Different technologies serve different purposes in the classroom and therefore play different roles in a students learning. For example, word processing and e-mail promote communication skills; database and spreadsheet programs promote organizational skills; modeling software promotes the understanding of science and math concepts; etc.
In a modern digitalised classroom, a wide range of technologies have found application – ranging from simple tool-based applications (word processors) and online repositories of data and documents (databases), to handheld computers and closed-circuit television channels and to two-way distance learning classrooms. Even common devices like cell phones; specialist technologies like digital moviemaking; social networking technologies like Facebook and Twitter; and the more trendy technologies like podcasting have been used in classrooms to support and enhance learning.
Rather than trying to describe the impact of all technologies as if they were the same, 21st century educationalists spend considerable time on integrating specific technologies into their teaching practices.
Considering the purpose towards which technology is used in teaching, two general distinctions are commonly made:
- Students can learn “from” computers where technology used essentially as tutors and serves to increase students basic skills and knowledge; and
- Sudents can learn “with” technology where it is used as a tool that can be applied to a variety of goals in the learning process and can serve as a resource to help develop higher order thinking, creativity and research skills.
The primary form of student learning “from” computers are described as Discrete Educational Software programs (which include integrated learning systems, computer-assisted instruction and computer-based instruction). These software applications are among the most widely available applications of educational technology in schools today, along with word-processing software.
However, in more recent years, educators have come to recognize the potential of learning “with” technology as a means for enhancing students reasoning and problem-solving abilities. This shift has been driven by the availability of new information and communication devices to students (both in school and at home) which offer them the tools for meeting and managing demands of the 21st century. This aspect of learning is increasingly realistic and relevant as it centres on using and applying technologies to which students and teachers are exposed on a daily basis.