Friday, October 5, 2007

Lose the Tools . . . Or Just the Misguided Attitude?

During the last few weeks, I’ve had several conversations with various individuals about the role of technology-based tools in instructional design. Each of these conversations reached a similar consensus: Tools are just that—tools!

They’re not the main attraction. Instead of getting hung up on the possibilities and limitations of an ever-expanding tool set, we need to focus back in on our learners. What are their needs? What are their challenges? What do they want to learn? What are their motivational characteristics? Is there a specific learning outcome that they need / want to achieve?

Once we’ve answered these questions, then we can go back to our tool set and take a critical look. Is there an existing tool that will help us achieve the established learning outcomes? Are there tools that might be intuitive to our learners? If not, can we “break” the tool and use it in a way it may not have initially been intended?

These questions are mainly rhetorical in nature, but they do raise a point for each of us. In our quest to increase our tool set, let’s not forget our learners. After all, a tool is just a tool until it’s put into the right hands!


ee said...

Ken really did get you thinking didn't he? :)

These are great questions Betsy, ones that it never hurts to constantly be reminded of. New technology and the tools that come with it can just be sooooo cool that, as designers, we may overlook our may objective - the instruction of our learners which should lead to their understanding of the material.

Great topic Betsy. Thanks for the reminder :)

Betsy said...

Hey Erin:

Thanks for the comment. Yes, Ken did get me thinking. However, we've also been having this discussion at work on a fairly frequent basis.

So much to learn, so little time . . . And, that's the beauty of it!


Debra said...

Nice reminder. I love technology and "cool" new toys. It's easy to forget that the main objective is presenting information to the learner to promote learning.

Thanks for the reminder.

Anonymous said...

Great comments. Evaluate the need and then remember the learner. How can you best present the information?

Thanks Betsy!


Brent G. Wilson said...

Every e-learning professional needs to keep up with the technology as well as trends in theory and practice. Every professional I know has to take some kind of stance toward these issues of tools and learning.

To me it has some connection to basic processes of change. I think of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and the white Birmingham pastors. Malcolm was the injustice and wanted change NOW. Dr King fought for lasting change too, but his tactics were more measured. The white liberal establishment saw the injustice, but also the obstacles - so their "rational" response was to postpone and delay.

eLearning professional face similar issues about where to put their energies. We need the impatient visionaries who tell the truth about the crappy job we're now doing, and articulate a vision for a better way. But then we need folks to be change agents in different ways - using available tools and resources to help people learn TODAY. Utopia takes a back seat to the learning needs of people I encounter.

That may sound way too oblique or idealistic, but that's honestly how I tend to think about change issues - slow or fast, idealistic or pragmatic. The "tools" question that you raise is a variant on this basic issue of visionary versus pragmatic engagement.