By Chris Abbott, Kings College, London
Too often, discussions of the role of digital technologies for learning skate over the wide variety of differences which exist between different groups of learners. Often, ‘the learner’ is presented as a single, unitary figure defined solely by age; as ‘children’, ‘teenagers’, ‘adults’ etc. And yet, there are clearly wide differences in the ways in which different groups of children respond to, benefit from, or are excluded by specific uses of digital technologies. This review focuses specifically on the use of digital technologies to enable children with learning difficulties to learn effectively. Its goal is to move beyond some of the hype and marketing rhetoric that sometimes characterises this field and to ask nuanced questions about the evidence that exists of the role of digital technologies in this area. The review moves away from a dominant medical model of learning difficulties and, instead, asks us to pay detailed attention to learning contexts. As such, it foregrounds the learning practices and communities that might be enabled with digital technologies to create rich and empowering learning environments for children with learning difficulties. It offers a new taxonomy of the use of digital technologies in this field, providing a historical and philosophical overview of three key approaches to using technology either 1) to train or rehearse; 2) to assist learning; or 3) to enable learning. It concludes by offering a set of challenges to industry and educators to create more collaborative, holistic and inclusive learning communities through digital technologies.
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