teacher to read”.
A tool for the learners to develop their own conceptual artifacts
With IT, learners can develop their own conceptual artifacts, such as concept maps, diagrams or graphs, in which case IT acts as an important thinking tool. The most important thing is not the output itself, but the process through which the learners develop their own information structures and modes of thinking.
A platform for collaborative knowledge building
Online learning environments offer tools, such as discussion forums, for collaborative knowledge building by learners. The principle of collaborative knowledge building is that constructing information together – building knowledge – makes for better learning and a better end result than working alone. Collaborative knowledge building online is important for learning, because there the knowledge building process with its different stages is documented and remains visible. This process can be reviewed after the fact, and it is possible to return to the thoughts presented and continue them later.
In the modern information society, the role of a computer or information and communication technology approaches that of a thinking partner. Even though computers do not yet think for themselves, they can offer important support for the learners’ thinking processes by posing analytic questions and reflection (or mirroring thoughts), for example.
The main purpose of eLearning is not the technology; it is what information technology as a method makes possible in learning and teaching. Information and communication technology allows the use of methods promoting learning that could not be implemented in practice otherwise. Therefore, eLearning introduces several pedagogically meaningful working methods to both contact and distance teaching. Currently, the focus of eLearning is on collaborative forms of work in particular, both in contact and distance situations.
eLearning can consist of, for example, online study and work guided systematically with learning tasks. Learning tasks methodically guide how learners observe and process information – how they learn. Therefore, the goal of learning tasks is always to learn something new, not to test what has already been learned.
Another key element of eLearning is knowledge building. The learners combine and construct new knowledge for themselves using different sources. Possible sources include webpages, books, magazines or personal experiences and observations, for example. Learning is seen as an activity in which learners construct new information for themselves.
Knowledge building can also be collaborative. eLearning easily enables discussion and developing ideas together with the teacher and the other learners. In that case, it is important to publish ideas and output still in progress online, gain feedback on them during the process and develop them further together. If learners only receive feedback at the end of the learning process, they will not be able to use the feedback in learning.
How to design an effective eLearning process?
Teachers influence learning online or when using technology by means that differ from those used in contact teaching – therefore, eLearning must be studied and designed more from the point of view of the learners’ learning process. Designing traditional contact teaching has mostly been based on designing the teacher’s activities and teaching process, while in designing eLearning, the starting point must genuinely be designing the learner’s learning process. Designing the teacher’s actions, guidance, task assignments etc. that promote the learner’s learning process can only occur after the learner’s learning process (or what kind of cognitive activity the learner needs to learn the issue) has been designed. This can be considered a paradigm shift in instructional design.
The starting point for designing the eLearning process includes the learning goals and the learners’ prior knowledge and competence. Reflecting the competence, knowledge and skills gained as a result of the learning process on the learners’ prior competence results in a clear framework for constructing the learning process. A key issue in designing is to consider how different learners learn and achieve competence in accordance with the goals. How does a learner learn?
In learning process-based teaching, the different elements – learning situation, learning tasks, teaching, and guidance and feedback – are closely linked together and form a complete continuum of time. In learning process-based eTeaching, the teaching situations, both contact and distance teaching, have therefore been bound into a uniform whole. eLearning based on the learning process is centrally described by guidance and feedback during the whole learning process, based on which the learners develop their own competence.
Re-thinking from Finland !
TEACHING BY TOPICS
Figure 1. Design of a learning process
The learners are active in the learning environment; they are actively engaged in studying.
Information technology enables pedagogically meaningful methods
for both teachers and learners, leading to a deeper learning.
Collaborative knowledge building is easy to implement with online tools.
In online learning environments, the learners’ thinking and problem-solving processes become visible and are documented. The learners can learn things from this externalised thinking process that could not be studied otherwise.
DIGITAL TOOLS transform learning from simply repeating information to constructing and using information.
If necessary, learning can be arranged regardless of time and place.
Learners can progress individually and at their own pace; they can
be differentiated easily.
All learners receive the same space online, including the ones that might be quiet in the classroom.
Online learning environments and social media applications are tools for collaborative knowledge building.
eLearning skills are needed in further study and working life.