Can digital technologies be of, for and as learning?

Many higher education providers are currently casting their educational strategies and resources toward the return to more in person teaching supported by the use of digital technology. The near future is about delivering digitally enhanced learning, teaching and assessment where online learning and digital tools support the best in person teaching experiences. Universities UK recent blog summarised this succinctly.

As educational developers we work with teaching staff (often alongside learning technologists) to develop staff’ digital capabilities, to offer curriculum design consultancy, and to inform institutional debates about the critical digital skills that students need to develop. In this blog I’m suggesting that these three areas of activity could be construed as the use of digital technologies ‘of, for and as learning’ and that could be a useful construct for developers to consider their activity in this important area of work.

The focus on of, for and as learning is not new. It is used commonly when talking about assessment. So, what is digital technology of, for and as learning and why might it be a useful way of framing the work of educational developers in supporting digital technology uses in higher education?

Digital technology of learning can be envisaged as the available digital tools and environments for teaching. It includes the centrally managed and maintained resources, like the virtual learning environment and the online classroom, as well as specialist software and hardware used by subject areas – for example VR in the digital humanities and simulation tools in healthcare professions. Educational developers and learning technologists play an important role when they support teaching staff to develop their digital capabilities and to become confident and open to test and evaluate new tools or features. They also support university managers and leaders to make decisions about which digital tools to purchase or adopt.

Digital technology for learning is the relationship between digital teaching tools and course design. Curriculum and learning design, led by educational developers and learning technologists, is an area of increasing focus and growth in institutions. Working with programme teams, students and other stakeholders, educational developers need to be adept at facilitating conversations that consider the affordances of the digital tools and relate those to the curriculum purposes (exemplified by universities’ strategies and curriculum frameworks) and the mode of study (in person, online or blended).

Finally, there is digital technology as learning. Here, in designing courses for learners, explicit attention is focused on developing students’ digital competencies. Digital technology as learning ensures teaching staff, and other curriculum designers articulate how the digital tools and the ways they are used inform students’ personal growth and professional development as current and future critical users of digital technology. The intention is to develop digitally confident graduates, citizens, employees and entrepreneurs who are willing and equipped to critique and further develop digital practice for the future.

Educational developers are in the thick of the action working alongside others to enable individual staff capability, course design and to set student learning priorities. As we all adjust to the expectation of digital capability and digital fluency underpinning the working lives of higher education staff and the study experiences of students, focusing on digital technology of, for and as learning could be a useful framework to differentiate the areas of our activity.

I’d love to hear from any readers about whether this resonates with you.

Jackie Potter is Dean of Academic Innovation at the University of Chester and Professor of Higher Education Learning and Development. She is the current Chair of the Heads of Educational Development and a member of the Staff and Educational Development Association.
@Jac_Potter @uochester @HEDG_UK @SEDA_UK_
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