Technology Push v Learning Pull

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Recently I led a discussion on educational technology with a group of postgraduate students studying for a certificate in higher education teaching. For more than 40 years Scottish school (K-12) teachers have been university graduates with a requirement to hold recognized teaching qualification. Higher education has not been subject to the same regulation but in recent times new entries to university teaching tend to be offered contracts on condition that they gain a teaching certificate. No bad thing if you ask me, especially when I look back at some of my own experiences of being ‘taught’ as an undergraduate.

So a great opportunity for me to influence the next generation of university teachers by giving them some bearings as they start to map their own professional learning journeys with educational technology.

I started off by describing what I consider to be the dominant model for implementing educational technology. I call this approach ‘technology push’ and contrasted it to an alternative approach – ‘learning pull’.

Technology Push Characteristics

  • Technology led (institutional IT department and/or IT industry)
  • Starts with a set of available technologies and solutions, usually designed with other business contexts in mind, then attempts to retro-fit them into education.
  • Sees teachers as having an IT skills deficit that needs to be sorted through more technology training.
  • Tends to measure success in the short-term in relation to inputs – number of interactive whiteboards, number of hours of training, number of unique log-ins etc.
  • Tends to have low uptake of services, disappointing results and a very poor return on investment.

Learning Pull Characteristics

  • Always led by the education business, i.e. learning and teaching, but crucially working very closely with the IT department and/or ICT industry.
  • It starts off with the real challenges that are faced in education around access to expertise, the personalization of learning, provision of increased curricular depth and breadth, making assessment more authentic and meaningful, motivating students, engaging parents, taking out the vagaries of distance and time etc.
  • Training teachers how to use technology is seen as a diversion away from the really complex challenge of extending the professional repertoire of the teacher. Professional development that focuses on advanced pedagogy is to the fore as the majority of educational technologies are no more difficult to use for teachers than booking a flight online or browsing a news site. What is really difficult for teachers is managing these resources, taking advantage of their full potential and fundamentally changing how they engage with their students – in short transforming their professional practice.
  • Tends to have a much better chance of being successful and providing a long-term return on investment.

Push v. Pull

‘Technology Push’ always looks attractive as it puts the latest IT equipment in the hands of teachers and learners who then do their best to make the most of their newfound riches.  It is a model much loved by governments who want to showcase how well resourced their schools are. Those teachers who are in love with technology often like ‘technology push’ because it gives them great opportunities to try new things and continue to be the in vanguard of educational innovation. Parents like it because it gives them the impression that their children are getting a modern learning experience in preparation for life, work and citizenship in the 21st Century. Technology companies love it because it drives sales of their latest products into the multi-billion dollar education market.

I am sure that we can do so much better by changing the model to ‘learning pull’. Governments do not see the massive gains in attainment they would expect as a return on investment because they never win the hearts and minds battle that drives changes from the inside out.

The technophile teacher finds that there is only so much they can achieve without having more of their colleagues being on-board. They need ‘learning pull’ that weaves the right technologies, into the right places and at the right time to provide the very best tools and environments for learning for every teacher and every learner.

Parents find that the new equipment quickly loses its shine as the curriculum and assessment regimes remain unchanged locking in learning modes better suited to previous centuries. Their children need more than access to technology to give them the life chances they aspire to. IT companies make their sales but do not get the real benefits of having happy customers who drive forward innovation.

Conclusion

After two hours of discussion with my students I am not convinced I made the case as convincingly as I would have hoped. They understood the difference between the two models but perhaps I drew too thick a line between ‘technology push’ and ‘learning pull’ – essential characteristics can easily slip into caricatures. Maybe all educational technology implementations have aspects of both models and the relationship is both more complex and less rational than I suggest.

That said I still think that the two models provide a useful frame of reference that can give our ‘leaders of learning’ the confidence to play a much stronger role in the processes of choosing and implementing educational technologies. If used wisely the ‘learning pull’ approach offers the hope of much improved solutions and at worst might mitigate the worst excesses of educational ‘technology push’.

[First posted on the GETideas.org website]

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