Flipping Technology Terminology

Recently, I was asked about the distinction between “learning from” and “learning with technology.” How are they different? Which involves higher level thinking? Which is the most desirable for students? But the more I think about the distinction between the two, the more it all breaks down, and falls apart.

Although this post is very much based in the field of education, it could apply to other areas of technology use, as well.

A popular view is that the distinction falls along the lines of consumption of information (learning from) v. creation (learning with). But if you are reading a textbook on an iPad, isn’t it more accurate to say you are learning with technology, not from it? You are using the technology to learning about the American Civil war. If you create an interactive map of military movements and important battles from the Civil War using Google Maps, you are probably learning with technology again. But through the process of learning an electronic tool, building a map, and sharing it, are you not learning from the process of using the technology?

Perhaps it falls along the lines of teacher use (learning from) v. student use (learning with). When students use Apple iMovie to create a book trailer they are certainly learning with technology (or is it from?…) When a teacher presents information with Prezi to the class, the students are most likely learning from the technology, because the visual layout may help in understanding contextual information. But if a teacher plays an audio recording of a poet reciting a poem, is anyone learning with or from technology? You can see the vicious cycle I am caught in.

Prepositions can be rather vague in the way they can slightly change meaning in different contexts. There are many different connotations associated with the two words at the heart of this discussion (from, with), and I see the terms as problematic without some redefinition.

Let’s think about “learning with technology” as always happening. Technology in personal, professional, and scholarly lives is omnipresent. The reality is that we are always learning with technology. Whether the teacher or student uses it, whether we use it for creation, collaboration, or consumption, technology is there in the room (or the cloud) with us.

Many educators and pundits believe that “learning from technology” is an inferior endeavor; learning with technology is more meaningful. But if we are always learning with technology, we need a new superior level of interaction to aspire to. Now, consider “learning from” not as from someone or something, but the meaning we use when we say “learning from an experience.” If we redefine “learning from” as reflecting on the experience of using technology, it opens a whole new set of learning opportunities. Learning a new tool is incredibly difficult for most people; it involves time, patience, troubleshooting and a whole lot of trial and error. A much-desired skill in most professional workplaces is the ability to teach yourself and be an independent learner. Reflecting on the process of working with technology, and the frustrations and problems along the way, can develop the abilities necessary for being an independent learner.

If everyone agrees that we must move toward “learning with technology,” then where do we go from there?

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