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instructional-technology open content research

Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution

Curt Bonk and I recently published a Preface for a special issue of ETR&D on Systematic Reviews of Research on Learning Environments and Technologies. It is largely a collection of personal stories and reflections about the arc of learning technologies over the last 30 years. However, we close with some advice which I believe to be profoundly important for everyone working in and around the learning technologies field, include open advocates.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the field of learning technologies is the way it obsesses over technologies while devaluing or even ignoring problems faced by learners around the world. For decades, learning technologies like those discussed in this special volume have been elevated to objects of study in and of themselves. All too frequently, those working in our field respond to questions about their research agenda with answers like “I study iPads,” “I study augmented reality,” or “I study open educational resources.” We question whether this fetishization of learning technologies will help us make sustained, meaningful improvements to the world in the future. As long as we are focused on the tools themselves, the ongoing march of learning technologies will resemble an endless series of waves eternally breaking on the shore only to draw out and come crashing in again without making a visible difference in the surrounding landscape.

We encourage learning technologists to follow the old advice, ‘fall in love with the problem, not the solution.’ The world is full of so very many problems that desperately need solving—racism, poverty, crime, climate change, war, Internet access, educating refugees… the list goes on and on and range from the local to the global. At the very least, we encourage the reader to consider adding a problem to their answer to the question above. For example, “I study how to help young women maintain their interest in science and math into their high school years. iPads show real promise for mitigating this problem.” Or “I study how to make higher education more effective and affordable to students who are most at-risk. Open educational resources have an important role to play in making that happen.”

Fall in love with a problem—let it be your “standing wave.” Then as the inevitable extended, connected, and repeated waves of learning technologies roll past over the years, you will have a steady foundation from which to evaluate and use them instrumentally to make the world a better place.

You can read the full article online.