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Intersection of Life and Faith

How Technology Can (And Will) Affect Education

  • Terry Hadaway
  • 2006 3 Mar
  • COMMENTS
How Technology Can (And Will) Affect Education
Once upon a time there was a society in which learning was confined to a classroom and information was gathered by reading books and newspapers or watching the
6:00 news. No one had heard of MP3 players, blogs, e-learning, or podcasts. Life was simple.

Today, however, many of the gadgets initially introduced for entertainment purposes are becoming more and more commonplace in government, business, and education.

For example, in Olympia, Wash., state Republicans have started providing podcasts so “the iPod crowd can listen to legislative discussions about healthcare and agriculture while trotting on the treadmill or riding the bus.”

Another application of technology that is exploding is e-learning. Most colleges and universities offer Web-only or Webenhanced classes. Some professors use technology to teach students they never see in both synchronous and asynchronous environments. It appears that the days of classroom-only education are over.

The proliferation of technology fundamentally has altered how young people assimilate and process information. Erin McKean, editor-in-chief of the New Oxford American Dictionary, recently announced the selection of podcast as the 2005 Word of the Year.

There are, however, some challenges associated with the marriage of technology and education. Technology never can replace or replicate the dynamics of person-to-person interaction. Having taught online and in college classrooms, I can vouch for this. Likewise, ministry is established and maintained through
personal interaction — interaction that can be enhanced, but never replaced, by technology.

On the other hand, there are certainly some benefits associated with technology in education. Today’s technology gives participants more control over what, when, and how they learn. And, since ministry is mostly educational, we must admit that technology is affecting how ministry is being done and how important messages are being delivered to young people.

A few years ago, it was said that e-learning would eventually eclipse e-mail as the primary use of the Internet. Though that prediction might seem far-fetched, there is no  doubt that e-learning is poised to become a significant part of ministry to people of all ages, especially youth.

This shift toward technological ministry and education is a cause of concern for many youth ministry veterans. Most seminaries have yet to offer classes in podcasting and instructional design for e-learning applications. Let’s look at a few issues you might be facing.

1. This isn’t 1965, and you aren’t Charlie Brown’s school teacher! Face it — the rapidly changing technological environment leaves us with the need to upgrade  something all the time. If you’re over 30, the rate of change might make you wonder what ever happened to the days of cassette tapes and VCRs. However, today’s youth not only are comfortable with rapid change, they seem to be energized by it. Between Christmas 2004 and Christmas 2005, Apple released new versions of the iPod
and discontinued the models that were new just 12 months earlier! So, what’s the point? Keep up with technology or become as obsolete as a phone booth!

2. We are an on-demand society. The rise of 24-hour news channels and ondemand television points to the fact that we want the news when it is convenient to us. The days of waiting for information are over. If you want sports scores, you can watch the never-ending ticker at the bottom of the television screen or you can log on to the Internet and have the information in a matter of seconds. Now with the explosion of podcasting, individuals can select and receive information that is relevant to their interests, deliverable on demand, and portable.

3. The people most afraid of technology are the ones in the mirror. You might not know the difference between the Weekly Reader and a RSS reader. It’s possible that the idea of converting your Bible study lessons to MP3 files causes a burning in the pit of your stomach. That’s the bad news; the good news is that most of the youth with whom you work not only understand today’s technology but they know how to use it in ways that can be beneficial to your ministry! Embracing technology in ministry might open doors to tech-savvy teens within your church and community.

This leads us to consider two very important questions: Can effective education be conducted via modern technology; and, if so, how can technology positively affect the educational processes associated with youth ministry?

Can effective education be conducted via modern technology?

When we think about education, certain images come to mind — lectures, writing papers, taking notes, and cramming for tests. However, those images fail to portray accurately the true meaning of education. Whereas many people categorize education as one-way transmission, education in its true sense is dialogical in nature and includes two-way conversation.

Technology has revolutionized communication. E-mail, discussion boards, blogs, and streaming audio and video are commonplace in higher education and corporations. It no longer is necessary to “go to class” in order to be a participant in an educational experience. In fact, many corporations are transitioning from employing corporate trainers to utilizing pre-packaged and customized elearning. The transition to e-learning not only improves the educational experience for the learners but also saves the companies thousands of dollars annually.

E-learning provides the opportunity for ministers to grow their leadership teams by providing a more comprehensive training curriculum that volunteers can complete on their own time. In addition, most e-learning applications can be designed so that the administrator can monitor and certify completion of prerequisite lessons or units of study.

With all of the advantages of e-learning, there are some limitations. Whereas traditional classroom sessions can last an hour or more, e-learning must be accomplished
in “chunks,” or small blocks, of time. What might have been presented in one traditional session might become three or more e-learning lessons.

However, e-learning ensures that each learner gets consistent information. If you are helping leaders understand the basics of teaching youth, you can be certain that you are communicating the same information to the first participant as you are to every subsequent participant. You can even include a quiz to make sure the learners understand the important elements of the lesson.

If you are conducting an online class for new Christians, you can be confident that the foundational elements of the faith are being presented clearly so there will be no confusion about important facets of one’s spiritual life.

How can technology positively affect the educational processes associated with youth ministry?

In order for learning to take place, information must be received, processed, assimilated, and incorporated. Let’s consider how technology can be useful in each step of the educational process.

Receiving: In order for information to be received, it must be presented in a way that is acceptable to the receiver. For today’s youth and youth leaders, information presented via technology is the norm. Receiving is the first level of the affective domain. (The cognitive domain emphasizes knowledge and understanding; the affective domain emphasizes attitudes and values.) Receiving is simply one’s willingness to listen. Today’s youth are more than willing to pay attention to information delivered through technology.

Processing: To process information, the learner must move it from the lower cognitive and affective levels to the higher levels. This can be accomplished by asking reflective questions, questioning the application of a specific portion of the information, or encouraging further consideration of a concept. With technology, specifically e-learning, these tasks easily are accomplished.

Assimilation: This is one of the persistent challenges of youth ministry. No matter how information is delivered, facilitating the assimilation process is difficult. Let’s be honest: many of the lessons prepared for youth today are as relevant to today’s culture as the rotary dial phone and black-and-white television! No matter how cleverly an  irrelevant message is delivered, the fact remains that it is irrelevant. E-learning allows for the customization of information so that it can be assimilated into life by the learners. Because of the concept of “chunking,” the main point doesn’t get lost in the process. It is better to have one point presented well than three points presented poorly! E-learning gives you the ability to focus on one concept and use it as a stepping stone to the next related idea.

Incorporation: An idea is only as useful as its application. As much as we don’t want to admit it, the truth is that we cannot control what people do with the information  they’ve been presented. We can be certain that new skills if not practiced will be overcome by old habits. Technology allows us to supplement lessons with podcast  devotions, thought provoking e-mails, challenging discussion questions, and reflective blogs. Rather than lessons being separated by weeks, they are constantly being reinforced through technology.

Technology can (and should) revolutionize the way you do education with youth and volunteer leaders. Consider some of these applications being developed by churches.

Podcasting: Many of today’s teens are too busy or unable to attend weekly Bible studies. Some churches are recording their weekly sessions and making them
available to teens as MP3 files (or podcasts). With enhanced podcasting technology, even the multimedia files can be synchronized with the presentation and viewed on a computer or iPod equipped to handle video or photos.

E-training: Rather than holding training one or two nights per year, churches are developing comprehensive training curricula that must be satisfactorily completed before a volunteer can assume any ministry responsibility. Some of the lessons under development include safety and security, dealing with disruptions, customizing a lesson, the basics of Christianity, witnessing to teens, and many others. Like many corporations, churches are discovering the costeffectiveness and educational effectiveness of e-training.

E-learning: Even though it violates tradition, there is nothing wrong with Bible studies being delivered by way of technology. E-learning gives youth the flexibility they need to fit Bible study into their busy schedules, helps alleviate some of the space problems in growing churches, and supplements the overall educational ministry of the church. One of the problems in any Bible study group is the various backgrounds of the participants. Some youth in the study might have been raised in the church and know all of the Bible stories. Others, however, might be new to the faith and don’t know Jonah from John. The classroom sessions would be strengthened if there were  prerequisite lessons that ensure everyone has the same basic understanding.

In addition to these applications, technology has many other uses that will make your ministry more effective. Because technology now is more affordable, your education dollars can be stretched and your educational ministry can be more effective than ever.

However, it must be emphasized that ministry ultimately depends upon the strengths of the personal relationships within the church or group. Technology never can replace personal interaction! Like using salt to season a potato, technology can be used to enhance your ministry. Whether training volunteers or teaching biblical values, the fact remains that all things should be done to the glory of God!

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TERRY HADAWAY is an e-learning instructional designer, educational consultant, university professor, author, and conference leader. He and his son, Daniel, are the co-founders of Audio Interactions (www.audiointeractions.com), a company specializing in the application of podcasting and e-learning technology for small businesses and churches.