How Do We Really Learn to Use Technology?

I recently facilitated a workshop that introduced participants to the basic functions of iPads. (The workshop was called “The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to iPads and we have offered it at least twice per term this year). This is the only workshop that I run that does not focus on education and pedagogy – it is purely a ‘how-to’ session aimed at people who have never touched an iDevice. Interestingly, discussion usually turns toward education and ideas for using iPads in the classroom.

Most participants in these workshops arrive with a skeptical attitude and a general reluctance to engage with, or use technology for teaching and learning. However, these workshops are characterised by excited participants exclaiming about the simplicity of the iPad and the many possibilities of use in a classroom environment. I particularly enjoy watching adults behave like 5 year olds when playing with the camera and photo booth app. It’s fantastic. All of a sudden, adults transform into fun-loving participants without fear of shame or embarrassment. This is really exciting. It’s also what is often missing when reluctant technology users undertake ICT-focused professional learning.

In the midst of this workshop I noticed one of the participants refusing to touch the iPad and focusing on writing copious amounts of notes in a possible attempt to transcribe the entire 2 hour workshop. Always curious about people’s learning styles, I approached the person and encouraged them to take the iPad in their hands and actually try doing some of the things they were writing about. Reluctantly this person briefly picked up the iPad, turned it in her hands, tried twice to swipe to unlock, and then slammed it to the desk in front of her. She then launched into a diatribe (complete with numerous f bombs) that the afternoon had been a complete waste of her time and that she had not learnt anything about iPads.

This got me thinking…

What is the best way to learn to use a technology that is new to us? Do our default learning preferences impact on our ability to engage? (Plus the obvious question – what could I have done differently so that this person could have had a more positive experience in my workshop?)

I have no doubt in my mind that the best way to learn to use any new technology is through a hands-on process. Engaging with technology is not a passive process – it is something that you have to do. New technology can be such an abstract concept for most people. In the case of iPads (or any other touch screen device), if a person has never interacted with this type of technology their only reference will be from ‘traditional computers’. The technologies are quite different so new learners do not have a valid point of reference for beginning their learning. Therefore, this participant was not going to learn by writing notes; she was essentially writing about an abstract concept without any background understanding.

People may learn (or retain information) by writing about it but this won’t happen without a concrete frame of reference when learning about technology. In other words, you have to do it to learn it.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by langwitches

In reflecting on this experience, I need also consider the person’s attitude toward learning. Reluctant users of technology often expect professional learning to be something of a magic wand – they will turn up, spend 2 hours listening and leave with newfound skills and knowledge. The participant certainly came with that mindset. There is no magic wand for any type of learning. No matter our learning preferences, in the end we need to apply ourselves and dedicate time to learning new concepts, ideas or skills. This is definitely the case for learning technology.

Whilst there is no set method for learning to use and integrate technology in education, there are some basic points to consider about learners.

  • They need to see a purpose and believe it
  • They need to have time to touch, explore and experiment in a hands-on environment.
  • An open-minded approach toward learning is necessary.
  • Fear of technologies will inhibit learning.
  • Learning takes time.

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