new learning technologies

The New Learning Technologies

Most new learning technologies tend to follow the same path as their predecessors. Each one is seen as a brilliant new technological quick-fix to a learning/teaching issue that will make life easier for the teacher. This is the impression given (naturally) by those who have vested interests in the acceptance of the technology (the marketers).

However, too often the reality is that teachers generally don’t have the time nor the institutional support to master the technology. In the case of computers, beyond the mere word-processing programs, the technology is developing so fast that generally what you are learning today is old technology by the time you have learned it. How well have we managed to master the technologies so far?

The overhead projector has been with us and used in all sectors of education for over twenty five years, but how often is it used effectively? The next time that you are at a seminar or conference notice how often overhead transparencies are made directly from printed text which is barely readable and cluttered. Little or no planning has gone into the design of the transparency as a “learning aid”. In fact poor overhead transparencies tend to distract or even de-motivate audiences. Notice also how well the overhead projector has been set-up.

Often there is severe keystoning (distorting of the images) which can cause a misrepresentation, especially of diagrams. These problems can be addressed with a little planning and preparation (yes, even the keystoning). Overhead projectors are excellent educational tools if they are used correctly for the correct purpose. However, their use needs to be carefully planned and integrated into your presentation along with your other presentation strategies.

The new learning technologies are also excellent educational tools provided that they are reliable, used creatively, and used appropriately. However, unless we have the time and budget to use them effectively we sometimes have to question the benefits to our students. Unfortunately for many educators working in the higher education sector sometimes incursion into the new technologies is driven by peer pressure and career advantage. The only point that I am trying to make here is that we should be choosing the media or medium that we use to communicate our message for the maximum advantage of our learners.

The rapid increase in computer memory capacities, and the greatly increased access and processing speeds have certainly enabled modern computers to perform previously unimaginable functions at a relatively low cost. The multitude of applications of computers is now so widespread that computer literacy is now a prerequisite in most vocational areas.

Computers are increasingly being used to provide teachers with options for both task specific, and self-access extension learning applications. With the relatively low cost of full multimedia systems, and the wide range of software now available on CD ROMs, computers are certainly playing a role in assisting learning in many institutions. However, based upon my recent personal experience in two institutions, and some research I conducted in the use of technology in Australian universities in 1996, there certainly appears to be many issues which still need to be addressed from the educators perspective.

The main three being inadequate; budgets, time for professional development and materials development, collegial collaboration on development issues. We must always consider the ramifications of introducing new technologies. As Rogers notes in his classic, Diffusion of Innovations, “A system is like a bowl of marbles: move any one of its elements and the positions of all the others are inevitably changed also” (Rogers, 1995, p. 419). When technology is introduced “in isolation” (as a piecemeal change), it disturbs the rest of the system. The resulting instability reduces the system’s overall effectiveness.” (James B. Ellsworth).

The Internet

“One of the most rapidly developing technological advancements in our society today is the use of electronic means of communication, e.g., the Internet. New communication technology (new learning technologies) is of prime interest to foreign language (FL) professionals because communication is the primary thrust and emphasis in FL teaching, and these technologies have the potential to put FL learners in direct contact with native speakers. The ramifications of this technology for us in the profession are far-reaching and exciting, but many FL practitioners have yet either to discover or venture into this new area.

Thus, this vast and powerful new resource remains, at this writing, largely untapped by a particular group of educators who could benefit greatly from it. Given the fact that this technology is not a passing fancy, it behooves FL professionals to explore the endless possibilities available to them now through electronic airways that will enhance their knowledge, their professional development, their teaching, and consequently the learning of their students.”(LeLoup, J. W. & Ponterio, R. (Winter, 1995). “Networking with foreign language colleagues: Professional development on the Internet.” _Northeast Conference Newsletter_, 37: 6-10.)

By contrast if we consider that: “Information technology has infiltrated our lives at an unprecedented rate during the last half-century. Initially, in education, it took the form of “audiovisual aids.” Ever since, much has been said about the potential for technology to “revolutionize” teaching and learning. It’s ironic, then, that these same years have produced equally strident laments concerning the state to which American education has sunk.” (James B. Ellsworth).

These two quotations were chosen to introduce this topic only to illustrate that we must always be “consciously cautious” but not necessarily “cynical” about the enthusiastic rhetoric and anecdotal evidence that usually accompanies new technologies. The Internet, like all other technologies, is just a tool. I enjoy using the Internet and I spend at least two hours per day on “The Net”. I have about 45 homepages and about the same number of e-mail addresses. The Internet, creating homepages, and helping other users is my primary hobby. It is an excellent research and communication tool.

As an independent language learner I can not say that I found the Internet particularly useful (my personal perspective). However, as a second language teacher I found the contrary to be true. There are many excellent language teaching/ learning sites on the Internet. You can find links to some of these sites from this page or by using one of the many “search engines” which can be found by clicking “Net Search” or “Search” on your Internet browser.

The Internet provides a wealth of current and authentic teaching materials (newspapers are probably the most useful). There are many different types of communication games, quizzes, grammar exercises, etc. which can be accessed through the Internet and “downloaded” to your computer for student practice. There are also many sites which provide basic courses in foreign/ second languages. For language practice you can direct students to sites which are created in the target language, or to daily newspapers and magazines from around the world. The possibilities for using the medium as a teacher are only limited by your imagination.

What then are the factors that can render the use of the Internet so different from the perspectives of the independent learner as opposed to the teacher? Management. As an independent learner I was not focused upon specific objectives, the learning was very haphazard and I was frequently distracted by the diversity of options which are available on the medium. As a teacher I managed the use of the Internet, and I was focused upon what I wanted to get from it. Chapelle (1995) claims that “when technological innovations succeed in a language program, it is because students, teachers, administrators and support staff of that program have worked together to make them succeed” (Chapelle, 1995, p.4).

Use of the Internet during class time must be carefully managed. Student time connected to the Internet during classes should be minimal. Their time should be focused upon the learning objectives, not waiting for Web pages to download. Teachers should as much as possible download the material and prepare it for the students in advance. The main exceptions to this are student research (reading/writing) tasks, Web-based assignments for external students, and e-mail. E-mail (electronic mail) is probably one of the best Internet aids for the language learner.

Having taught Internet principles, Web page construction, and how to use e-mail to English as a Second Language (ESL) students (hoping that this would open up a new world of communicating in English for them), I can say confidently that unless structured tasks are assigned to the students they generally revert to using the e-mail for communicating with their friends in their native language. All applications of technology to teaching require clearly set appropriate tasks, good preparation, and good teacher facilitation skills.


Unfortunately too often we chose the technology or audio-visual media that we are going to use without asking ourselves, what is the best way of communicating this to my students? Variation of audio-visual media is one of the options we have for addressing the many different cognitive styles of our learners. Have you noticed that some teachers or lecturers always use overhead projectors, or computer data projectors every time they teach? Why? Does this mean that they are better or more modern educators than those who prefer the white-board? We are obligated as professionals to ask ourselves what is the best way of communicating what we want communicate to our students every time we plan to teach, well ……… at least think about it.

Happy Teaching! (new learning technologies,


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