Technology and Human Interaction in Adult Learning

Gaurav Sinha
Gaurav Sinha

In this technological era, we are witnessing a huge surge in innovations in almost every sphere. I am amazed by the fact that every now and then, there is an entry of a new device or a new app in the market.With the advent of newer technologies, the face of education is also changing. Internet now is flooded with online courses and learning modules. Even the topmost universities/ colleges of the world are not shying away from offering a wide array of courses on the internet. This has opened a new gateway of learning for the learners. For the universities, this offers increase in outreach. But one question always puzzles me – what is a good point of interaction of technology and human beings for an effective learning?

Let me start with an incident to make my question clear. I have observed that many of us are conditioned to start taking notes as soon as an instructor starts writing on a board or a PPT is shown. Simply to say, we start copying what is presented to us. This happened in one of my trainings (post lunch session) with teacher’s educator on the basic principles of instructional design. I drew a plus (+) on the whiteboard, which divided the board into four equal parts. The participants, who were experienced, mid-aged (average age was 43), and conditioned for a particular kind of training, also drew a plus sign in their notebooks. After a pause and looking into everyone’s eyes, I erased that plus sign, turned back and said “now you erase!” They were surprised and in the state of disbelief. One of them even asked “are you serious? Do we need to waste a page? You cannot do this” and I asked “why I cannot?”

In another incident, the participants were post-graduates, and were not so good in the usage of English. Except some 10% of them, they were also lacking basic computer knowledge (and even were not aware of internet surfing). Many were using computers for the first time in their lives.On top of it, this session was a new one and I was also experimenting it. I asked them to surf internet and come up with an understanding (in the form of a PPT) of a particular instructional design method. In each group, there was a person who at least knew how to open a search page. What surprised me was that there was a pin-drop silence in the session.Participants were working in their groups, reading andunderstanding the concept. Even when they presented their understanding of the method with their own examples, it looked fabulous to me as a facilitator. This session engaged them for more than 3.5 hours (which I was unsure of!).

These two incidents always make me wonder about the criticality of roles played by both technology and human beings.In the first incident, understanding the mood, emotions and psyche of the participants was very important and this is where technology fails. In the other case, I find technology useful,as a medium of exploring new knowledge and newer boundaries. The human capacity is limited here. Yet in this case, we cannot ignore the role of a guide, and the advantages of working together in a group.

When I look back and reflect further, the whole thing revolves around one question – what makes people passionate about learning?I have been through several workshops and trainings, and my observation about what makes people passionate about learning in these environments, is really simple – “great experiences”, a term which I borrow from Jesse James Garrett, a user experience designer. Great experiences come from learner’s interactions with various components in a workshop or training – like co-learners, facilitator, technology, environment etc. And we need to find mechanisms to create such great experiences! On top of it, one is required to set clear-cut learning outcomes, which havebearing on designingsuch activities that provide opportunities of developing an intimate technology and human interaction.

This reminds me of Steve Jobs, what he once said beautifully. “There’s no other company that could make a MacBook Air and the reason is that not only do we control the hardware, but we control the operating system. And it is the intimate interaction between the operating system and the hardware that allows us to do that”.


In a recent meeting the other day, one of my colleagues was taking notes on his tablet. Suddenly he found some mistake in what he was scribbling and deleted it. It reminded of the first incident – what would have happened if the participants had tablets instead of their paper notebooks? Seriously, no pun intended!

*About the author
Gaurav works in the social development domain, and has an avid interest in social innovations especially educational innovations. The views expressed here are personal.