Not long ago education technology just meant computer labs and pixelated word processing programs. Then, something of a technology renaissance occurred across all verticals, including education, and suddenly markets were saturated with different learning tools and programs claiming all sorts of miraculous results. But not all learning tools were created equal. Many programs suffered from flawed designs, and to the chagrin of educators and students everywhere, none of them could perform miracles.
Even so, since its inception, technology-enabled learning has made clear advances in the ways in which information is both presented and assimilated. But there’s more to implementing learning technology than plugging traditional classroom practices into a digital platform; that would merely be digitizing content.
For technology-enabled learning to truly improve the educational experience, it must be designed not around the learning material, but around the ways in which people learn. Only those systems whose instructional designs pay particular attention to the science of learning — and specifically, those designed to collect and analyze meaningful data — offer teachers, administrators, and students an enhanced learning environment where learning, not technology, is the focus.
Instructional design isn’t a new concept. Educators have always had to create and adjust lesson plans to meet the needs of their students. The trouble is that when you have a lecture hall with hundreds of students, it can take weeks or longer for an instructor to identify those who aren’t engaged. Even in classrooms of ten or twenty students, by the time an instructor realizes someone isn’t up to speed, it’s often too late. Adaptive learning systems are designed to capture real-time data that can then be analyzed to understand which students require the most attention and which parts of any given curriculum need to be adjusted.
The result is teachers who are better equipped to identify gaps in the educational process, students who receive an education more tailored to their learning needs, and more meaningful, engaging time in the classroom. All of these advancements, however, rely on thoughtful and detailed instructional design.
For instructional design to be effective, elearning platforms must be able to collect data that’s more meaningful than just summative test scores. Technology-enabled learning must be able to connect student assessments to learning objectives so that instructors can identify gaps between the two. Once instructors understand how their students are performing against learning objectives, they can then make adjustments to curricula that will improve learning in and out of the classroom, for both current and future students. Adjustments might be as simple as giving certain students more individual attention, or as complicated as changing the layout or presentation of a lesson or reevaluating the resources used to make a curriculum accessible to students in the first place.
Metrics that measure engagement across multiple presentation formats have an advantage over systems that don’t capture this information. For example, a text-based system in a science class might yield suboptimal engagement whereas a system heavy on visual learning may see more engagement, suggesting that the better version of the system for that class is the second. With these types of metrics, designers can continually improve the courseware, which should then give way to improved learning, and the cycle continues.
Instructional designers work with faculty to resolve any issues there might be from a user experience standpoint. This collaborative approach ensures that the practice of teaching isn’t disconnected from the software content and capabilities, and it also creates a more cohesive environment for all education professionals to work together toward the common goal of student success.
The instructional design of technology-enabled learning systems is vital in determining both curriculum and student success. When the science of learning is at the core of technology-enabled systems, the result is a more tailored educational experience that enables instructors to better understand their students’ needs, which means more of those students tossing graduation caps into the air each spring.
J.G.C. Wise is a freelance writer specializing in higher education and healthcare practices.