7 Digitally-Enabled Learning Techniques Scrutinized and Categorized

Technology in the handsIndustry terms come and go. New terms crop up, while other terms disappear. Sometimes terms remain, but their meaning changes over time. The online training industry is no exception, and if you don’t use the “right” or “latest” term, others may not see you as an industry expert.

One such interesting term is “digitally-enabled learning”, or learning that is enabled through digital media, tools or technology. The term is interesting because it implies, to me, that the learning in question requires technology, or can only be enabled with the aid of technology. A similar term that is sometimes used interchangeably with “digitally-enabled learning” is “digitally-enhanced learning”. (After writing this article, I realize that I have used these terms interchangeably, when perhaps I should have not done so.) The latter term implies, to me, any learning that can take place with or without technology, but is enhanced with the use of technology.

Inspired by the article How Digitally Enabled Educators are Using Technology and What They Want to Learn More About, I took a more critical look at some commonly used terms and attempted to make a judgment on whether the technique described by the term enabled or enhanced learning through the use of technology.

In that article, respondents were asked, “What ways do you like to use technology to enable teaching and learning?” Strictly speaking, the respondents were referring to technology and learning in schools. Yet, the survey results could also apply to ways that learning professional use technology for workplace learning.

The top five responses:

  • Better Engage Students: 72%
  • Communication (web pages, portals, email, etc.): 62%
  • Collaborative Activities: 59%
  • Letting Students Create Content: 58%
  • Teaching Specific Technology Skills: 57%

Here are seven learning techniques/terms defined, a discussion on whether each term supports one of the five teaching/learning goals above, and a personal verdict on whether the technique/term can be categorized as “digitally-enabled learning”, “digitally-enhanced learning”, or something else.

BYOD, and BYOx, and …

“BYOD” stands for “Bring Your Own Device”, or buy your own personal desktop, laptop, Smartphone or other device and use it at work or at school. According to the New Media Consortium’s 2015 Horizon Report, BYOD is an emerging technology trend that is expected to take hold in higher education over the next year (by the end of 2015).

“BYOL” is sometimes mentioned in the context of BYOD. BYOL has two separate meanings: “Bring Your Own Laptop” (a subset of BYOD) or “Bring Your Own Learning” (which involves asking each learner to bring their personal knowledge into the traditional training setting).

Related to BYOD is “1:1”. The latter is the opposite device provisioning strategy as BYOD in that in 1:1 situations the organization purchases and provides devices to their employees and (sometimes) bans the use of the personal devices. In 1:1 strategies, the organization owns the device and all associated content and requires the device to be returned upon termination of employment. (See BYOD vs. 1:1 Debate Creates Opportunities for the Device-Agnostic Designer.)

A term more closely related to 1:1 than BYOD, in the context of schools, is “digital leap”. Taking a digital leap means “providing technology-based learning environments for all children, regardless of the schools they attend.

Verdict: Though none of the terms above are learning techniques per se, a device provisioning strategy must be determined before an organization can effectively and thoughtfully provide digitally-enabled or digitally-enhanced learning solutions.

Performance Support

Performance support is a method for supporting a learner’s performance on the job and at the moment of need. At the moment when the learner is about to perform a task on the job (not during a training exercise), a performance support system provides the needed information or coaching on the spot. For example, a mobile device could be accessed to give step-by-step instructions (in text or video format, perhaps) on how to perform a task in the field. Or, an expert could be called via video conference for consultation while performing a complex procedure.

The primary goals of performance support are to better engage learners and to teach specific skills.

Verdict: Performance support is digitally-enhanced learning. Performance support could be low-tech (the learner could bring handwritten notes or a paper-based job aid to the job site for reference) or high-tech, as described above. However, performance support systems can be broader-reaching and more comprehensive through the use of technology, particularly mobile devices and mLearning.

Microlearning

Microlearning  involves dissecting learning into “microscopic” learning bursts (typically 2-10 minutes each). Supporters say microlearning matches human brain processing capabilities, combating learner boredom, disengagement, and poor retention.

The primary goals of microlearning are to better engage learners and to teach specific skills.

Verdict: Microlearning is digitally-enhanced learning. Microlearning boils down to presenting information in small chunks, no matter if that information is presented via a short face-to-face lecture, a small reading assignment from a textbook, an online video, or microblogging.

Gamification

Gamification is a hotly contested learning technique, mainly because there is such a wide disparity in the definition of the term. In a broad sense, gamification is the integration of game elements and game design techniques in a non-game context (in this case, in the context of learning). However, some people think of gamification in terms of simple games (e.g., earning badges, points and prizes) while others see gamification as true gaming (i.e., fully immersive real-life simulations). In the learning and development field, there has been a lot of criticism of gamification in terms of badges, points, rewards and leader boards, which many people find “gimmicky”.

The primary goals of gamification are to better engage learners, collaborative activities and to let learners create content.

Verdict: Gamification is digitally-enhanced learning. Games certainly existed before computers, tablets, and other electronic devices.

Flipped Classroom

Traditionally, students attend lectures in class. Then, they leave the classroom and do homework (e.g., solve problems, write essays, attend study groups, etc.). Flip this model, and you have students watching lectures, reading text, and learning content (typically all online) on their won. And then students attend class and solve problems, write essays, and gain practical knowledge with the teacher in the classroom. The teacher flips her role from lecturer to partner/coach/tutor/guide.

According to the New Media Consortium's 2015 Horizon Report, the flipped classroom, along with BYOD, is an emerging technology trend that is expected to take hold in higher education over the next year (by the end of 2015).

The primary goals of the flipped classroom are to better engage learners and to promote collaboration.

Verdict: The technique of flipping the classroom is a digitally-enhanced learning technique. There are ways to flip the traditional classroom without using technology at all (just send the text-based assignments/reading home with the student to complete before class, and then discuss as a group in class.) However, clearly, using technology (like video, chats, discussion boards) to enhance the lecture experience before classroom discussion can enhance the learning experience. (See the examples at the end of the article in  What Does Mobile Learning Look Like?)

On-Demand Training

On-demand training is training that can be accessed by the learner at will—anytime, anywhere. Typically, that means that the full training experience can be accessed on a computer/laptop (online or via disk) or mobile device.

The primary goal of on-demand training is to better engage the learner.

Verdict: Clearly, technology does not need to be used for a student to learn on demand: he or she can simply learn from a textbook. However, for this term, I would argue that on-demand training is digitally-enabled training, or training that requires technology, as the non-technology-based option is very limited.

Adaptive Learning

Adaptive learning is a technique that allows for personalization of learning by “adapting” learning material to individual learning needs. The term was first conceived as an edTech term in which the adaptation is specifically facilitated by computers. However, some people argue that teachers have always manually adapted to each student’s needs through assessments, and then by assigning differentiated homework and assignments.

The primary goals of adaptive learning are to better engage students and to teach specific skills.

Verdict: A case could be made either way—that adaptive learning is “digitally-enabled learning” (because you need a computer or device for each learner to receive a truly personalized and fully-adapted learning experience) or “digitally-enhanced learning” (because technology is not strictly required to employ this technique). However, I lean toward placing adaptive learning in the “digitally-enabled learning” technique camp. If you take into consideration large and geographically-dispersed learner groups, it is often very challenging for one teacher (or coach or facilitator) to effectively personalize the learning experience on an learner-by-learner level without the use of technology.

What’s Your Verdict?

Given the seven terms reviewed, scrutinized and categorized in this article, what are your thoughts? Do the techniques covered fall into the category of “digitally-enabled learning” or “digitally-enhanced learning”? And, taking a higher level look, do your personal definitions of “digitally-enabled learning” and “digitally-enhanced learning” roughly coincide with mine?

Gauri Reyes is a talent developer and learning leader with extensive experience in roles ranging from software management to managing the learning function in organizations. She is Principal Learning Strategist and CEO at Triple Point Advisors and Founder of the YOUth LEAD program. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.

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