Technology permeates our society. In work settings, employees are expected to use computers for such tasks as communication, information management, problem-solving, and information seeking. Because technology is such an integral part of modern life, it behooves educators to prepare learners to use it effectively. Technology also has a role in the instructional process for it can serve as a means of supporting and enhancing instruction. Based on an analysis of the literature, Hopey (1998) noted that educational technology can--
• Improve educational attainment and skill acquisition
• Reduce the educational disparities created by race, income, and region
• Improve the relationship between learning, assessment, and effectiveness
• Provide a relevant context for learning
• Accommodate differences in learning
• Motivate and sustain learning
• Provide greater access to learning opportunities
• Empower learners
The positive effects attributed to technology will occur only if it is used appropriately. Like any other instructional tool, technology can serve to perpetuate poor educational practice or it can become a means for transforming learning. How technology can enhance and support learning is discussed in the next section.
Considerations for Using Technology
Technology does not determine learning outcomes, and it does not teach students; teachers, frequently in collaboration with learners, make the choices that determine learning outcomes and manage the teaching and learning process (Burge and Roberts 1993; Ehrmann 1997; Whitesel 1998). The role of technology is to expand these choices (Ehrmann 1998). Technologies are not neutral tools, however. The choices made about which technologies to use as well as how to use them will "reflect whatever values the educator holds--consciously or subconsciously--about her/his relationships with learners, and their use will invariably bring advantages and disadvantages" (Burge and Roberts 1993, p. 35).
When educational technologies are used appropriately, their advantages far outweigh their disadvantages. The ability to support new ways of teaching and learning is one of the most frequently cited reasons for using technology in education. For example, it provides opportunities for more learner-centered instruction; it permits instruction to be contextualized; it allows students to explore, make mistakes, and learn from their errors; it leads to more active and interactive modes of instruction; and it results naturally in greater collaboration, cooperation, and small group work (Gillespie 1998; Kearsley and Shneiderman 1998; Petraglia 1998).
These characteristics of teaching and learning should be particularly attractive to adult and vocational educators for they are frequently associated with good educational practice in those fields. The key is using the technologies in ways that will enhance learning. Technology cannot simply be an add-on but "must be matched by...