Educational Software – a New Learning Way
Certainly we are aware that digital technology has influenced educational activities in the XXI century. There are specific computer software designed to teach or to help self-learning. Today they are referred as “educational software”. Did learning activities improve since we started using this tool in various educational environments? How does this affect our learning style? There is a big dilemma about the extent at which institutions and organizations should incorporate software in the learning process. This is exactly why we chose to bring on the table this subject.
The Initial Intention
At the beginning it was all about a new way of delivering content. As PCs became more affordable, delivering course materials on CD-ROMs was a very practical method of distribution. Reference software (electronic encyclopedias and dictionaries) began to spread. Next, the idea of testing knowledge and skills in a comfortable, quick and paperless way propelled the evolution of assessment softwares. As information technology has made huge steps in the last decades, there was a time for classroom aid software to develop.
Gradually, from the genuine intention of delivering content at its best, we found ourselves in the middle of complex virtual learning environments. Some projects are designed to respond to real needs, while others tend to be more imaginative and strive to revolutionize the learning process.
What Must Be Considered in the Equation?
While debating the educational software’s role, we found out that each of us was looking at it from a different perspective. A student preparing for an exam would probably fill in tests on a laptop in his room or in the library. A young doctor would probably try a body investigation assisted by simulation software and his professor. A teacher would deliver a course in the classroom via a main screen and a desktop network deployed in the room. A pilot would practice movements and how to master airplane controls on a complex simulator with customized software and hardware. Three elements dominate the realm of educational software: the place, the software and the individual. What about the mediator between the three components?
Yes, the roles have been redefined. One of the most attractive promises of educational software is that it can support autodidacticism. In order to achieve that, the person willing to learn by himself should have appropriate computer knowledge and a good sense of own-time management. But can the autodidact take advantage of the benefits that a live instructor, a teacher or a professor delivers?
Some would argue that performant software will deliver feedback by assessing your own performance and may have incorporated some recommendations. To some extent that is usefull, but we must admit that the answer to our question above is: No. The amount of information you can receive from a person observing and assisting you during certain phases of the learning process is unpredictable.
This is where many incipient educational software systems have failed. The attempt to introduce the digital technology into educational institutions and corporate learning centers disregarded the need of appropriate training for teachers, instructors and other facilitators. Profound knowledge of hardware, high level use of software compiled with excellent mastership of teaching methods are now appreciated and mandatory.
Better or Different?
In the learning process we are all simple students. Can we really improve it by using a tool like educational software? Recent reasearches strive to evaluate the impact of the digital technology on our way of learning. As results are still intermediary, what has been noticed is a morphose of the interactions between people and software, between people themselves and between people and environments.
The latest virtual reality tools, 3D systems and simulations bring a huge step in the skills development process. Yet, is it beneficial to plunge children into specific software tools since their early pupil state? At the moment, we are still facing a profound generation gap: today’s children grow with
internet at hand, social networks by default and a hyperconnected world. Different approaches towards the ingestion of current educational software reveal different opinions and real issues that education is facing.
A common fact is also that computer softwares designed for education have continuously been improved. Previous negative or less satisfactory experiences cannot stop researchers and supporters pursuing their work. Often expectations must
be flattened and adjusted to the conditions de facto.
The wide spectrum of learning tools that are available now, leads us to suggest that educational software provides a different way of learning. It can be better when used in accordance to the context and the individual.
Being a different type of education tool, educational software are tailored for specific areas. There are software designed to help you learn anatomy; others designed to help you learn geography, history, astronomy, literature, art and culture; there are customized softwares for helpinh you gain music or graphic skills and knowledge.
A booming segment is the “edutainment” field – in other words “educational entertainment”, “serious gaming” or any entertainment designed to educate and to amuse. Educational content is presented in an embellished and more polished manner. Interactivity is stimulated by the principle of having fun while learning.
Accessing remote audience and isolated groups has also grown into the online learning methods or e-learning. Courses, tests, simulations are being delivered slice by slice to the student. This way, pre-scheduled learning programmes may be set, helping users to avoid being overloaded or too lazy.
Probably one of the greatest shifts that the education environment had to make is to prepare systems compliant with tomorrow needs. Consistent research is being led in order to set the appropriate systems and equipment. But the gap between the pace of software developments and the rate at which institution and organizations can gear their learning centers is quite large.
“What to choose? What to buy? When to invest?”. Again, the role of the Chief Information Officer in educational institutions will take a great part. Introducing recent technologies and preparing the necessary equipment will be crucial for their attractiveness and preparedness for embracing the new generation.
The responsibility of the future generation belongs to everybody. Educational software developers and institutions must involve visionnaires in this process as they are able to depict future possibilities. Different education will lead to different situations that will evolve into different interactions. (D.C.)