Rich Halverson, co-author of Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology and prof at UW-Madison, kicked off the SREB EdTech meeting in Atlanta today with a provocative discussion about the difference between technology for learning (testing and data systems) and technology for learners (phone, twitter, facebook, games).

“The new digital divide is now one of use not access,” said Halverson.  He explained that with plummeting cost of devices and expanded access to the internet via game consoles and phones, the real divide is between people that use technology to amplify learning and those that don’t.

He laments the fact that communications and IT are transforming learning but few are transforming education, and many are barred from schools.  Rich would like to see students help schools organize digital learning environments.

Halverson said the promise of digital tech alive in the 1990s with $8b federal investment (in 1998, spending on edtech was 2.7% of total).  However, NCLB driven accountability, Halverson suggests, shifted the tech focus from learning to administrating and that the focus on “What Works” promoted conservative approaches to instruction—both had the effect of shifting attention and co-opted the tech infrastructure assembled in the 90s.

He makes an interesting argument.  Disaggregated data isn’t antithetical to innovation, but migrating out of the land of data poverty clearly shifted the focus away from instructional technology.

Halverson juxtaposes tech for leanring (in school) to tech for learners (out of school):

Learning:                         Learners:

Reliability                            Emergence

Efficiency                             Engagement

Virtual schools                   Virtual games

Measurement                       Interaction


Here’s Rich’s punch line: technologies for learners do not fit easily into school learning environments.  He points to ‘participatory cultures (Henry Jenkins, 2006) as an example of what schools should be aiming for:

  • Authentic audience
  • Access to mentoring
  • Knowledge building communities
  • Quality contributions matter
  • Scaffolded participation

Rich sees the shifting focus of the youth culture from consumption to production as positive and uses this Karen Lum video as an example of English Language Arts as production.  He also points to fan fiction and fantasy sports as participatory communities that could be co-opted for learning.

Halverson’s book, Rethinking Education, was a useful source while writing Getting Smart, but Rich has moved well beyond it with some productive new thinking.  Halverson pines for the authentic avenues for multi-age collaboration common in early 20th century schools.  He suggests that cloud computing and social learning can create a new version of engaging and collaborative learning for the 21st century.

To learn more, read How Technology Has (and Has Not) Changed Teaching and Learning in Schools, a journal article where Halverson and Annette Smith concludes:

Communication technologies will also continue to spark new learning opportunities—some of which will align with school priorities,
and some of which will flourish outside of school. Instead of opposing in-school and out-of-school learning, the advent of new learning technologies describes a pluralistic world in which out-of-school learning can
complement in-school education.











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Tom Vander Ark is author of Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, The Power of Place, Better Together, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and serves on the boards of Education Board Partners, 4.0 Schools, Digital Learning Institute, Latinx Education Collaborative, Mastery Transcript Consortium and eduInnovation. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.


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