Beware the Seduction of Technology

Human communication can be broadly defined as the sharing of experience or the creation of meaning between two or more people (Tubbs & Moss, 2008). Moreover, our ability to make meaning through the use of signs and symbols (images) is what makes human communication so unique. Nonverbal communication, by which more than 60% of social meaning is transmitted (Burgoon, Buller & Woodall, 1989), is essentially unspoken communication. This demands a growing pedagogy for elearning instructional designers to teach using nonverbal communication, ‘learn by doing,’ discovery learning, peer to peer learning, and ‘problem solving’ to improve the learning experience.

Learning is thus a process of creating understanding. In English in Urban Schools, Kress, Jewitt, Bourne, Franks, Hardcastle, Jones and Read (2005) define the term ‘mode’ as ‘culturally shaped resources for making meaning.’ They go on to define multimodality by the ‘presence and use of a multiplicity of modes.’ Instructional designers are motivated to use multimedia to meet the learning needs of their audience, to help the learner to access and process learning. However, it is important to ensure that ‘the means justify the end’ to avoid the seduction of technology and the use of tools simply because they exist. If not checked, this can result in the building of overly complex interventions, which add little to the process of knowledge transfer.

In the book Enterprise Games, award-winning CIO Michael Hugos describes how feedback systems and dashboards that resemble Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games such as World of Warcraft can be used to increase the corporation’s agility. He explains that the human brain is able to absorb large amounts of information through images, sounds, and colours, like the dashboards in games such as ‘World of Warcraft,’ as an alternative to written reports. Whilst impressive, it has to be asked, how many elearning programmes demand such complexity? Sure, a virtual environment will teach an engineer to turn-off a valve at a given point in a process. However, a line of text with a photograph may achieve the same knowledge transfer much more simply.

Modern society craves for entertainment, and gamification has its place as a valuable learning tool. Conversely, were gamification to be used inappropriately, it could desensitize the recipient to the reality of the subject and the consequence that may result. As I have already established, shared modes of discourse infers multiple modes of communication, which when used selectively by an instructional designer, create immediate understanding and convey long term memory transfer.

Malcolm Bland has been at the forefront of the designed and developed technology enabled solutions for more than 20 years. He is the founder of the learning solutions provider Timely Intervention Limited which provides elearning consultancy, solutions, and systems to major corporations. His client work has been acknowledged by numerous national and international awards. Connect with him on LinkedIn