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Technologies from Classroom to e-learning

By Alison Carr-Chellman / November 2015

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It is often the case that we see exciting new dimensions of learning unlocked through the adoption of significant technology into classrooms. The history of educational technology, however, is littered with hopes and dreams that this time the new technology will revolutionize learning in classrooms. However, we continue to see more and more the daily intractable nature of the culture of classrooms (See Seymour Sarason's The Culture of School and the Problem of Change). There are still classrooms organized mostly in rows of kids, facing front, and listening to a teacher talk to them for more of the day than any of us care to admit. Our methods of education from 100 years ago have barely been touched by the promise of programmed learning, movies, video, television, computers, the Internet, smart boards, and almost any other list of technological innovations that one can iterate. Sorry to be dismal, but the reality is classroom culture has largely not been impacted by the technological revolution that has completely revolutionized business, transportation, health care, and many other social systems.

There is but one possible exception—online learning. This one exception has the potential to change the model. Classrooms have tried, with varying successes, to create more user-centered models of learning, to focus on the learner, to empower and engage, and otherwise better meet the needs of each learner. Online learning, whether it is in K-12 or higher education, has shaken the foundation of the classroom culture—is the classroom even present? And yet, despite this fact, most educational technologies continue to be designed and targeted at traditional classrooms. This design process will create a never-ending cycle in which the technology is adopted in traditional classrooms where the culture tries to reject the technology itself in order to maintain a traditional inertia. A classic example is the SMART board. A very useful tool when employed in powerful ways within classrooms. But too often the technology has been used in ways that are not challenging to the culture of the classroom, and as with so many technologies before, it has failed to really change the culture of the classroom or the school.

If we look at the latest in technologies that are designed for the traditional classroom, perhaps we can extrapolate how they could be useful to those in online settings, in disruptive ways. We might find un-mined gold in a combination of learner-centered culture with technology empowerment. This article focuses on how we could utilize the best of new technology in the online setting.

Wearable Technologies

Wearable technologies are ranging from simple pedometers to very high-end apple watches. The basic notion of wearable technologies is we can get regular, frequent, informative feedback on things like number of steps taken, nutrition, and so forth. In time, it's possible that these wearables can become significantly more useful in learning beyond merely giving voluminous feedback about health concerns (heartbeats, exercise, etc.) What if wearables were able to give us real feedback about things like learning focus, skills attainment, motivation, learning process, and even metacognition? It feels very science fiction to be suggesting such a future. If we have a tool that gets into our brains to the point of understanding how we see our own learning (metacognition) that could be a brave new world in many good and bad ways. But for the moment, let us suspend our disbelief and think about what might happen and how it could potentially impact e-learning. We have a tool, perhaps a wristwatch or cap, which gives us insight into time on task, skill development progress, and achievement. It asks for responses from the learner frequently and monitors things like eye dilation, skin temperature, heart beat etc. to help identify the proper challenge zone for learning. Such a device might find its uses in classrooms. But it would be highly useful for those who are in the isolated space of online learning. The experience of learning from online materials would be improved significantly by getting frequent feedback from the wearable that doesn't distract other learners. A wearable would likely create lots of management issues in a large class of learners, but individually, it could be used or not used as the learner saw fit. It is possible that such a wearable would significantly improve learning in an online setting particularly, if it is designed specifically for that context.


Tablet computing is everywhere, and, like phones or phablets, the mobility of these devices allows learners to access content anywhere anytime. Only 15 years ago, the notion of a learner logging in during a camping trip, or even outside without ready electrical power, was laughable. It's amazing what just a short time brings in terms of increased access to anywhere anytime computing. And with it comes anywhere anytime learning opportunities, or what's called mobile learning, or m-learning. Mobile learning on a slightly larger format, such as tablets, allows for full screen videos, easier text reading, and multiple viewable windows. The main drawback is the difficulty, for some, with inputting responses and information. Typing on tablets still hasn't reached the ease of a laptop, but I have little doubt that will be solved in the very near term. Tablets have been adopted to good effect in the traditional classroom. Although the results are mixed across academic studies, the uses of tablets remain flexible enough to either serve disruptive and student-centered pedagogical models, or to remain useful within traditional teacher centered models. When thinking about e-learning contexts, tablets, phablets, and phones allow learners more mobility but doesn't really disrupt the model used in e-learning interfaces. The main advantage here is not precisely related to the pedagogical approach that the technology affords, but rather the ability to work in more different contexts (the bus, on a hike, in a subway).

3-D Printers

3-D printers are making their way into many labs at universities, and more and more traditional schools are ponying up the funds to purchase a 3-D printer. Prices on these printers are rapidly coming down, and once they really enter the mainstream of consumer electronics, we'll see them proliferate across traditional classroom contexts as well. The uses for 3-D printers in traditional classrooms range from creating historical artifacts to printing out models of engineered or architected designs.

Offering 3-D printing in most online courses seems a bit of a mismatch. First, they are not currently available in most homes, and so they appear much more often in group settings rather than the individual settings of e-learning. Second, they create materials that are in three dimensions, which then could only be shared in two dimensions via either video or photography posted to e-learning course sites. But if we could imagine a bit more expansively, we could see the potential to create and design 3-D printers for home use that would be more useful in an e-learning setting. For example, could a 3-D home printer be used to build specific programming skills shared and then further modeled from 3-D down to 2-D for assignment mapping? Additionally, 3-D objects can be created for the purposes of running other kinds of assignments (such as experiments in a home setting). If the technology progresses appreciably, it is possible to imagine printing the materials needed for a home-based science lab for a middle or high school learner, who can then report their findings and check their results against correct results.


MUV Interactive, a company out of the Middle East has created a pretty interesting little device that will dramatically change the way that we interact with spaces on screens. The Bird allows learners to interact with screens via a small finger bound device; it is a little like a finger splint, but very high tech. The Bird is created to work with games and learning, to improve participation and social connection in classrooms with up to 10 students interacting simultaneously. The Bird has been designed for traditional classrooms, but what if we imagine it being used in online courses? If the Bird could communicate in real time across many users with shared online spaces, it would be potentially very powerful and could be disruptive in the traditional e-learning models, as well by empowering many students to interact real-time simultaneously. The device would have to be redesigned, but current research is ongoing to determine it's uses in traditional classrooms, which can be leveraged to think about engineering a new tool and interface that could prove very useful for online learning.

Games for Learning

I have been a strong advocate for games in classrooms and the uses of games to learn. The uses of game mechanics through gamification is already well in hand for e-learning contexts—where instructors are apt to use levels, points, badges, and so forth to motivate and improve online learning efficiency. But what about more immersive and engaging games? Is there a way to focus on commercial games like "Call of Duty" or "Assassin's Creed" for learning history online? Is there a way to create and design powerful applications of gaming to e-learning? I believe there is, but the pathway is not through traditional gamification, which trivializes the true power of gaming and eliminates its disruptive nature. Rather, properly designed rich narrative games that are immersive, social, and competitive offer a huge potential for dramatically increasing e-learning's effectiveness and student achievement of goals. For this to work, however, games should be not overtly educational, and should have a high-end feel to them such as musical scores and graphics that rival commercially available games.

This is Easier…

There are a number of technologies that are easily adaptable, or already being adapted, for online learning contexts. Good examples of these technologies are things like readily available video resources being designed for flipped classrooms. Although flipped classrooms are more of a traditional school innovation, and are surely disruptive to the traditional power structures in classrooms, they have been used to good effect in online learning as well. Video resources can be very well utilized in e-learning, and pointing students to already produced high-end videos that are used in traditional flipped classrooms can be very effective in online courses. Large data sets, called learning analytics, are being used to help formulate and design better learning systems in traditional and online settings. Data input for formative evaluation and subsequent improvements are easily applied to almost any learning setting. Cloud computing and online science labs are already in use in many e-learning courses. Social media and mobile computing bring the online setting into clearer focus for a generation that is tuned in to online tools like Facebook and Twitter. Applications like Smart Amp, Khan Academy, and ixl Math allow teachers, and even parents, to set up classrooms, check progress, and make assignments. This tends to be a bit more helpful when you have some level of face-to-face contact with the learner in addition to the online presence. This is in part because particularly among young children, and these applications are primarily aimed at early learning experiences, where it can be difficult to sustain the independent work.

The tools that are easily adapted are also relatively well developed. Those that were focused on in the early part of this article are still in the early stages of development and will likely see a significant application to the e-learning enterprise once their development and adoption becomes more widespread. Ultimately, thinking outside of the box to imagine ways that we could use classroom technologies in innovative ways inside of online courses is one, and perhaps the only, way we can push the boundaries of technology implementation in online settings. As we imagine these new ways to use technologies, companies will respond with new designs that work better inside of learning management systems. As people start to use new technologies in their everyday lives, we can react by seeing ways to adapt them to e-learning, and we can lead the charge by being more future-oriented and forward thinking.

About the Author

Dr. Alison A. Carr Chellman is editor-in-chief of eLearn Magazine. She has been a professor of Instructional Systems at the Pennsylvania State University for 17 years and currently serves as the Head of the Learning and Performance Systems department. She has written more than 100 articles, books, book chapters, and papers on topics related to school change with a particular emphasis on those populations who are underserved by the current system. Her recent TED Talk, Gaming to re-engage boys in learning, has brought international attention to the issues facing boys in the current educational system and ways that digital learning media may be used to highlight the mismatch between boy culture and school culture.

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  • Thu, 18 Feb 2016
    Post by Ashmita

    Technology is today's need, not only in the education sector, but every where; regarding education sector technology is not only need but necessary as education boost other areas.