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Effects of learning technology on the role of the teacher

Adrian Longstaff, Institute for Learning and Research Technology, University of Bristol

The challenges

Collins (1991) believes that increased use of learning technology will produce a number of changes in the way that teachers work. These changes will place greater emphasis on student activity rather than teacher activity. If these challenges are met ahead of time, they will enhance the ability of teachers to contribute to increasingly effective and student-centred learning.

Attention to individuals and small groups

Access for students to well-designed CAL material and networked resources will lessen the need for the teacher to present or provide information. This in turn will give the teacher more time to spend with individuals and groups. The teacher will be able to diagnose individual learning problems and help students with their solution. This in turn will allow the balance of teaching to shift from direction towards facilitation.

Non-uniform progression

This freedom of teachers to interact with individuals and small groups will also shift the balance of teaching from time spent with the whole class to time spent with small groups. This in turn will free classes from the need to progress at a uniform rate. Another effect flowing from this increased contact with individual understandings and mis-understandings and the reduction of the need for uniformity will be the aiming of instruction at specific groups. The teacher will spend more time with those with most need, shifting the work towards the weaker students.

Individual need and attainment

Once a class does not need to move at a uniform pace, students will learn different things as opposed to all learning the same thing. Students will learn what they need and want. The teacher will then be able to recognise individuality and individual need as well as accepting and rewarding individual attainment.

Passivity to activity

Because most forms of learning technology involve interactivity, well-designed materials engage the majority of students for the majority of the time. This active engagement is sharply different to current classes which go on whether students are engaged or not, the majority of students being passive in a lecture-type situation.

Shifts in assessment

Students trained in information retrieval and with more individual attention can be assessed by products and progress as opposed to examination. Students can engage in more creative projects with more realistic tasks in the generalisation of learning and its application to new situations. They are less likely to paraphrase books or lectures.

From competition to collaboration

This shift away from dissemination towards small group learning should in turn encourage a move from competition to cooperation. Access to extensive learning resources from networked databases encourages a collaborative approach. New ways of assessing truly collaborative work will have to be developed.

From verbal thinking to integrated visual/verbal thinking

Today's students have more experience of video than print, while most instruction is still mainly print-based. There is a need for a better understanding of visual literacy and a need to evaluate the necessity for visual knowledge and skills in modern society.

How will we help our students to progress towards these goals?

Hopefully the changes suggested above will liberate the teacher from the role of content provider and will enable him or her to become a truly flexible learning facilitator.


Collins, A. The role of computer technology in restructuring schools. Phi Delta Kappan. 1991, 73(1), 28-36.

 McKeachie, W.J. Teaching Tips, Ninth Ed. 1994, D.C. Heath and Co, Lexington, MA.

Dr Adrian Longstaffe
Institute for Learning and Research Technology
University of Bristol

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