The psychology of learning in a technological environment: disabling and enabling factors


Раскрывается проблема революционного изменения образования, основанного на влиянии технологических новшеств и развития Интернета. Рассматриваются позитивные и негативные психологические факторы этого процесса.

Общая информация

Ключевые слова: Web 2.0, education , educational psychology, barriers, teaching, transformation

Рубрика издания: Психологические проблемы образования в условиях информатизации и компьютеризации общества

Тип материала: материалы конференции

Для цитаты: Смирнова Л.М. The psychology of learning in a technological environment: disabling and enabling factors // Психология образования в XXI веке: теория и практика.

Полный текст

The Revolution in Technological Contexts for Learning. We live in the exponential times when technology becomes a force of social, educational, political, and cultural change, more importantly it creates a context for life-long learning and personal development. The function of the World Wide Web combined with easy and increasingly widespread access has emerged as a factor for new modes of learning outside the control of the educational establishment. Not only is there increased access to information, diverse facts in different fields of knowledge, but a greater likelihood that the learner will encounter discrepant positions and information that force them to think critically, creatively and collaboratively. Different points of view are encountered as diverse cultural worlds. And importantly, learners are exposed to opportunities to network and communicate and to engage in mutual learning activities and projects. These activities are under the power of the learner and by their choice and will. They open opportunities for personal and professional growth and success. Technology creates social contexts for learning acceleration. These include individual learning, group learning, social learning, lifelong learning, collaborative learning and mutual learning.

The true promise of emergent technologies, Web 2.0 tools and the move to an emerging Web 3.0 is to remove conceptual, social and spatial boundaries from learning. Both the broader social implications of this transformation, as well as the specific enhancements to given places, sectors and applications, are profound. In contrast to old technologies that fulfilled only well defined requests, the new technology is like an unleashed genie, offering truly liberated learning. This opportunity for open exploration promotes conditions for a global learning Society.

Parallel to this explosion of revolutionary technology is a revolution in the psychology of learning. It allows learners to have greater engagement and to control their own learning environments and networks. Teachers scramble to become fluent with the proliferation of novel avenues for student engagement.

The Synergy Between Constructivism and Web 2.0 Several perspectives present in American educational psychology contest foundational theories of learning, including behaviorism, cognitivism, social cognitive theory and constructivism. Of these, behaviorist theory was gained dominant influence with the focus on accountability, standardized testing, standards-based assessments and special education. However, behaviorism is incompatible with the Web 2.0 environment. Rather, it is aligned with the tech­nology of the 80s and 90s known as Web 1.0. Web 1.0 offered static and isolated environments through its characteristic tools of word processing, static web pages and other modes of one way communication. These all follow the model of the book, authored and published and then presented to the reader. The analog in education, Classroom 1.0, transmits fact-based information one way from teacher to student. Content is viewed passively.

Web 2.0 is an entirely different context. Its technology serves as an emerging application bridg­ing knowledge creation and knowledge sharing. Building on Bruner’s concept of spiral learning, where prior stages create a basis for understanding new levels, one can see that the collective accumulation of knowledge creates a positive feedback loop pushing learners to ever deeper levels (J. Bruner). Web 2.0 is anything but passive. And the learner is not isolated. The combination of active knowledge acquisition with collaborative potential of Web 2.0 environments offers a dynamic, permanently evolving, interactive web platform that gives free and open access to diverse participants.

As a result, Web 2.0 facilitates numerous outcomes that could not be attained in Web 1.0 even if they were desired. These outcomes include individual and collective productivity; creative authorship and interaction with data published on the web; multi-modal interpersonal, group and public communication; active participation; and advanced levels of collaborative learning and social networking that provides for a sense of connectedness and relationship.

There is an evident generational learning gap when we compare Web 1.0 and emerging Web 2.0 tools and services. While the emerging Web 2.0 tools remain tangential to the professional interests of Web 1.0-adapted faculty, they are immediately embraced and utilized by students. For the younger genera­tions, Web 2.0 has created a whole new universe. These changes are most evident when we examine the phenomenon of social networking.

Online communities have not only become a supplemental form of communication between people who know each other already primarily in “real life” but a primary form of communication between people who never met face to face but found each other in virtual reality. Among the tools employed separately or in combination by social software, we find text-based chat rooms and forums that use voice, video text or avatars. Significant socio-technical change may have resulted from the proliferation of such Internet-based social networks (Barzilai, 2009).

The fluidity of this communication and connection has created a different approach to globalization than the more formal mechanisms most often cited. And it is a dramatically different context than found in the classroom. On-line, working together in a free and engaged learning environment, professionals and learners simultaneously generate online materials reflecting what they have learned and show connections between their prior knowledge, the course content they offer/study, and their previous experiences. But even if it is the basis of new knowledge, the thrust of learning is not confined to these existent elements.

Socio-constructivst theories view learning as resulting from social interaction that creates a common level of meaning not previously shared. This outcome is achieved by fostering competent participation in the discourse, norms, and practices associated with particular “communities of practice” (Kuiper & Vol­man, 2008, p. 244). As we move to virtual “communities” rather than face-to-face groups, social learning is achieved by diffuse social networks rather than discrete groups. Such communities may develop and spread through social networking even absent defined group membership. The network may define the community or visa versa. Students in an on-line class exhibit group processes but also social network dy­namics. And their entry into diverse social networks on behalf of the class means that they join or at least visit extended communities as part of their learning.

In sum, Web 2.0 is the realm of social networking, an environment conducive for productive self-learning, professional communication, effective collaboration that boosts personal growth and professional development and enhances meaningful discourse and influential partnerships and opportunities for joint creativity within sophisticated pedagogical projects. These are all major characteristics of constructivism. Thus, there is synergy between Web 2.0 technologies and constructivist learning. Created with a construc­tivist premise most emergent educational technological tools promote active, engaged and collaborative learning. A natural question arises, why is integration of technology still an issue?

Technology as Barrier or Fluid Medium? Despite its unbelievable potentials, the use of electronic technology in education can ironically become an obstacle for effective learning and teaching. Drawing upon my personal experience with integrating technology into instruction, I will explore the conditions where technology facilitates and where it blocks learning and teaching.

As with others of my own generation, my own technological journey began in a Web 1.0 setting. When I came to the U.S. from Russia, I found college teaching to be challenged by my accent, my differ­ent approach to teaching and my high standards for learning. Therefore, I turned to technology as a tool for reaching out to connect with students and to make my expectations clear.

As I employed them, however, I became quickly aware of the limitations in using Web 1.0 tools. The Web CT learning Management System, for example, proved to have been designed for content storage and delivery. Embodying the behavioral approach to learning, the WebCT context allowed the instructor to control, assess and reward or punish. But it was not very useful to go past this approach.

As a result, I began to explore other tools that could help me enhance students’ engagement, col­laboration, and effective communication. Struggling with the limits of Web 1.0 programs, I used a lot of additional services and tools outside Web CT to make both students’ on-line and face-to-face learning engaged and effective. I employed such sites as Freewebs and Weebly to allow students to design their personal web sites; for writing their reflective learning logs; Yahoo groups and PBworks for group collaboration and project publishing. I used the WiZiQ free platform to arrange web conferences when I was traveling and teaching. I opened numerous accounts with Web 2.0 services to conduct surveys (All these tools are successfully integrated in some of the more recent lMS tools, for example, Moodle.

Thus, Web 2.0 technologies, constructivist by nature, are the medium for active, engaged learning in a free, liberated environment in the selected networks.

Why then is new Web 2.0 technology so often cited as a barrier in learning and teaching? Resistance to using technology is certainly part of the problem. Some explain all of the resistance found on techno­phobes or luddites. I see another at least equally operative factor in the failure of the current generation of teachers to freely adopt and use such emergent new tools: they are actually being threatened by the underlying constructivist pedagogy that gives up control over learning to the learner. Web 2.0 requires that the instructor grant to students their freedom as learners rather than dictate the student’s understand­ing. Faced with this challenge, it is easy for student and teacher alike to fall back on what they know best, an approach that is not only tried and true but that meshes well with current behavioristic demands for accountability and testing. Much as prisoners thrown into the real world who flee back to the total institu­tion, such educators fear learner guided learning and seek shelter in known seas. let’s look further at this phenomenon of educational recidivism.

Educational Recidivism as Barrier. Educational Recidivism is found across the board, bridging social learning found in civic and cultural settings to the more individual learning of teachers and students as individuals. The reasons are straight forward. By the time a prospective teacher has been “schooled” through twelve grades and a college degree, they are likely to have lost the predilection, if not the ability, to enjoy pedagogical flexibility. As teachers they are likely to replicate the elements of the total institutions in which they were schooled, in turn initiating their own students into this same social-cognitive prison.

Despite the rhetorical recognition given to the concept that there is a diverse repertoire of instruc­tional approaches each suitable to different goals, the fact remains that top down, direct, expository, behav­ioral, “banking” modes (see Friere) of instruction predominate in modern practice. Indirect, experiential, constructivist and student-centered approaches are less evident in practice. The repetition of traditional teaching practice over the average educator’s career becomes magnified into a self perpetuating culture of narrowed instructional decision.

The hegemony of direct instruction also reflects meta-learning that accompanies the planned lesson. Direct instruction allows for informational epiphany as an agent of personal growth However, it sends many meta-messages that are easily inculcated into the “take-away” even if they are not easily articulated by students or educators. Thus, in what might be termed “the Dewey Double cross,” while purporting to be a democratic society driven by the critical participation of citizens, our principle mode of instruction treats the learner as an uncritical and passive recipient of knowledge. Educational recidivism occurs despite the fact that any fully informed account of contemporary “best practices” in education would support a balance of different approaches but give preference to the indirect methods of teaching. There is ample evidence to support such a bias.

Special education and the retreat from the gifted as Barrier. Resistance that argues that the use of technology is unattainable by developmental students because of their poor abilities to read and write is another road block to implementation of Web 2.0. Furthermore, as challenges posed by “special stu­dents” have grabbed the attention of American education, the whole focus of teaching has shifted in that direction. With less and sometimes little attention being paid to gifted students, schools are abandoning the opportunity to use Web 2.0 as a learning intensifier. At the same time, gifted students are compensat­ing by self learning on the internet. Despite the latter development, this shift to “special needs” means that education is losing the chance to truly shape other factors beyond skills in accessing material (gifted students know how to do that).

The Disabling Nature of Technology: Technological blocks to using Web 2.0. My experience with the ways of encouraging faculty and teacher candidates to integrate technology in teaching and learn­ing shows that professors and some students are resistant to using technology. Overall, students are more open to the opportunities and quickly adapt to the web-based course environment than professors. What factors cause resistance?

Current professors and teachers received their education during the late Modern period when Be­haviorism has dominated. Their mode of teaching has been topic-centered rather than student-centered. They self identities are imbued with status imparted by their knowledge and scholarly achievement. They see the teacher as an expert who has facts to impart to the students; direct instruction (telling them) is the pedagogical tool of choice. Those able and willing to master technology may well be satisfied with Web

1.0 tools. Others fear the technology itself, do not invest time to explore and learn, or are unable to master the new tools and features of the Internet. Some despise this new learning arena or resent the demands it makes on them to change when they were satisfied with their pedagogy. Some fear both the challenge of acquiring such new knowledge and the possibility that their success in using it will lose the control over the learner that they have come to expect.

Circumventing Barriers and Enabling Success through experiential learning. While self learning is possible on the Internet, one of the fascinating developments there has been the development of ad hoc Virtual communities such as the Virtual learning Environments (VlE) used for professional development (PD) in recent years. Such communities are virtual (free of space and time) voluntary internet communi­ties where individuals participate with others who share common interests. Such communities provide PD workshops at different levels (beginner or advanced) on a membership basis. Relationships in such VlE can become genuinely close. In such communities, virtual interactive communications established between the members can be an important factor in personal and professional growth and development.

Interesting tendencies occur in the relationship of the school environment and teen-agers’ culture. Connected to the rise of production media (You tube, Animoto, iMovie, Voicethread, etc.) is a concomitant rise in participation (Black 2008). More than half of all teenagers have created media content, and a third who use the Internet have shared content they produced [7]. In many cases, these teens are actively involved in what Jenkins calls “participatory cultures” (David Beer, 2009). A participatory culture is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby experienced participants pass along knowledge to novices (Chandrashekar, S.; Hockema, S., 2010).

Proving Constructivism in the Web 2.0 Environment. The new Web 2.0 internet environment has totally changed the face of education, moving education from a loosely federated system of state institutions and colleges constrained by space, time and money into a knowledge-and-learning industry, supporting more students to learn in less time. There are enormous questions raised by the competitive model to traditional learning that deserve consideration. Naturally, traditional educators and institutions have reason to feel threatened. They are likely to argue that their approach to learning is better. But the jury is out on this question. Education is also changing even absent the Internet. It is no longer perceived as “one size fits all.” The recognition of divergent learning styles and abilities suggests that the Web 2.0 environment will function superbly as the primary tool for some, for example, bright students who have not fit into the limitations or cannot afford conventional education. Others will find it totally unsuitable. And others will blend institution-based education with open-source learning.

Conclusions. Teachers and students alike are trained by Web 2.0 and other technological tools to be effective lifelong learners in an evolving connected knowledge environment. The constructivist, col­laborative nature of Web 2.0 tools not only makes it possible to find global knowledge quickly, but it allows for new knowledge to be created collectively and make it global learning commons. The existence of this body of “collective intelligence” can only be accessed through participation and active learning. Thus, the truth about the psychology of learning in the 21st century is this: the boundaries between teaching and learning and between knowledge acquisition and knowledge production break down. lifelong learning in this technologically enhanced environment is enabled by the use of Web 2.0 technologies.


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Информация об авторах

Смирнова Любовь М., психолог службы «Детский телефон доверия» Центра экстренной психологической помощи МГППУ, Москва, Россия, e-mail:



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