What Happens When Learning Interfaces Become Too Easy

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What Happens When Learning Interfaces Become Too Easy
“dumb horse” by Jedimentat44 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
When smartphones and tablets first came out, there were concerns about the way these “minimal input” interfaces would lead to a generation of “passive content consumers.” How would students ever learn to type their thoughts? But over the years, these concerns were put to rest, and then some, as apps and sensors defied assumptions about what students could build with them.
 
But the story does not end there. A new wave of concern, most likely not the last one, is now asking whether students are in fact making the most of the devices they already own. Case in point, according to a report by the recently defunct New Media Consortium, teachers hold a general belief that students are tech-savvy, but evidence has built up suggesting this might not be the case.
 
The report, however, is not the first instance of evidence about the current area of concern around students using technology to learn. Many developers have stressed how the key to their success, even for skills whose learning is supposed to come with a steep curve, is making it easier for students.
 
The operative word here, “easier,” takes many forms, some of which are better than others. Here are some cases of “easier bad” and “easier good”:
 
  • Solve part of the subject-matter problems: Bad
  • Improving a tool that facilitates the student’s own analysis: Good
  • Making the call for the student as to what he should do next: Bad
  • Offer choices but prioritize best possible outcomes, including the use of algorithms: Good.
  • Developing a “minimalistic” experience that strips down choices and even some learning activities: Bad
  • Working on cleanliness and promoting focus, while keeping in mind that students take many paths: Good.
As Moodle’s new user-centered design evolves and makes the LMS more user friendly, it is worth keeping developers in check to prevent them from automatically assuming things should be made easier at any cost.

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