DIGITAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENT AND SUPPORT FOR ADULT LEARNERS
With information technology it is possible to work and study from a distance. Today it has been widely acknowledged that learning can happen also in other places than traditional classroom. The key issue in learning is direct interaction between teachers, students and student groups - and this interaction should be powered with information technology. It is still important to keep in mind that even more important than technology is the question of pedagogical changes in digital learning environments.
The pedagogical goals in traditional and digital learning environments are the same, but the range of pedagogical and didactical possibilities is different. Empirical experiences reveal that development of digital learning environments makes it possible to rethink the roles of students and teachers. In many cases the result has been a change from lecturing towards tutoring and mentoring, and the students have adopted a far more active role as learners. Ideally, when technology is involved in learning the goal should be that the learning experience would be better than in traditional education.
It is important to notice that technology - and the learning environment - should adapt to different learners and learning strategies, not vice versa. In a simple environment the user can get frustrated and the motivation to use the environment falls. On the other hand, in a complex environment or in a system where navigation is not straightforward the user may be lost and confused. In real life one learner will find the environment easy to use whereas other considers it difficult to use. Therefore adapting the learning environment to learners with different skills may be one of the greatest challenges (Raskin, 2000, 68-70).
For lecturers adaptation involves more than changing course material to digital format. Information technology makes it possible to stay in touch with students anywhere and anytime, it offers more than tools for writing or sending email. However, the pedagogical aspects may remain unchanged, and placing course material into the web is often considered as the most important issue in creating a digital learning environment
The role of information technology is critical in digital learning environments. Ideally, most of the teaching material is in digital format for easy access. Also discussion and feedback between teachers and students relies on telecommunications. When information technology and networks have such a central role in the learning process, skills in using IT are becoming increasingly critical. If students are not familiar with technology, it may be overwhelming to manage the environment. On the other hand, also teachers have to master technology and understand the limitations of the infrastructure. Consequently, the role of students and teachers is changing in digital learning environments.
Digital learning environments can diversify the student body and contribute to expanding the learning experience for all people who are involved in the learning process. Developers of digital learning environment should focus how the user manages technology that is constantly changing and requires the user to learn new technical skills in order to work with technology. The environment needs to be as easy to navigate as possible, and it should address the needs of differently skilled users and their learning styles. Whereas lecturers are concerned the pedagogical opportunities and challenges that IT presents need to be explored.