Technology and the Learner-Centered Learning Environment
One of the primary goals of teachers and educators is ensuring that student learning is successful. The educational system within the United States is constantly being evaluated and re-evaluated to determine what technologies and programs are best suited to enhance student achievement. In modern times technology has become synonymous with progress, change, and advancement and learning. It has become a staple in the lives of every day citizens, in classrooms and in corporations.
Technology can impact the classroom in positive ways by helping educators and teachers in creating a team oriented learning community where participants are encouraged to explore the world by capitalizing on their own unique skills, abilities and interests. Technology can also help educators and teachers assess student's learning capability, learning style and knowledge frame of reference, all critical elements of a learner-centered classroom environment. The ways that technology facilitates the learner-centered environment are explored in greater detail below.
Success Factors in the Classroom
Over the course of the last several years there have been several factors identified that favorably impact a students learning in the classroom environment. In recent years teachers have begun realizing that creation of a learner-centered classroom environment is an optimal condition for learning (Brown, 2003). A learner-centered classroom environment, unlike a content centered or teacher centered learning environment, provides a more contextually relevant classroom setting for students that are diverse and bring to the classroom multiple experiences.
Before one can describe the manner in which technology benefits the learner-centered classroom environment, one must first understand what a learner-centered environment encompasses.
The learner-centered environment involves a classroom environment that focuses and capitalizes on the unique skills, abilities, experiences and interests of individual students. The American Psychological Association created a task force that established several guidelines for creation of a learner-centered environment. They further arranged each of the learner-centered principles into four categories including: (1) cognitive and metacognitive factors; (2) motivational and affective factors; (3) developmental and social factors; and (4) individual differences factors (Brown, 2003: 99).
Each of these categories can be applied to a classroom environment utilizing information technology to enhance learning. The ways that technology can facilitate a learning centered environment with respect to each of these elements is described below.
Learner-Centered Environment and Technology
For learning to be successful a classroom must be learner rather than content centered, meaning that teachers must be sensitive to student's individual needs and consider learner related factors such as prior knowledge, talents, interests, social orientations and even diverse student cultures for learning to succeed (Brown, 2003). Once a teacher has determined each of these elements they can organize content in a manner best suited to address each element of the learner (McCombs, 2001).
A learner centered environment will naturally incorporate the use of technology because technology is an ever present aspect of the lives of most students. Most student's prior knowledge, talents and interests will involve some familiarity with the personal computer or some form of technology. Students not exposed to technology early on will have a tremendous amount of difficulty succeeding in the world later in life as more and more aspects of modern living are influenced by technological advances.
One way that teachers can utilize technology in the learner centered environment is to assess student's knowledge, talents, interests and culture via online surveys, activities and questionnaires. Assessment is a critical component of the learner-centered classroom environment (Brown, 2003). By assessing student's knowledge and skills via the web, the teacher not only acquires the information they need to establish an effective learner-centered environment, but also succeeds in exposing students to technology.
Instruction must also be provided at a developmentally appropriate age level for students to excel and succeed in the learner centered classroom (Manning & Bucher, 2000). Thus teachers must assess whether the concepts examined and skills required to complete tasks successfully match the student's abilities from a social and cognitive standpoint (Brown, 2003).
Technology allows many avenues for developing age appropriate learning material. The information provided on the internet and via computers can be as complex or as simplistic as necessary to help students learn. From the early kindergarten years children can use technology to learn about shapes, colors, language and more.
Instruction must also be geared toward many different and diverse learning styles in order to be successful, because students learn in multiple ways (Speaker, 2001; Brown, 2003). A learner centered classroom environment will focus on many different approaches and teaching methods rather than one. Sensory experiences may be combined with verbal ones to accommodate every students needs. Technology in the classroom provides the prefect opportunity to introduce several different teaching approaches.
An instructor might introduce new material via a traditional lecture or teacher led learning approach, then allows students to engage in sensory and visual learning via the web or via simple computer programs. They can apply the information learned immediately in an interactive and fun manner.
For a learner centered classroom to be successful it also must provide learning in an environment that is "contextually relevant" to student experiences and prior learning; thus a teacher should begin by presenting material that students know and then progress to the unknown, by focusing on real world examples and true to life experiences (Brown, 2003). In this type of environment it is critical that teachers provide activities that allow students to utilize new concepts and technologies in meaningful and practical ways (Brown, 2003). Critically relevant and contextually relevant in modern society naturally would indicate a need for technology supplemented learning.
It is also critical in a learner centered environment that students are provided with choices regarding assignments and the manner in which they perform and deliver assignments; this again reflects on the notion that students have many different learning styles, thus what works for one student may not be optimal for all students (Brown, 2003; Dare, 2001). In this case students may be provided the option of delivering assignments via the web or written using computer-based software programs. This is a simple and effective way to introduce technology into the classroom in a non-opposing or forceful manner. The computer can be used as one method of adapting to different learning and delivery styles.
Burns (2002) along with several other educators and researchers embarked on a recent project with K-12 educators that worked toward applying technology to the learner-centered environment. The program involved six schools defined as low performing or high risk. The instruction for these schools had primarily been teacher centered with little to no technology use. Via the use of technology however the classroom environments were transformed from 'distant' into an effective learning and collaborative environment where teachers began reporting better work from students and less disciplinary issues, thus creating a learning environment that was efficient and community oriented (Burns, 2002). The transformation was due in part to the learner centered approach as well as adoption of technology to assist with teaching and learning.
Technology can best be used in a learner centered environment if it is engaged with content directly; thus activities should be developed that focus on cultivating skills and learning concepts rather than focusing on a specific body of knowledge (Burns, 2002). Technology can be used as an educational aid or tool.
Technology can also provide a format where the community at large can participate in the growth and development process of students (Fulton, 2001). Students can now interact with people and share ideas whether in the same classroom or around the world. Students and teachers alike have the ability to "pose challenging questions to one another, point to valuable resources, and provide instant responses to questions" (Fulton, 2001). By nature the use of technology transforms the classroom into a learning community where teamwork and group participation are encouraged, a critical aspect of…