Pretty much in every country is increasingly common to identify public policies promoting in one way or another the use of information technologies for education. With different purposes, policies or budgets digital technologies have landed in the world of education and it is very likely they are here to stay. Today, are much popular the voices of those who defend and promote the importance of technologies in education than those who sustain a critical position regarding the use of these tools in education, because the later are discredited as change resistant or reactionary. However not everything is either black or white and the impact of ICT in education should be grounded on consistent and reliable evidences.
Despite the techno-enthusiasm driven by vendors, in academic and policy-making circles it is increasingly known that international research in education performance do not necessarily show a strong correlation between the adoption of technologies in classrooms and improvements in the student’s performance in subjects such as math, science, reading or writing. Different research show small positive associations, lack and, in some cases, even negative correlation between the adoption of technology in formal education settingsand measurable learning outcomes. These results can be explained by several possible hypotheses: change-resistant educational policies, not enough appropriate training for teachers, a content-oriented education agenda, poor combination of time, space or subjects in classes or, why not, adoption of traditional assessments that ignore (or keep invisible) the learning that take place with the use of technologies outside formal settings.
Digital technologies enable a “context collapse”, where boundaries between formal education and leisure are increasingly intertwined (i.e. blended learning, flipped classroom, lifelong learning, augmented learning, gamification, MOOCs, among others). New ways of managing time, space and subjects offer opportunities of upskilling, but also for expanding and diversifying the learning experiences.
If well implemented, technologies can bypass a number of change-resistant obstacles frequently observed in traditional education. Here two examples. 1) Challenging the traditional learning experience: Not only focusing on upgrading the devices but also promoting a culture of innovation. That means rethinking the lessons in order to adopt problem-solving oriented approaches where technology facilitates the connection and combination of different subjects, disciplines and fields of knowledge. How and when teachers should promote the use of technologies to also learn outside of formal settings? 2) Valuing the deep learning: Is possible that the non-curriculum-oriented informal learning will be accounted as relevant as the traditional learning? How to design and adopt evaluation instruments which measure the development of key skills that take place outside of the classroom?
Today the network is the learning. Rather than going to a physical space to access for certain kind of information, we understand the relevance of the learner’s capability for creating and connecting old and new knowledge in whatever space or situation they are. It doesn’t mean that traditional and face-to-face education are not relevant, but the use of technologies beyond the curriculum learning experiences should also be valued in formal education. This transition is what might establishes a key milestone between the past and the future of learning.
In most of the cases this informal and non-formal learning are closely linked with the development of a set of relevant interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies. Interpersonal refer to competencies that are important for constructive interactions and relationships with other people, and intrapersonal referred as the attitudes and dispositions that influence how individuals solve problems and apply themselves in different contexts.
These capabilities are hard to measure but remarkably relevant throughout life, and not only for the highly educated ones (as it just to be). These skills have been called with several names such as social skills, noncognitive skills, soft-skills, 21st century skills or even hard-to-measure-skills. Here some samples of technology-enhanced learning outcomes that are regularly ignored: community building and virtual collaboration; capacity to create or manage a digital identity or building trust online; competency for aggregating and remixing different multimedia resources; savviness to work in information-overloaded environments; capacity to combine and create new ideas, contents, software or hardware. Obviously, these skills are not acquire only because of ICTs, but technologies when used in environments which facilitate self-experimentation, trial-error, collaborative problem-solving or entrepreneurial creativity become a fruitful enabler to stimulate the development of these skills.
This is an incredible opportunity for traditional education but also for all those who design and assess learning experiences. It is particularly needed to adopt alternative ways for understanding learning and assessment. Not limited to evaluating the command of a specific knowledge or subject but also including the way that we use technology in everyday life. It is clearly a strong priority the design of instruments capable of identify and measure the skills and competences that are developed or enhanced with the use of ICTs. That should go beyond measuring the so-called “digital literacy”. The goal shouldn’t be to simply assess the level of proficiency of how technologies are used but to recognize deep learning: how knowledge is negotiated, understood and co-constructed between two or more individuals simultaneously. In other words, assessing constant experimentation and combinations of concepts, contexts and sources, in novel, creative and unpredictable ways. The innovation has reached computers, phones and watches reinventing textbooks, notebooks and boards, however not enough innovation can be seeing in the assessment field. Therefore it’s time for a new generation of adaptive and personalised evaluation paradigm to value different aspects of deep learning.
Final Comment: This text is published in the context of the recent OECD report, which explores the relationship between technologies and digital assessments.