Education Technology is Nothing — without People

Putting purposeful tools in the hands of teachers we support and believe in.

GUEST COLUMN | by Renny Monaghan

CREDIT D2LThere are some teachers and administrators who are so smitten with education technology, they believe there’s a technological solution for every problem. And, if there isn’t a technological solution yet, there soon will be.

As someone who makes a living in the education technology industry, it’s a sentiment I’m very familiar with. When I run into well-meaning people who hold this view, I’m reminded of this quote:

“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”

Now, while that sounds like something a back-to-basics, paper-and-pencils, blackboard-chalk-dust covered Luddite might say, bear in mind that’s a quote from Steve Jobs — who wasn’t exactly the enemy of technology.

We need to make sure that our teachers are adept at using the tools we give them – and have faith that they will do wonderful things with them.

The point here is that while the tools we give educators are important, it’s just as important that we make sure that educators are able to freely and properly use the tools they’ve been given.

In the last decade, the list and complexity of technological tools available to teachers has grown by leaps and bounds. Now, it’s not enough to have a single computer connected to the Internet at the back of the class. IT has permeated every aspect of the student journey — from the first day of school to the last, from student research to reporting to parents — technology is now ubiquitous in the learning experience.

More recently, teachers and administrators have begun to embrace the idea of creating a personalized learning experience for students. Instead of teaching a subject at one speed to an entire class, technology allows us to reach students individually at a speed and pace that’s right for them, and then scale that experience as required.

At the core of this new approach are Learning Management Systems (LMS), which are sophisticated pieces of software that let teachers deliver lessons based on mastery and self-paced learning to suit various learning styles. An LMS can do everything from deliver course content to assessment and reporting to resource management and skills gap analysis. To people who love technology, they seem like a one-size fits all solution to the challenges facing students in the classroom.

But while all of this enthusiasm is appreciated by those of us who create and sell these technological marvels, we can’t forget that at its heart, education is still about people. And if the people who deliver education simply provide an online learning tool, that’s not enough. Educators need insight into where learners are succeeding or struggling. They need to intervene to improve outcomes and degree attainment rates throughout the term. If teachers are using the new tools inefficiently — such as glorified record-keeping and report card writing software — they’re not maximizing their use. If teachers are still only providing feedback to students after a 13-week period when it could already be too late to make a positive impact, that’s a waste.

Instead, teachers should be using real-time analytics that aggregate student data from the full learning ecosystem — including several different LMS’, learning apps, online tools and content publishers — and use it to develop a complete view of each learner. Then, use that data to adjust and tweak the approach to each student to make sure they have the best-possible chance to master the material. This form of big data analytics has already been remarkably effective in boosting positive outcomes across a number of industries. Imagine what the result would be for student attainment if the same were true in our schools?

The bottom line is that it’s important to provide educators with the right tools to solve challenges in the classroom. And there’s no doubt that there are more technological tools at our disposal than ever before.

At the same time, even the best tool is only as good as the builder or artist who uses it. We need to make sure that our teachers are adept at using the tools we give them – and have faith that they will do wonderful things with them.

Renny Monaghan is CMO and SVP for D2L, makers of Brightspace, an online platform that makes the learning experience better.


  1. I found this article to be very relatable as I felt i would use technology more for substituting pencil and paper instead of modifying the curriculum where students are able to reach their full potential in their creativity. I started teaching the same time my school introduced smart boards and 1:1 iPads. I took full advantage of the technological resources but cannot say I had students utilize it to their full potential. From then on, I refer to the SAMR Model and visualize if my assignments would be functional benefit for my students or if I’m just substituting prior resources. This piece made a great point that the concept of education is still about people and not the tools we use. Introducing technology can be a great benefit but the greater benefit is introducing students to their potential.

  2. Thanks for this piece. As someone who has been putting connective technologies in the hands of teachers and students since 1988 through iEARN, I share your thoughts and opinions. Why, when we’re talking about ICTs, we forget the “C” as the reason why the technology is most helpful–in connecting real people and enabling them to communicate and learn together.


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