Towards Well-Balanced Technology-Enhanced Learning Environments :

Preparing the Ground for Choices Ahead


Rechercher l'équilibre au sein des environnements d'apprentissage intégrant

les technologies de l'information et de la communication


Thérèse Laferrière, School of Education, Laval University &

TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence (TL-NCE)




In order to facilitate the discussion at the upcoming meeting of the Deputy Ministers of Education in Saskatoon, the CMEC Secretariat felt that the preparation of a paper dealing with the subject matter would be appropriate and I was assigned the task of preparing the present document. The Deputy Ministers are already well aware of the tremendous impact that information and communications technologies (ICTs) are having now or will undoubtedly continue to have in the field of education.

It should be emphasized that ICTs are above all considered as a means of enhancing the learning process for each individual and as a means for society as a whole, to participate fully in the new information era. Secondly, both the choice between blindly leaping ahead or waiting for more benefits to come could lead to disastrous consequences at all levels of education and of society. Thirdly, the decision to integrate ICTs (Internet connectivity, teacher education, and network development) constitutes a point of no return, one most likely to lead communities into a gradual but steady replacement of the sociotechnical infrastructure of their education systems.

The present document aims to present 1) an overview of the needs and possibilities created by the ICTs; 2) competing visions in the face of coming changes; 3) an argument regarding cost effectiveness in education: a crucial element resulting from the changes in the role of the players and use of the ICTs; and 4) suggestions for a CMEC strategy on information and communications technologies. Thus, rather than providing an exhaustive view of the problems, questions and solutions, this document highlights important issues for CMEC's decision-making process regarding its strategy on information and communications technologies.



Use will be made of the facts, trends and learned statements which prevail in answering the following three questions. What is happening on the international scene with the arrival of ICTs into the education system? What is the evidence that ICTs can support a new and improved learning paradigm? What are the potential long term goals?

1.1 What is happening on the international scene?

a) Information and communications technologies are moving in leaps and bounds

Personal computers now have the capacity to process a huge quantity of texts, sounds, images, and videos. Moreover, learners can interact with PCs (and soon, NCs [Network Computers]) in increasing and more and more captivating ways. Computers, linked to other computers (Internet and Intranets), are already modifying work practices more drastically than was done in the past by other technologies such as the copy machine and the fax. Communication through e-mail or discussion forums such as First Class are commonplace. In the last three years, the Internet has captured the imagination of more than fifty million people who are building cyberspace made up of components from an exponential number of sources. Search methodologies are being developed in order to facilitate access through on-line materials and proxies to monitor what gets into local area network (LAN). NetNanny and others are helping the care for the eyes and minds of our young people. The role of librarians is changing, as they are called upon in their daily work to make more higher-level of intervention. And now push technologies are geared up to solve the problems of those who prefer to be on the receiving end of a customized project rather than to have to deal themselves with the material coming out of the Web. showed up first, now there is a and, more recently, The prevailing climate in the inner circles is not only the knowledge that the technology is there, but now, that the attention and energy should be directed at the information society through a revamped sociotechnical infrastructure.

b) The knowledge society is on the rise.

With the world trade globalization concept prevailing, territories, provinces and countries realize that they simply cannot wait for the development of their natural and social resources. Each entity must now count more than ever on its better informed human strength for the management of its natural resources and in the participation of a well-balanced economic growth. Education supported by its new information and communications technologies, will become the tool of choice to face the problems created by the expansion of trade and the various human needs of the nation. The Delors Report published by UNESCO's International Commission on Education underlines the need for students with a strong capacity for learning assisted by the new information and communications technologies. OECD recently stressed the importance of the large non-formal sector in which individuals are undergoing on-the-job training, and of knowledge networks as key in the distribution of knowledge among different actors and institutions.

c) Individuals' higher needs and the demands of the workplace are converging.

For many years, the development of the individual has been mainly the province of European philosophers and humanistically-oriented North American psychologists and educators. As new technologies develop and expand all over the world, it follows that the demand for individuals with higher-order thinking and technical skills will increase. But the task of managing a business or any organization today is much more complex than it was in the past. One must not only manage the manufacturing of a product but must do so with the full participation of a team of human beings with family, social and cultural preoccupations that have to be taken into consideration. Since fewer people are needed on the assembly line -- the industrial model of excellence throughout the 20th century -- the talk is more toward promoting the individual's capacity for autonomy, higher-thinking, creativity, problem-solving and collaborative skills. For instance, these individuals are sought often by the revamped industry, which wants them for project-based work activities, and other highly demanding tasks and responsibilities. The nature of the workplace (IHAC, 1997) is changing dramatically and the opportunities for employment will be fulfilled through a great variety of disciplines. The individual is challenged to give more of him or herself -- and to face the downside of these demands.

d) Learning is becoming a moving target.

There is a strong demand for upgrading human knowledge and skills: young people should learn computer and information-gathering and higher-order thinking skills; they also should learn to develop cooperative skills and how to become a lifelong learner. A number of pan-Canadian initiatives aim at accelerating our passage to a knowledge society: SchoolNet and Community Access Program are two Industry Canada programs, Office of Learning Technologies is HRDC's, and TL-NCE is one of Canada's networks of centres of excellence. For instance, "Working with knowledge" is a key concept applied across TL-NCE's research network. The blurring of the frontiers between school, workplace, and home is increasing.

e) Territories, provinces and countries are developing plans to introduce information and communications technologies in education.

Most countries are now engaged in the process -- even the Northern Provinces of South Africa have joined the ranks. The European Community is sending a clear message that collaboration has become a must for teachers, a gesture which parallels what the Quebec Secrétariat de l'autoroute de l'information has recently done in a document entitled Pour une école branchée. Mexico has a team of 25 persons monitoring telelearning educational activities and programs, and is considering adopting some initiatives developed in Israel. B.C.'s new Open School, a merging of the Open Learning Agency and the Ministry of Education's Education Technology Centre, is working in partnership with Mexico. Newfoundland's Stem~Net is an excellent example of the use of information and communications technologies to provide expanded education to a population spread out over a broad area.

f) Advanced countries implementing information and communications technologies are creating technology-enhanced learning activities.

An increasing number of schools and education organizations now have their own Web site and server, and are in a position to publish locally relevant information, students' creations, and educational activities. Whether for vocational/professional education or the acquisition of basic skills, partnerships are being formed in order to develop robust learning activities on the Web, that is, multimedia or technology-enhanced learning activities. Quite often, they include telecommunications companies interested in getting content into their new networks. In Vienna, musical archives are being digitalized. France, a country once in the forefront with its Minitel and with a long tradition of colonization, is involved in the planning of what they call "value-added learning activities" that could then be sold to other francophone countries. In the US, it is estimated that the "edutainment corporations" are investing 250 billion dollars in similar activities, the budget for which amounts to five times the annual education expenditures of all the Canadian provinces, including the federal government contribution. It is very unlikely that paper will be replaced in schools for at least a very long time to come, but it is tantamount to saying that the field of education now constitutes a vast multimedia potential market in a networked world.


1.2 What is the evidence that ICTs can support a new and improved learning paradigm?

ICTs not only allow classroom presentations to be enriched and communication at a distance to be greatly improved, but most importantly support hands-on learning, collaboration and improved access.

a) The call for equity of access

The meaning of the principle of equality of opportunity -- a recognized driving force behind the status of the learner, and the decision-making process of educators for more than thirty years --is now broader for those who consider access to ICTs for all registered learners of education systems. ICTs may be in the end a most effective way to deal with inequalities if ICTs can enable the distribution of content of equal pedagogical quality. But the potential is there for ICTs to increase the discrepancies of formal learning environments. Access to ICTs outside of the school environment could increase the gap between the haves and the have nots, with poorer families having to face real problems as students are encouraged to use ICTs outside the classroom or to come to university or college equipped with a laptop computer. Much attention will need to be devoted to the establishment of the key conditions to be met: connectivity, content development, and, last but certainly not least, teacher education.

b) Learners' differences are increasing.

Diversity has become a key issue for educators. The learners' age, ethnic, learning background, and now, location are more and more disparate. It is true that ICTs greatly enhance the possibilities of individualizing instruction and of organizing peer learning activities. But it is likely that the emphasis now put on lifelong learning will accentuate even more the differentiation among learning needs, and the necessity for diversifying the response to learning needs. Those who know how to obtain the information and find their way through data, how to solve problems in a collaborative fashion and how to network (networking power), are more likely to make learning (tacit and codified knowledge) part of their daily routine. Those who have a too limited access to computers, or no access, will fall behind even more. At the request of the SchoolNet Advisory Board, a group of educators dealt with these issues in their Vision Statement for the Learner in the 21st Century.

c) The empowerment of learners by computers linked to other computers.

The teacher-centered mode of teaching is a highly centralized one. Some students find it too slow, and are likely to resent more and more overtly having to adjust their learning speed to the whole class while they could access authoritative sources on the subject matter concerned through CD-ROMs and the Internet. Students want increased interaction among students, and between students and instructors (one-on-one interaction and professor/student(s) interaction lead to more group- and seminar-like and less lecture-like learning situations). Today, students' heads are filled with images, and they want both theoretical and practical knowledge (computer simulations of moral dilemmas are being developed along side of simulations of frog dissections, and visualization becomes possible). Students used to surfing the Internet for learning resources are discovering the freedom that comes with choosing information sources, communicating with others with similar interests or facing similar difficulties, and working collaboratively on projects (see the Education Network of Ontario, enoreo). Advocates of ICTs are saying that "traditional teaching" is expensive, time-consuming, and not as effective as it should be, and suggest that new models such as learner-centered delivery systems (for young people), and knowledge-on-demand (for adults) may become more cost-effective than teachers talking in front of a classroom.

d) The evolving view of learners and teachers taken from scientific research in educational psychology.

Different scientific perspectives contribute to our understanding of learning, and each is limited in terms of explaining classroom learning. Recently, the working hypothesis that there exists a continuum from various forms of information processing and cognitive constructivism through to social constructivism and on to sociocultural approaches to learning, was investigated in a special issue of Educational Psychologist. Considering the source, the underlying assumptions that differentiate the approaches, and the likelihood of conveying the value judgment that one end of the continuum is better, the resulting order roughly approximated the moment when the various approaches began to influence the field of educational psychology.

Mayer's research (1996) points to three metaphors on which the theories of learning and instruction have been based during this century: learning as response strengthening (1900s-1950s), learning as information processing (1960s-1970s), and learning as knowledge constructing (1980s-1990s). During the first era, the research base was lab animals working on artificial tasks; the second era involved humans working on artificial tasks, and the last one, humans working on realistic tasks.

As a result, classroom learning researchers have successively stressed the role of the teacher as 1) a dispenser of rewards and punishments; 2) a dispenser of information; 3) a guide for exploring academic tasks. Concurrently, the role of the learner was seen as 1) a recipient of rewards and punishments; 2) a recipient of information; 3) a sense-maker. And corresponding instructional methods emphasized 1) drill and practice on basic skills; 2) textbooks and lecturing; 3) discussions, guided discovery, supervised participation in academic tasks.

This general trend, however, does not negate other educational psychologists' call, in their seminal works, for other ways of investigation (e.g. Binet, Dewey, Freinet, Montessori, Rogers). Nor does it account for other research perspectives emerging from sociology, philosophy, history, etc. But it captures in a nutshell what most teachers were taught as scientific knowledge. Needless to say, today's educational psychology courses are richer than ever. Moreover, cross-fertilization among the approaches has, for instance, led to a more inclusive view of information processing, one that includes the activities of processing (information) as well as constructing (knowledge). And one that may see, for instance, the learner as performing a series of discrete mental operations on input information and storing the input or as actively selecting, organizing, and integrating incoming experience with existing knowledge.

e) Advances in cognitive science and technology create the conditions of an educational paradigm shift.

The persistent demand to explain learning in real settings has been met by researchers applying constructivist theories. For most educational and cognitive psychologists, all meaningful learning is a form of active knowledge construction. A clear indication of this tendency is the recent American Psychological Association's publication of Learner-centered psychological principles, in collaboration with the Mid-continent Regional Educational Laboratory (McREL) in the US. As computers multiply the possibilities for individualized, hands-on, collaborative learning and networking, the laws and most compelling educational principles first uncovered by Thorndike (the law of effect and the law of exercise), Dewey (learning from doing), Piaget (knowledge construction), Vygotsky (learning as a socio-interactive process), and Bruner (learning on time) can be applied on a much wider range. (See Grégoire, Bracewell & Laferrière,1996.)



The impact of the arrival of ICTs is rather obvious and it is hardly surprising to see that it constitutes a very disturbing element in the education world. The administration and teaching professions have in the past faced -- and with great success -- similar forces of profound change in society.

However, educators may have in mind the perennial character of the formal education situation, and be reminded of the formal educational motto: "someone teaching something to someone in a given context." Deeply entrenched in people's minds, that teaching-learning format has proven over and over again its worth to society. Varieties of that basic format, of course, do exist, and informal learning is now being given more recognition. That basic format has served education, but it is associated to competition among learners, and with social selection. Now that school failure is found to be an impediment to society as a whole and that teamwork skills are being promoted, how many more educators are ready to give up some control and to promote the value of "someone learning something with someone in a given context"?

Few will consider standing still in front of the monumental opening in the field of information, communications, and collaboration. Just like with the introduction of printing, society is now in a position to take another giant leap forward. The challenge to humanity is immense and the inevitable disturbance that will be brought with it has to be met with a mixture of dynamism and caution.

By far, the most critical element here is the recognition that educators use different lenses when looking at the performance and potential of ICTs in their field. Education leaders must work with competing views as they proceed. Let's see now how the ICTs wave is perceived primarily in the education field and in society at large and let's take a reading on the characteristics of each group:

Each of these competing views brings an important contribution to the understanding of the problems and challenges faced by the world of education today. To listen to some voices while ignoring others is ill-advised. Though clinging to the technology of the industrial era for the management of education may be more risky than replacing it, to ignore the concerns of those offering critical points of view is also highly risky. (See Cuban, 1992? Postman, 1995; Canadian Teachers' Federation, 1997). All of those in charge, whether of the classrooms, schools, school districts, teachers' unions, homes or governments, are faced with increasingly tough decisions as regards the most thoughtful ways to respond to another victory of humans over nature -- a networked world.



If quality is to be maintained, it would be counter-productive to reduce the number of teachers. Cost-effectiveness must be considered while keeping in sight the higher demands for formal and non formal education in the information age. The text below suggests possibilities that build upon ICTs capacities : 1) ICTs can support teachers' work, and can allow for some reallocation of functions; 2) ICTs lead to substantial savings in facilities, particularly, for example, in widely distributed education systems; 3) ICTs can be of most benefit by enriching the learning process and improving access. Here are arguments, statements and questions that may serve to guide decision making.

a) Throughout history, new technologies have supported new forms of social interaction.

With the advent of agriculture, people became less nomadic, thus profoundly modifying their ways of interacting with one another. The industrial era encouraged people to live in the city. In the post-industrial era, travel became popular. In the information era, distance is even less of a problem as telepresence possibilities expand (from printed materials to phone calls, audio and videotapes, video conferencing, CU-See-Me, virtual reality). ICTs have opened many new possibilities for teaching and learning: 1) they provide direct access to information, thus reducing the need for the teacher to be a provider of information (CD-ROMs and Web sites); 2) they merge together the properties of the copy machine, the telephone, the fax and, soon, television, thus enhancing communication (e-mail, listservs, chat, discussion forums); 3) they network resources, thus supporting teamwork and collaboration. How will the imagination and expertise of conceptual designers and those of educators meet in the generation to come?

b) The role of the teacher to be revisited.

The impetus for the teacher, as a social actor, to adapt to the information society is similar to the way he or she was challenged, in the fifties, to adapt to large increases of students in high schools and, later, colleges and universities. The assembly line, the technology then available in the industrial era, was borrowed for a number of reasons, not least of which is cost effectiveness. In other words, the democratization of education has led to large high schools, and large undergraduate classrooms. The gathering of hundreds of high-school students in the same building where subject matter specialists could dispense knowledge has become common practice. The same applies at the undergraduate level, where the gathering of numerous students is the most economical way, time wise, to teach them.

The "assembly line" approach may have been appropriate when the scope of knowledge and the content to be disseminated was much smaller and easier to define. This "knowledge explosion", combined with the much-larger number of students who now complete high school and go on to postsecondary education, presents formidable problems, for the teacher, that were not present in that more "simple" earlier classroom. As results fall below social expectations, as students become more assertive with respect to getting an education and training, and as the feeling grows that students' training is inadequate, it is evident that the time has come for a change! As the ICTs progress during this information era, will the role of the teacher be dramatically transformed or elegantly restored?

c) The changing role of the teacher , and the enhancement of teachers' work.

As it has been seen in the past, the advent of printed materials has enhanced, through differentiation, the work of the teacher. An important leap in the nature of learning itself is forecast for the upcoming generations of learners. With networks and mobile access, time and space dependencies are reduced, as the above-mentioned teaching and learning activities can be transposed to other classrooms. The classroom teacher is called upon to emphasize dialogue and to de-emphasize information-giving. When spending less time "on the stage", the teacher has more time to guide "over the shoulder."

Computer interactive learning activities are found to directly engage the learner, individually or collaboratively, with the subject matter. Science educators are at the forefront of the movement by tapping into the potential of technology-based learning through the redefinition of goals, standards, methods, and activities. The Common Framework of Science Learning Outcomes, K to 12, which will be released by CMEC in October 1997, highlights the links between science and technology. How to enhance the role of governments and the civil society, besides that of the corporate world, in redesigning the work of the teacher?

d) Promoters of ICTs integration in education say that computers can bring the expert to the learner, anytime and anywhere, thus reversing the basic pattern of one teacher for many students at a given time and in one single space.

In other words, learners and teachers are invited to relate differently with the elements of time and space. Consequently, "education on demand" (at home, in the workplace, and in school) is more than simply a catchy phrase: it is a growing expectation. Learner-driven delivery systems (two-way, interactive) have begun to compete with class lectures (one-way information flow). What appears to be the blackboard of an electronic classroom can be transformed into a large screen, which allows everyone in the room to interact with people in another classroom through voice-activated camera (this is in operation in Norway, for instance). How long will it take to overcome the constraints inherent in mixing of the blackboard and the screen, in order to benefit the learner?

e) Cost-effective instructional means: a crucial factor.

Canada already spends more than $56 billion on education (Council of Ministers of Education, 1995). More than ever before, education systems are doing more with less. The integration of ICTs only increases the pressure. At the beginning of the integration process, ICTs are likely to be considered as superfluous. Teaching practices remain the same, and multi-media materials that directly support approved curriculum are sparse. In other words, ICTs are an added cost. But, the use of new technologies as a tool is already showing signs that the curriculum is changing to accommodate new social expectations. They must become an essential part of the infrastructure. It is not a question of reducing costs but of recognizing that ICTs are an essential tool to the business of education. Given the availability of ICTs and the increased demand, both quantitative and qualitative, for knowledge, which pace will education systems adopt in revising their practices?

f) Collaboration among those working in education and industry is increasing.

In the face of worldwide competition, new alliances are being built and collaborative ventures are being initiated on a local, regional, and international basis. Education institutions are faced with the challenge of becoming more flexible, they are pressured to break down the walls of the classroom, and to bridge the learning at home, at school, and at work. For instance, universities are increasingly active at the international level. Will their "monopoly" in the knowledge domain prevail? Don't the information and communications technologies exhibit the three dimensions of dispersal, decentralization, and diversity?

In the short run, the integration of ICTs in education systems is unlikely to be driven by cost-effectiveness issues. It is not unreasonable to expect a period of transition, as ICTs transform the sociotechnical infrastructure of education systems. However, cost-effectiveness issues of a different nature may push education systems to integrate ICTs more rapidly.



Under the CMEC guidance, impressive steps were taken during the last two years, laying the groundwork for choices leading to well-balanced technology-enhanced learning environments. The following activities could constitute elements of a CMEC strategy on information and communications technologies in education.

A) in the field of applied research:

A.1. Support for the Canadian Educational Research and Information System (CERIS), an important repository of the results of applied research, so that it will be in a position to update its data on a continuous basis.

A.2. CMEC could pay specific attention to developing means to increase the technology-enhanced flow of information, communication and cooperation not only towards schools but also towards the community.

A.3. CMEC could review the first version of the document entitled: Vision of the 21st Century Learner, with a view to incorporating elements of this document into its own vision.

A.4. CMEC could prepare a position paper as regards the technology-enhanced learning activities that should be encouraged and supported in Canada.

A.5. CMEC could commission a longitudinal study on the overall socio-organizational impact of the ICTs on education systems.


B) in the support of on-going projects:

B.1. CMEC could support the exchange of views between provincial and territorial experts across Canada on the use of ICTs as a tool to enhance existing and new curricula.

B.2. CMEC could collaborate in order to favour the development of learning outcomes and assessment instruments for ICTs.

3. CMEC should commission a position paper on the barriers to reaching the education clientele in remote regions and on the help that governments (federal, provincial and territorial) could bring in overcoming these barriers.


C) in drawing upon the international experience

l. CMEC could prepare a working paper on the opportunity and feasibility of organizing NetDays in each province and territory.

2. CMEC could produce a position paper examining various aspects of the effects of the enormous and constant flow of information on the world communication networks: legal issues, intellectual propriety rights, methodology as regards orderly and appropriate ways to screen the huge flow of data, etc.

3. The CMEC Secretariat should be requested to prepare a position paper as regards the opportunity for teachers to collaborate through networks.




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