How We Learn and the Importance of Technology

There are many scholars, scientists, and psychologists who have contemplated how we learn and process information. Trends in education are often morphed to fit the latest research in the field. Teachers have been preparing their students for standardized tests for decades and some are currently preparing their students for new tests (PARCCs), which focus less on memorizing facts and more on interdisciplinary inquiries and process learning in order to apply former knowledge to new problems that arise in real life situations. The problem is, the world that students are entering and growing up in is an ever evolving, technology driven realm. Educators are hard-pressed to develop ways to prepare students for this world inundated with information while at the same time trying to master and keep up with the morphing technologies themselves. How do educators bridge the gap between learning and technology? How do they help students learn in a way that is sustainable and applicable to new material and problems? Educators can start by making students aware of their own learning process, providing students with interdisciplinary, relevant learning opportunities, and using technology as a tool to help students learn and transfer the concepts being taught not as a magic wand that will “fix” the comprehension problem or fill the gap.

Students spend a lot of time worrying about what was marked right or wrong on their papers, but they rarely think about why they may have struggled with a concept unless they are asked to contemplate their thought process and reflect on their own learning. If students start to evaluate their own learning process and grow from it, they will start on a path of self-discovery that will lead them to using higher order thinking skills on their own. According to Donovan, Branford, and Pellegrino (2000), “Teaching practices congruent with a metacognitive approach to learning include those that focus on sense-making, self-assessment, and reflection on what worked and what needs improving. These practices have been shown to increase the degree to which students transfer their learning to new settings and events (e.g., Palincsar and Brown, 1984; Scardamalia et al., 1984; Schoenfeld, 1983, 1985, 1991).” This sounds great on paper, but how do educators provide the framework for students to learn these metacognitive approaches and start using them on a daily basis? There needs to be time in the learning process for them to reflect on their lesson and decipher their learning process. “Providing students with time to learn also includes providing enough time for them to process information” (Donovan, Branford, & Pellegrino, 2000). Like many new approaches in the classroom, adding self-assessment and reflection will require new strategies and time commitments in order to give students learning opportunities that are relevant as well as rigorous.

Providing students with relevant, interdisciplinary learning opportunities also promotes self-reflection and higher order thinking skills. Students are more likely to learn and engage with material if they can make connections and transfer the prior knowledge that they bring to the table from one content area to another. “A key finding in the learning and transfer literature is that organizing information into a conceptual framework allows for greater “transfer”; that is, it allows the student to apply what was learned in new situations and to learn related information more quickly” (Donovan, Branford, & Pellegrino, 2000). Providing students with that conceptual framework will help them form connections between concepts and content in their mind. Once again, teachers will need to modify their curriculum and work cohesively with other departments in order to allow students the ability to transfer as much knowledge as possible. Technology can play a key role in providing this framework if used effectively as a tool in the classroom.

Using technology as a tool instead of the lesson itself is a thought provoking concept on its own. “One of our key goals is to stop focusing quite so much on “do kids have computers in their classroom?” and start focusing more on “do kids have the basic social skills and cultural competencies so that when they do get computers in their classroom, they can participate fully?” (Jenkins et al., 2006). It is important, especially with the incoming PARCCs assessment that educators make sure that students have the skills necessary to operate the technological tools and contribute positively to society as global citizens. So, how do we use technology as a tool to empower students and lead them to higher order thinking when the Internet and technology are constantly in flux? Teaching them how to evaluate their own learning process can also bridge into learning to evaluate the value and effectiveness of different sites on the web as well as their own role in that global society.

In retrospect, it all comes down to one point. In order to effectively provide students with the learning experience they will need to function in our evolving world educators are going to have to modify not only the way they instruct students but also the way they think about learning.  As stated by Mishra and Koehler (2009), “teachers who change the technology they use naturally make changes to their pedagogical approach and the content they cover to create a new “curriculum” that is also highly effective.” Become an innovator, collaborator, and metacognitive encourager in order to prepare your students for the challenges they will encounter throughout their lifetime.

References

Donovan, S., Bransford, J., & Pellegrino, J. (2000). How people learn:     Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Clinton, K., Weigel, M., & Robison, A. J. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. The MacArthur Foundation, 5-7.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2009). Too cool for school? No way!: Using the TPACK framework: You can have your hot tools and teach with them, too. Learning & Leading with Technology, 14-18.

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