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Technology and Adult Learning: Current Perspectives

Technology and Adult Learning: Current Perspectives

Throughout the 20th century, changes in technology have had social and economic ramifications. Although each successive wave of technological innovation has created changes to which adults have had to adjust, "what perhaps differentiates earlier technological changes from today’s is the current emphasis on educational applications" (Merriam and Brockett 1997, p. 113). The most pervasive of the technologies with educational applications are the Internet and World Wide Web, but other technologies can also be used to facilitate adult learning. In considering the role of technology in adult learning, adult educators are faced with a number of challenges, including how to respond to technology and how to exploit it without diminishing the learning experience (Field 1997). The purpose of this Digest is to review some current perspectives about technology and adult learning. It begins by describing approaches for integrating technology into adult learning and then considers how technology can be used to support and expand adult learning.

Integrating Technology into Adult Learning

Ginsburg (1998) presents a helpful way to think about integrating technology into adult learning by proposing four basic approaches: technology as curriculum, delivery mechanism, complement to instruction, and instructional tool . Each approach is summarized here, including its benefits and limitations.

Technology as Curriculum

Not only can adults learn content through technology, they can also learn about technology itself (Merriam ad Brockett 1997) and develop the skills to use it competently. An example of the technology as curriculum approach is the course, "Exploring the Internet." Offered by the Georgia Center for Continuing Education, the 10-hour, noncredit evening course is designed to provide adults with the concepts and skills for using Internet applications such as e-mail and the Web (Cahoon 1998). The benefits of this approach include the opportunity to address each aspect of the technology in a clear, structured manner; little or no distraction from peripheral learning issues or goals beyond those of learning the technology; and efficiency in acquiring a discrete set of technology skills that can be applied in different settings. The major limitation of the approach is the narrow focus on the technology and the skills to use it. When technology skills are acquired in an isolated environment, they may not be easily transferred and applied by the learner in meaningful ways. In addition, if the learner lacks an opportunity for practice, the skills may deteriorate (Ginsburg 1998).

Technology as a Delivery Mechanism

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