One of the projects that I am involved with at the College is a committee dealing with Learning Technologies, trying to determine just how we are going to implement and support learning technologies at the College and the faculty and staff that use them.
First off, what exactly is a learning technology? In my mind it is any tool or technology that supports or enhances a learning opportunity - a pencil and paper may be the perfect learning technologies - relatively simple to use, doesn't require a lot of training and support, or a lot of other resources.
Unfortunately in many cases "learning technologies" has become code for "let's do it with computers!". Now in all fairness, I am one of those people - I live and breathe bleeding edge technology and all things IT related - I've embraced Web 2.0 tools and technologies and firmly believe that online, distance, and blended learning are some of the key ways to deliver learning now and in the future. All demand a certain level of computer literacy. What it does not mean though is that everyone has to be out here on the edge (or ledge :-)) with me.
The most important thing to remember, and here is where the cart and horse analogy comes in, is that whatever technology gets used in a learning environment, the technology is only a tool that supports the learning and makes it easier for learners to learn. The learning technology can assist in the delivery of content, aid in assessment and evaluation, allow learners to access learning when, where, and how they want to and generally support and frame a learning environment whether that environment be brick, click, or a combination of the two.
So what are the implications for us as adult educators? First we have to determine what learning technologies to employ - they have to support the learners and their environment and not overwhelm them in having to learn how to use technology instead of focussing on the learning. Learning must be about meeting the learning outcomes, not spending a lot of time learning a tool or technology. Most learning environments are finite in nature and there is only so much time available for learning - don't spend anymore time than is necessary with learning technologies.
There are two ways to ensure that learning technologies support and not overwhelm learning - the first one is to know all your learners well, and use the "lowest common denominator" learning technologies to support the learning - the disadvantage of this is that this lowest common denominator technology will be different for every learner, and will engage some learners and unfortunately disengage many others.
The better way and the one that I have used successfully, is to let the learners themselves select the learning technologies that work for them, for their learning and their environment. This way learners are comfortable with the technologies they use and can concentrate on learning.
So there it is - learning technologies are tools used to support and augment learning, and who better to choose what technologies and tools get used to support learning than the learners themselves? Hmmm...
(Photo - "Lapices" - Juanjoseixas)