As mentioned in Part 1, the National Education Technology Plan was announced in November 2010 by the U.S. Department of Education. It is a broad vision for where schools and districts can go in adopting technology for learning. In this post, we want to look more closely at three points referred to in the plan’s first goal about learning – Who needs to learn, How people learn, and What needs to be learned.
Who Needs to Learn
The NETP includes a section explaining how technology can make education more available to all citizens. The Plan suggests making learning experiences accessible to all learners through something called universal design principles. This is especially important for low-income and minority learners, for English language learners, and for learners with disabilities.
The Plan cites three Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, which are based on decades of research:
- Provide multiple and flexible methods of presentation of information and knowledge. Examples include digital books, specialized software and websites, text-to-speech applications, and screen readers.
- Provide multiple and flexible means of expression with alternatives for students to demonstrate what they have learned. Examples include online concept mapping and speech-to-text programs.
- Provide multiple and flexible means of engagement to tap into diverse learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn. Examples include choices among different scenarios or content for learning the same competency and opportunities for increased collaboration or scaffolding.
The idea is to develop technology that meets these design principles. All teachers and administrators should keep this in mind as they build the “digital environment” for their schools. Some examples mentioned include: extended hours for use of networked computers in schools, libraries, etc.; using advanced translation technology for multiple languages; and assistive technologies, such as electronic mobility switches, alternative keyboards, computer-screen enlargers, text-to-speech readers, sign language avatars, and more.
How People Learn
The Plan describes some of the latest brain science and how that applies to the use of technology in education. Three parts of the brain are seen as governing three types of learning. The posterior brain region where senses transform information into usable knowledge is focused on declarative or factual knowledge. The frontal part of the brain which deals with how things are done and performed is focused on procedural knowledge. The interior/central brain regions, which are specialized for affective and emotional learning, are focused on why things are important to us, also known as motivation.
With this understanding, then technology can be developed to enhance each type of knowledge.
- For example, for factual knowledge, schools can look for interactive visualizations of data in the sciences, or explore phenomena through simulation and modeling tools. Such ways of learning were, according to the Plan, “formerly impossible or impractical.”
- For procedural knowledge, technology could provide scaffolds to aid learning, such as interactive prompts, live or virtual modeling of strategies, interactive queries, and timely feedback on results – all available on demand and matched to learner needs. Multimedia programs can provide communication beyond the written or spoken language, and online communities can open the door to more expertise and support.
- For motivational engagement, the Plan describes how technology can be used to engage interest and attention, sustain effort and academic motivation, and develop a positive image as a lifelong learner. It allows flexibility in learning experiences to meet the needs of individual learners.
Even without technology, well-crafted lessons should utilize this knowledge of the brain. DataWORKS’ READY TO TEACH Lessons use Skill Development to work with procedural knowledge, use graphic organizers to work with declarative knowledge, and use a Relevance component to explain the importance of a lesson. The addition of advanced technology to such lessons builds on good research, and adds new dimensions to the learning.
What People Need to Learn
The Plan states that we are still evolving our understanding of what it means to be a 21st –century learner, but in the meantime, we need to use technology to be productive. The Plan references the National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS-S) developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Interestingly, the ISTE also has Technology Standards for Teachers, Administrators, and Coaches.
The Plan notes that other researchers have also developed standards, but suggests that all standards fall into three broad categories that we need proficiency in:
- Information Literacy – the ability to identify, retrieve, evaluate, and use information for a variety of purposes;
- Media Literacy – the ability to consume and understand media, as well as communicate effectively using a variety of media types; and
- Digital Citizenship – the ability to evaluate and use technologies appropriately, behave in socially acceptable ways within online communities, and develop a healthy understanding of issues surrounding online privacy and safety.
As we forge ahead with technology, the Plan notes that we can’t know everything in one lifetime, that people will change jobs throughout their lives, and that students need to know how to use the same technology that professionals use in their work. The Plan notes that this requires “adaptive learning skills” which are different from the “broad but shallow exposure that is the norm in our education system today.” This means that students need to be able to go deep into any field of knowledge and make connections across fields. This is the skill that best defines the 21st-century learner.
How we educate students – and ourselves, for that matter – with technology, for technology, and through technology will determine how American education advances or falls behind in every field of knowledge. That’s why this Plan is an important blueprint for individual, school, and national growth.
In future posts, we’ll look at the big ideas in each of the other goals of this comprehensive plan.