Rapid advancement in technology has accelerated globalization and revolutionized information sharing and knowledge development with significant implications for student instruction and learning. In particular, educational technology has been a powerful tool for strengthening education, enhancing accessibility, literacy development, and quality improvement by making learning and instruction more interactive (Gonzales et al., 2003). Educational technology entails the application of technology to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of student learning and teacher instruction.
Effective integration of various technologies into education has been faced with challenges as educational technology often requires curricula reforms, specific teacher competencies and changes in instructional strategies. In this paper, the concept of educational technology is explored with specific reference to its social, historical and philosophical foundations as well as the theories behind its development.
Technology and Learning of Content
The primary aim of educational technology is to improve student learning in schools. While scholars agree that technology has largely enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of learning, they differ about what makes ‘learning’. In the early 20th Century, transfer-of-learning theories dominated student instruction in schools. These theories posited that a teacher’s role was “to transfer his/her knowledge and textbook content to the students’ minds and evaluate them through periodic examinations” (Gutek, 2004, p. 48). In this regard, instructional media were viewed as important tools for transferring content to the learners.
Two other learning theories, behaviorism, and constructivism replaced the transfer-of-learning theories in the early 1960s. These theories were particularly popular among teachers in the second half of the 20th Century (Gutek, 2004). Behaviorism draws from the ideas of B.F. Skinner, which emphasized the need for teachers to inform the learners of the expected outcomes following instruction (Gutek, 2004).
To help the learner understand complex units, content or subject was broken into simpler units and delivered sequentially. Behaviorism was also characterized by a shift from mass instruction to individualized instruction, which focused on the specific learning needs of each student.
The popularity of behaviorism coincided with the development of computer-assisted instruction (CAI) programs in the 60s. The early CAI programs contained applications with syllabus books and materials for the learners (Gutek, 2004). Moreover, they allowed individualized learning as teachers could track and monitor each student’s learning pace and progress through the assigned computer. Later, individualized learning systems (ILSs) were developed as an improvement on the CAI programs. These systems (software and hardware) were designed for use in school laboratories and offered “valuable drill and practice exercises” to students (Gutek, 2004, p. 134). The behavioral theory also influenced curriculum design and development to integrate a systems approach to classroom teaching.
In the latter half of the 20th Century, educators and psychologists embraced cognitive theories of learning. The proponents of constructivism contended that teachers should allow students to “develop their understanding of the concepts being taught” (Gutek, 2004, p. 134). This perspective held that the teacher’s primary role neither involves the facilitation of knowledge transfer nor the monitoring of a student’s performance concerning set standards of knowledge or skills. Rather, a teacher’s role is to make the learning environment favorable for self-driven learning, which allows students to understand and interpret concepts on their own. Computer-based programs and software have been developed to facilitate collaborative and student-centered learning.
Technology and Instructional Strategies
Educational technology has revolutionized classroom instruction through two processes:
- individual instruction;
- mass instruction.
Technologies for mass instruction include CCTV, films, filmed lectures and television broadcasts while individual instruction technologies include CAI, computer-based tutorials and programmed instruction among others (Beglau, 2007). Programmed instruction provides students with a broad range of learning resources and helps teachers in knowledge transfer.
They offer reliable information about the subject matter, which helps teachers deliver content with perfection. Bansford, Brown, and Cocking (2000) identify the characteristics of programmed instruction as one that has; clear learning objectives, itemized content/material, and enhanced interactivity. It must also evaluate and track each student’s learning progress.
Modular scheduling is another approach that has revolutionized classroom instruction. Each module consists of a specific instructional unit focusing on a particular concept (Johnson, Dupuis, Gollnick, Hall & Musial, 2008). A subject is subdivided into a specific number of modules that focus on the learning objectives and activities, and integrate multi-media approaches in learning. A classroom lesson, a programmed instruction, a film, a laboratory session, and an audio/videotape make up each learning module (Johnson et al., 2008). On their part, Donovan and Bransford (2005) observe that multi-media enhances the effectiveness and efficiency of classroom instruction as they stimulate the senses and enhance retention and memory of the content taught in class.
Various types of equipment or visual aids have been developed to aid in classroom instruction (verbal and student projects). The Metiri Group (2006) classifies instructional technology teaching aids into three groups:
- activity aids;
- projected teaching aids;
- non-projected teaching aids.
The specific instructional technology equipment/aids include television, audiotapes, and films, which serve as alternatives to teacher instruction. Projections of printed diagrams or drawings using a projector are often used in conjunction with classroom teaching (Metiri Group, 2006). Such visual aids have been used to foster student participation in classroom contexts.
Future Trends in Educational Technology
Technology in education has the potential of empowering learners to become self-driven learners. It enables students to create, use and process knowledge present in their communities and share knowledge with others in a globalized system (Aldridge & Goldman, 2007). In a globalized economy, this means that technology will allow learners to control their learning, shape their destinies and take part in global knowledge creation through collaboration. This will help them to further their proficiency in core literary skills.
Beglau (2007) reports that instant messaging applications have helped teachers to engage students in after-school study activities such as online quizzes, exam preparation, and group projects. The report further shows that chat sessions enhance the participation of all students, including those who are less active in class. Thus, in the future, instant messaging applications will facilitate learning in outside-school contexts.
Besides aiding after-school study, technologies allow learners to manage their learning. In most schools, students use laptops to access online academic resources. In the future, wireless laptops will enable students to create online forums where they share ideas, solve problems, and evaluate content in various subjects. Research by Givens (2007), which involved a pilot study on the impact of technology on student learning, found that wireless laptops improve student learning and parental involvement.
Technology, therefore, appears to be the motivating factor for student learning and engagement. In the future, students will use online forums and social sites such as Facebook and Twitter as platforms for discussing classwork. A National School Boards Association survey (2007) found that students are increasingly creating online forums where they debate and share information, and participate in online projects. This shows that collaborative learning is increasingly being enhanced in virtual or online environments.
The educational system of the 21st Century requires the integration of technology into classroom instruction and student learning. Technology has had an impact on learning. It has helped students develop essential skills, take control of their learning and engage in collaborative learning. Technology has also supported teaching and created an interactive learning environment.
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