IT Literacy (Does Technology Training Work?)

I know the title sounds a little simplistic, to say the least, but it’s one of those things that’s been simmering away with me for a couple of months now and I thought I’d let it out here.

First up, I think we can probably assume that a significant part, if not the majority, of workplace training is related to technology. In my personal experience, in education you can up this to about 90% as while a range of programs may be offered the compulsory ones are pretty much always related to the new Courseware Management System, Administrative set up or ‘IT Literacy’.

I give ‘IT Literacy’ ”s because that’s where I think we’re going wrong, we refer to the ability to work with the technology available as literacy, quite rightly in my view… it’s definitely a kind of language we have to master… but we don’t treat it like that pedagogically.

There seem to be two kind of approaches, the first one goes along the line of Just In Time Training (link from What’s New), and the next is the more traditional ‘session’ (which I was reminded of by the email update of the always excellent Play for Performance which I received this morning – here are the archives).

The session, while useful in many respects for theory, engagement, inspiration and social purposes, I think doesn’t really cut it with technology. I mean, we need to be able to use technology when we need to use it and if I had a dollar for every person who’d told me that the session for x CMS was very good but when they cam to use it 2 months, 1 month or even 1 week later they couldn’t for the life of them.

The ‘Just in Time’ aspect is also useful if people want content and information now (for example, Google is a great – possibly the best – JiTer!) but again, it basically boils down to something that might be a bit quicker and a bit more effective than a manual but really not that much different. Also, if you look up the answer, do it and then move along… you’ve got about the same chance of remembering it or doing it again as you had when you attended the session.

So, what’s the answer? Well, I’m not sure BUT I think that this idea of literacy is where it sits. What people need is the ability to approach technology with the contextual understanding and cognition that one would approach a language, the ability to ‘figure out’ how to do things and to get the gist of the information with which they are presented.

As a simple example, if I’m an English speaker and approaching a European language I can pretty much safely assume that I’m going to find prepositions, verbs, nouns and articles in particular orders and that I need to guess at their meaning (perhaps Latinate, perhaps contextual, perhaps based on encountering them). I can also get it wrong quite happily and have another go, after all, how on earth would I be able to get stuff right first time, it’s hard!

Now if we apply this to technology there are, I’m sure, components of use that map a bit like a language (and I’m not talking ‘New File’ or metaphors here but something deeper and based around the logic of systems). In my experience I approach new systems in pretty much exactly the same way as I’d approach a language, I see what I want to do, I explore and push my boundaries, I guess (a lot!) I get it wrong (95% of the time) and I throw my arms in the air & give up, come back a few days later and it all seems a lot clearer. Rarely, if ever, do I hit F1 or open the manual… if I need the answer I’ll try and try and if I do end up Googling it I’ll definitely bookmark that link because I know I’ll forget it straight away (I didn’t get it for myself you see). In setting up incsub and refashioning this blog with WP I’ve learnt a whole new language! And I’m not talking about a script based one, more a language of things.

So, if this is the case, I think that we need to explore approaching IT training in the same way as we approach teaching a language (& I’m not talking high school French here – more the communicative, engaging and empowering facilitative pedagogies that have developed over the last 40 years – for example, teaching unplugged) . We need to drop the sessions as ‘information’ approaches and revisit the whole concept of skills based JiT material. We need to get facilitative, equip people with an understanding of technology as a language and the ability to tackle it (an understanding of the concept of and value of ‘error’ to start with).

One reply on “IT Literacy (Does Technology Training Work?)”

  1. As a speaker of many languages and learning technology now, I recognize myself in your description of learning by exploring and pushing boundaries, rarely opening a manual or following step by step instructions or rules.
    I am presently reading Selber’s Multiliteracies for a Digital Age. Got it through Amazon…and recommend it.
    Warm regards from Brazil,
    PS – Apparently your experience in learning French at high school was frustrating…try to send me an email in French and let’s see if I can facilitate your learning… teaching unplugged :-)

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