Three Purposes for Technology in Education

Good learning design is about working backward from whatever outcome you’re trying to achieve.

It’s much like taking a road trip. You know your starting point. That’s where you are now (Point A). You also know where you want to go (Point B). Your task, then, is to plot a route that will take you from where you are (Point A) to where you want to go (Point B).

If I decide to design a course, for example, I begin by asking myself  “What do I want students to know or be able to demonstrate when they complete the course?” In our road trip example, this is my Point B. My next step in designing a course is to put together a scope and sequence of learning, along with learning content and the necessary checkpoints or demonstrations of learning (these let me know I haven’t detoured from my set route). The purpose of these different elements is to get me and my students to the desired destination.

This is the same process companies use when designing and launching products or that athletes use when training for an event a year or more in the future.

Designate a clear outcome and build toward it.

Define your Point B and chart a course.

What’s interesting about this process is that it allows us to discern, with little difficulty, a designer, instructor’s intent with a course or curriculum. The same is true when looking at a company or organization’s products.

Identify their stated and realized outcomes and their intent becomes transparent.

The same is true, by the way, when we talk about the reasons for using technology in education. We can find the various intents by looking at the stated and/or realized outcomes.

At a high level, there are essentially three outcomes that can be achieved through the use of technology in education.

  1. We can improve student learning performance in some way (at a high level, I am including accessibility in this category).
  2. We can lower the costs of delivering education.
  3. We can create a higher perceived value for a product and, thus, set higher prices.

Any product or organization can focus on one or two of these outcomes and work toward them. #2 and #3, of course, are incompatible.

At TEL, our focus is on #1 and #2. First, we see technology as an enabler for our vision of delivering high-quality, online courses at affordable prices. We use technology to lower our costs of content creation and production, to facilitate inexpensive distribution and customization, and to deliver proactive student instruction and support that can be scaled. Technology allows us to set a path toward making it possible for everyone in the U.S. to earn two years of college credit for under $2,000, all-inclusive.

At the same time, we also see technology as a mechanism for improving student engagement and mastery. Technology allows us to create self-paced learning environments that let students work independently, at their own pace, while remaining connected to instructional guidance and support. Technology also affords us the ability to focus course outcomes on demonstrable mastery through rubric-based evidence assignments and to track performance against stated learning outcomes. Finally, technology makes it possible to design a single product that can be delivered flexibly in many different learning environments — traditional face-to-face classrooms, blended classrooms, and online.

Rob Reynolds, Ph.D.
Executive Director, TEL Library