Digital technology-based solutions can only provide tools, which are neither an end in themselves nor a panacea. Weighting the pros and cons of the proliferation of technology in education it is not an easy task. Above and beyond, it is not about picking sides but to reflect upon the ways in which digital technologies can be advantageous (or not) for adult education.
Digital technology is particularly useful to enable communication, collaboration and learning across distance, as well as to combine education and/or lifelong learning with professional and familial responsibilities (Eurydice, 2011; UNESCO, 2020). On the other hand, it fosters personalised and flexible learning, an approach centred on the individual needs and interests of learners, which has proved to be particularly suited for language learning (Tuna and Tuna, 2019). It empowers the adult learner, as autonomy and responsibility become key to the advancement of his/her own learning pathway. The usefulness and suitability of technology for adult education depends upon several elements, however. Along with time management skills, learning style and study habits, according to the Digital Education Action Plan (2020-2027), connectivity and equal access to appropriate digital technologies and devices, as well as confidence and skills to use digital technologies are vital (European Commission, 2020).
Practitioners play a critical role as knowledge facilitators and pedagogical guides, whether they work in real or virtual learning settings (Hojeij and Hurley, 2017; Latchem, 2017; UNESCO, 2020). However, practitioners’ digital skills and competences must be paired with their pedagogical knowledge, subject-specific knowledge, classroom management skills, and professional judgement. To put it simply: “(…) educators need to know how to integrate digital technologies into their teaching and learning, and be able to use them effectively.” (Vuorikari et al., 2020, p. 12). For practitioners, the advantages of using digital technology and computer-based solutions are several.
There are numerous valuable tools to support them in lesson and teaching activities planning, in learners’ evaluation, as well as in the automation of tedious administrative tasks. By using digital tools, apps, and platforms they can also experiment assorted pedagogic approaches and materials. Furthermore, they can get instant feedback, which is relevant for grasping learners’ preferences and for fostering their engagement and participation.
Data analytics can be quite useful for helping the practitioner to detect areas where learners are struggling, leading to evidence-based adjustments in training programmes and activities. Practitioners can use, reuse, and adapt endless resources available in several formats, to facilitate and improve the effectiveness of the learning process (text, images, video, games, etc.). And such materials can be instantly accessed by the learners. Finally, along with the sharing of information, technology enables collaborative learning through group work and discussions, fostering the interaction amongst learners and practitioners, as well as between learners themselves.