How Can One Evaluate EdTech: A Learning Sciences Perspective

How Can One Evaluate EdTech: A Learning Sciences Perspective

A surge of Educational Technology (EdTech) offerings catering to various segments such as K-12, Higher Education and Professional Development is sweeping India.

This is fantastic news for consumers and EdTech entrepreneurs. Learners are spoilt for choice, having a vast selection of glitzy learning modules for competitive and school exams, personal enrichment, skills development and employability training.  

Learning Online is not new. A very basic form of online learning involves reproduction of printed content in digital form, interspersed with videos and quizzes. This formulaic approach arguably, underlines several Indian EdTech products, as was revealed in a supervised research project I completed recently at the University of Sydney where the report studied and evaluated Indian EdTech products for their pedagogical efficacy. While I found that several Indian EdTech products are highly subscribed, the quality of learning offered could be further improved, at least when seen from the lens of Learning Sciences

Learning Sciences is an interdisciplinary field which looks at the pedagogy behind learning and how people learn. When considering the suitability of an online learning product, one must know what to look for. The aim should be not to be to settle for glamorous EdTech but examine the quality of learning, learner interaction and the mode of instruction.

Learning science researchers have developed criteria to assess quality of e-learning, and distilled from such research, the following could provide a yardstick to asses EdTech products.

1. Is it inducing Passive learning?

Passive activities involve behavior which is receptive. It could be anywhere from merely listening or watching a lecture, video or audio. The learner, here is simply receiving information and thus such activities produce the least learning gains.

2. Is it promoting Active Learning?

Active Learning on the other hand involves focused motor movement. For instance, highlighting and/or copying selected texts. EdTech products which promote Active Learning are a step up from products which allow for only passive learning. For basic learning or assimilation of knowledge to occur active learning strategies are required.

3. Or is it Constructive in nature?

Constructive activities go beyond active, and require the learner to generate own ideas or a novel output. This novel output could be as simple as constructing a response while involving self-reflection or writing an essay in their own words through weaving together various thoughts.

4. Enabling Interactive Learning!

Interactive learning activities involve the learner to collaborate with peers to collectively produce an artefact or a product. Here, the deliverable be it vocal or written is not produced in isolation but with co-construction of knowledge from fellow mates.

Research shows that as one collectively produces knowledge, i.e. is part of activities that involve Constructive and Interactive learning higher learning gains are produced. These higher learning gains are due to the higher level of cognitive engagement with the task and with peers.

5. Consider Mode of Instruction, and

Educators are trained to teach less and elicit more, but often they fall into the trap of engaging in direct instruction and frequent prompts while inducing knowledge. A Good learning design provides learners space to explore and arrive at solutions through scaffolds rather than direct instruction.

E-learning platforms which feature space for learners to collaborate, debate and negotiate in the creation of knowledge produce higher gains. In the midst of this, the teacher’s role is of a facilitator, to help guide the discussion and collaboration amongst learners.

6. Quality of Feedback

EdTech product design ought to consider proper channels for feedback flow to learners. It should be more than simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or provision of model answers. Feedback should guide learners with scaffolds that point them in towards a solution, rather than spoon-feeding the answer.

Such Interactive and meaningful Learning experiences enhance learner capacity to assimilate, recognize and contextualize knowledge in differing contexts, especially ill-structured real-world situations.

About the Author
Nilanjana, is a learning design professional, having worked on the implementation of innovative educational & training delivery solutions in a variety of settings. She started her professional career as a school teacher teaching Chemistry and running summer science camps. Her interest in education innovation prompted her to transition from classroom teaching to learning design which took her to Australia where she read the Masters in Learning Sciences & Technology from the University of Sydney. While in Sydney, she gained valuable experience while working at OpenLearning and Pallas advanced Learning Systems, both of which are upcoming edtech startups in Australia. Currently, she is pursuing passion of creating effective learning experiences which are research informed and practically relevant. When not working, she likes to read, travel, cook and getting close to nature. You can tweet her @NilanjanaSaxena

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