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Technology for Meaningful Learning


Technology for Meaningful Learning

This chapter will investigate and explore the various theories and resources on technology tools and meaningful learning.

What is meaningful learning?

What is Meaningful Learning?

Meaningful learning is basically when prior learning and prior experiences are tied into current lessons. Meaningful learning occurs when complex ideas and information are combined with students’ own experiences and prior knowledge to form personal and unique understandings. Learning is meaningful when the student comprehends the relationship of what is being learned to other knowledge. This is in direct contrast with rote learning, which is simply memorizing content but not necessarily learning or understanding the content.

The main characteristics of meaningful learning are that it is active, constructive, intentional, authentic, and cooperative. These terms are defined as follows:

  • Active – learning occurs through interactions with and manipulations of the environment; not sitting passively in desks.
  • Constructive – learning occurs when we reflect on our learning activities in order to assign meaning to them.
  • Intentional – learning occurs when students can identify the learning goals and are aware of their progress toward actively achieving the goals. Providing an advance organizer to students can help to provide students with an overview of the lesson objectives and key ideas.
  • Authentic – learning occurs when context-based, complex, and relative to real-life. Authentic learning is more likely to be used in future contexts.
  • Cooperative – learning occurs through working with others and participating in a learning community (Grabe & Grabe, 2007); technology is particularly helpful for cooperative learning

Meaningful learning can be recognized through various indicators. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) provides a sample of useful indicators to be used as guidelines for planning new instructional activities and lessons and evaluating current instructional methods.

  • Vision – What does meaningful learning look like? Classes of enthusiastic learners collaborating to solve problems and gain understanding. Students responsible for their own learning, actively defining goals and evaluating their own progress.
  • Tasks – Learning tasks are challenging, cross-curricular, and authentic. Often problem-based, collaborative, and time intensive.
  • Assessment – Assessment is ongoing, generative, and equitable for all learners. Students are assessed through diverse performance-based methods which gauge what they know and can do with their knowledge.
  • Instructional Models and Strategies – Instructional strategies are interactive and constructive and involve individual and group models of instruction. Students are interacting with, teaching to, and learning from teachers and peers.
  • Learning Context – The classroom is a learning community that values diversity, fosters empathy, and builds on strengths of each learner. The learning community extends beyond the classroom to families, social communities, and corporate communities.
  • Grouping – Students are collaborating in heterogeneous groups that are reconfigured as needed by the teacher to ensure equitable, learning-centered work.
  • Teacher Roles – The teacher is acting as facilitator, guide, or co-learner. Through these roles the teacher is providing the learning environment for students, coaching students, and co-investigating with students.
  • Student Roles – The students are exploring, discovering, reflecting, teaching, and contributing within the learning environment. Students are interacting with each other and the world, advancing from apprentices to teachers themselves through integrating their knowledge (Jones, B., Valdez, G., Nowakowski, J., & Rasmussen,C., 1994, ¶ 2).

The NCREL provides several tools for planning meaningful lessons ( and evaluating existing lessons (

The next 3 sections will highlight meaningful learning on 3 levels: elementary, middles school, and high school.


“Children derive greater meaning in their school-based academic work from three sources. First, when they are actively engaged in the attempt to make sense of things they experience in school, they are encouraged to be meaning makers. Second, they derive meaning from seeing the relationship of parts to the whole, rather than being left with only parts. Opportunities to connect one concept or one skill to another increase students’ conceptual grasp of what they are doing, whether it involves communication, problem solving, appreciation of artwork, or carrying out projects. Third, they find meaning by connecting new learning experiences to their existing body of knowledge, assumptions, and meanings, much of which is rooted in their upbringing and cultural roots. We refer to teaching that seeks to maximize these three things as ‘teaching for meaning’” (Knapp and Associates, 1995, ¶ 2)

Learning Old Things in New Ways

A significant reason why technology should be present in elementary schools is to allow for effective differentiation of instruction (wikipedia link). Depending on a student’s learning style, multimedia (wikipedia) is an excellent way of enabling elementary students to construct their learning and enjoy the overall learning experience. German researchers, Zumbach, Kumpf and Koch (2004) conducted a case study on an elementary school in Germany that assessed the benefits of combining project-based learning (PBL) with technology. Using Microsoft PowerPoint, students worked in groups to tell, infer, predict the outcome of a story about a badger. The students were found to be engaged and focused on the task at hand. Audio and visual effects were used in this lesson and found to be very effective to the learning experience. Pre and post assessments found the students to be able to recall details and facts more vividly and the students appeared to be more motivated. When technology is used appropriately it can make a positive difference.

Quality And Equity in Education?

A Balanced Playing Field for All Students

Means (1997) claims that schools that capitalize on the relationship between technology and education reform will help students to develop higher order skills and to function effectively in the world beyond the classroom. Achieving such fundamental change, however, requires a transformation of not only the underlying pedagogy (basic assumptions about the teaching and learning process) but also the kinds of technology applications typically used in classrooms serving at-risk students.


Middle schoolers are a breed apart. They are breaking away from their family’s mandates toward those of their peers’. They fear the adult responsibilities which high schoolers are beginning to embrace, but, nonetheless, are curious about the adult world they see approaching. “Be certain that school is not just a preparation for a future world but a place where one can truly practice what one is learning; …making technological connections with real people who are part of the country in the text — in other words, using what they are learning in class to do what adults do” (Baenen, 2006). For learning to be meaningful then for middle schoolers, it must concentrate on being ‘authentic’ (or problem-based), ‘cooperative,’ and relevant.

According to the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS), middle schoolers are able to use practical computer applications, Web tools, graphing calculators, communication delivery systems, and are familiar with ethical issues surrounding computer use (Tileston, 2004, pp. 23-27). Middle schoolers are ready to move on to using technology to develop critical thinking skills. However, these require metacognition. At a time when middle schoolers tend to project outwardly, longing to be part of a group, such an introverted activity may seem anathema. However, middle schoolers are still in a stage of vacillation from introversion to extroversion and back again. Therefore, it behooves educators to coax the reflective state in middle schoolers by requiring them to constantly monitor their progress. “Reflection cements the knowledge that learners construct. (Jonassen, 2000, p. 99).

Just how can instructional technology (IT) enhance meaningful learning in the middle school? “IT enables activities like videoconferencing so that students can talk with others who are physically, intellectually, and culturally distant from them. The technology also enables classes in different communities to collaborate on science experiments, sharing data and results to enrich each other’s findings” (Pritchard, 2002, p. 41). As long as lesson plans can be devised to make the experience feel real to middle schoolers, learning can be meaningful to them by requiring them to define, classify, compare, contrast, challenge assumptions, project, explain, and/or reason all in an atmosphere of cooperation. “Working with technology can help students to reach the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, especially analysis, synthesis, and evaluation” (Tileston, p. 37).

High School

Technology can be used in many different ways to promote learning at the high school level. However, at any level, “students do not learn from technology, they learn from thinking” (Jonassen, Howland, Moore, & Marra, 2003, p. 11). Teachers often use the same material from year to year making few changes each year. When incorporating technology teachers should keep in mind their overall objectives. If the technology does not support the objectives or it takes away from the lesson, then the teacher may want to rethink the use of technology.

“The skill and interest level in technology, as well as access to handhelds, laptops, and tablet computers, means students can – and want to- use technology (Jackson, 2005, ¶12). One way to integrate technology is through authentic assessments. A Webquest is an example of an authentic assessment. “Webquests are online, interactive modules that allow students to be involved in inquiry-oriented learning” and therefore leading to a more meaningful approach (Kundu & Bain, 2006, ¶8). Depending on the type of Webquest, students are not limited to the normal resources. They can take virtual fieldtrips to learn the material through the Internet.

Whatever type of technology a teacher chooses, the technology “should be used as engagers and facilitators of thinking and knowledge construction” (Jonassen, et al, 2003, p. 12).


In psychology and education, learning theories are attempts to describe how people and animals learn, thereby helping us understand the inherently complex process of learning. Two key learning theories, Behaviorism and Constructivism are described in more detail below. Another key learning theory not described below, but worth exploring is Cogntivism as the site is very well constructed. For a more detailed look at how people learn and what technology might have to do with learning, please see this article.

Behaviorism (VAl)


Behaviorism is a theory of animal and human learning that only focuses on objectively observable behaviors and discounts mental activities. Behavior theorists define learning as nothing more than the acquisition of a new behavior. (Funderstanding, 2001)

Theorists and Effects to Education

One of the best examples of behaviorism is the story of Pavlov’s dog. In case you are not familiar I will summarize the story: Pavlov would ring a bell every time he fed his dog so after a while the dog expected to get food when he rang the bell. Pavlov slowly started reducing the amount of food the dog received when he rang the bell and eventually the food didn’t arrive when the bell rang. Another name for behaviorism would be conditioning.

In the 1950s and 1960s behaviorism was a very popular style of teaching. Students who were using correct behavior were rewarded and students who were not acting properly were punished. B. F. Skinner was a well know psychologist known for his research on behaviorism. Skinner believed this is the reason that people and animals act the ways they do. Skinner stated that a student does not passively absorb knowledge from the world around him but must play an active role, and that the action is not simply talking” (Boerre, p.5). As students take a more active role in the classroom, there tends to be a positive correlation to increased learning. An active role can be accomplished by asking questions, presenting to the class, answering direct questions, and helping out fellow students are just a few of the ways. B.F. Skinner said, “A behavior followed by a reinforcing stimulus results in an increased probability of that behavior occurring in the future” (Boerre, p. 3). When students are successful they gain self confidence and are able to become more active participants in their own education.

Direct instruction is not a lecture approach but it is an instructional model that focuses on the interaction between teachers and students (Magliaro, Lockee, & Burton, 2005). Projects that require interaction among students are very powerful. They allow the students creativity and show them that what they are learning is valuable and worthwhile. Student projects that involve multimedia assets encourage this belief even more. The students learn to take pride in their work. Often, direct instruction involves some explication of the skill or subject matter to be taught and may or may not include an opportunity for student participation or individual practice.


Constructivist learning theory believes that the student must be able to build learning processes rather than just gain knowledge. While the latter statement may be oversimplified, it is the driving force behind constructivist learning theory and stands in stark contrast to behaviorism theory. Many theories on education and current research have “demonstrated the importance of social interaction in teaching and learning…and highlight the ‘knowledge construction’ processes of the learner and suggest that ‘meaning making’ develops through the social process of language use over time” (Ferdig & Trammell, 2004). This research reflects Vygotsky’s educational theory (1978) that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition. Per Vygotsky (1978), “Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals" (p. 57). Students must be able to transform knowledge gained through social interaction into something meaningful to themselves. Central to constructivism is its conception of learning. Von Glasersfeld (1995) argues that: "From the constructivist perspective, learning is not a stimulus-response phenomenon. It requires self-regulation and the building of conceptual structures through reflection and abstraction" (p.14). Fosnot (1996) adds that "Rather than behaviours or skills as the goal of instruction, concept development and deep understanding are the foci (...) (p. 10). Research suggests that students who are more actively engaged in the learning experience will be more responsible for their education and will be have a sense of ownership over it. “Technology can offer ways for students to establish personal and intellectual ownership of new concepts while they visualize and interact with abstract ideas” (Ferdig & Trammell, 2004). Students can formulate introspective analysis on materials presented and can personalize the knowledge in a way that is meaningful to them.

Problem Based Learning


For at least 100 years, educators such as John Dewey have stated the benefits of experiential, hands-on, student-directed learning (BIE, 2002). Problem-based learning, the term we know it as today, began at McMaster University Medical School (Canada) over 25 years ago.

What is Problem-based Learning? Problem-based learning is a total approach to education; a learner-centered educational method. It is based on real-world problems. Students are involved in active learning; the problems are real-world and are seen as important and relevant to their lives. These problems are carefully designed and selected for the learner to help build critical knowledge, problem solving skills, self-directed learning strategies and teamwork skills. The learners encounter a problem that they must solve. They solve these problems first with information that they already possess and then they will need to fill in what they don’t already know. Learners may turn to information resources such as books, journals, information found online, and interviews with experts. They will have to identify what they need to learn to understand the problem and how they are going to resolve it. Problem-based Learning prepares students to think critically and analytically. It also teaches students to find and use appropriate learning resources.

What is the Role of the teacher? The teacher has a unique role in Problem-based Learning; they act as a facilitator, coach and/or tutor. The teacher helps to guide the students in their problem solving efforts by providing materials, guidance and evaluation. The teacher is the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage in Problem-based learning.

What is the Role of the Student? The students assume responsibility for their own learning. This gives them ownership of their learning and also fosters motivation to learn and feelings of accomplishment. This helps to promote independent learners who will continue to be lifelong learners. The student will usually work in learning groups with five to seven members. These group members will work together to solve the problems and learn. They, along the way, will gain collaborative or team learning skills. After they have solved the problem they should assess themselves and their peers.

What type of problems are best? Real-world, complex problem act as a motivation or stimulus for learning. A good problem is one that is ill-structured, messy and complex in nature; requires inquiry, information-gathering, and reflection; is changing and tentative; and has no simple, fixed, formulaic, "right" solution (Finkle & Torp, 1995). These problems are used to engage students' curiosity and initiate learning. These problems are also designed to challenge learners to develop effective problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Active Learning

What is Active Learning?

Active learning is just what one might guess, a method of education where students are actively participating in their own learning. Students are not passive in the classroom listening to lectures all of the time, but are reading, writing, discussing, or otherwise engaging themselves in solving problems (Bonwell and Eison, 1991, p.1). To be fully active in their own learning, students must be using higher-order thinking skills, including the three highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Thus, active learning activities require students to actively participate, and most importantly to think (Bonwell, et. al., 1991, p.1).


Active learning has been a strategy in education for as long as man has been around. Long ago, hunters and gatherers used a watch and imitate strategy to teach their young to survive. In his time, Socrates used what we now call the Socratic Method to get students to interact and discuss a problem to help them discover a solution. More recently, many different philosophers have supported active learning. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Dewey, and David Kolb all argue that experiences, whether it be Rousseau’s sensory, Dewey’s practical, or Kolb’s concrete experiences, are an essential part of learning. (Lorenzen, 2001, p.2)

What is the Role of the teacher?

Much like in problem-based learning, the teacher is no longer an authoritarian responsible for lecturing 100% of the time. In active learning, the teacher is responsible for facilitating experiences that will allow students to participate in their own learning and discover new information (Lorenzen, 2001, p.1) on their own and with their classmates.

What is the Role of the Student?

The active learning approach to education is built around allowing students to master ideas while developing strong thinking skills. In order for this to happen, students must be active participants in lessons and activities. They must be able to follow directions and take initiative during each lesson in order to learn and develop their thinking skills.

What are some examples of active learning techniques?

  • Small-group discussion
  • Role playing
  • Hands-on projects
  • Teacher driven questioning
(Lorenzen, 2001, p. 10)
  • Writing activities (Bonwell, et. al., 1991, p. 2)
  • Debates
  • Demonstrations
  • Simulations
(McAndrews, 1991, p. 40)
  • WebQuests (Grabe, et. al., 2007, p. 236)

Inquiry Learning

Inquiry-based learning is an approach to learning that involves exploration and discovery. Inquiry encourages students to ask questions, test hypotheses, and make conclusions all in search for new understandings. This approach is similar to problem-based learning. Instead of children listening to a teacher and repeating back information, they are actively involved in the learning process. Inquiry is driven by a students curoisity and interest. (National Science Foundation, 2000).

Inquiry is defined as:

  • seeking or requesting truth, information, or knowledge
  • investigating
  • inquiring or seeking information by questioning; interrogation.
  • question and query (

This definition provides a broad understanding of the inquiry process. Students can not simply sit in class and absorb information, they need to be involved in activities that help them to build understanding. Inquiry learning stresses skills development. Students learn from their experiences and from asking questions. It is an open-ended and ongoing learning process that does not concentrate upon closure or on some important process, fact, principle, or law. “Inquiry means that teachers design situations so that pupils are caused to employ procedures research scientists use to recognize problems, to ask questions, to apply investigational procedures, and to provide consistent descriptions, predictions, and explanations which are compatible with shared experience of the physical world' (Dettrick, n.d. ¶.1).

Using Technology Tools in New Ways

E books – electronic books

  • Text is presented as digital text
  • Eliminates need for cumbersome textbooks and several textbook storage rooms per school
  • Easily reloaded if file lost or corrupted
  • Ebook files are often downloadable from the Internet, negating the need for shipping time and expenses
  • Students can carry hundreds of Ebooks in a PDA
  • Portions of text can be highlighted
  • Ebooks can be created by both students and teachers


Digital Story Telling

  • Story telling that combines graphics, sound, text, music, narration
  • Can be edited over and over
  • Can be published and easily shared
  • Extremely easy to use


  • Non-profit site with a mission to “assist young people and adults in using the tools of digital media to craft, record, share, and value the stories of individuals and communities”

Virtual Supervision for Teacher Evaluation

  • Removes the impact of outside observer on classroom activity
  • Can be archived
  • Teacher can view observation prior to meeting w/ supervisor
  • Viable alternative to repeated cancellations of scheduled observations



Recording voices and movements has long been a tool of educators. Today you can record in many different ways very easily and share with a wide audience. One of the ways to record is through podcasting. A podcast is simply a voice recording that is in an MP3 format so that it can be downloaded on to an iPod or MP3 player. It can also be displayed in a webpage or blog and listened to on your computer. You could even link it in a Power Point or simply have an icon on your desktop for students to click and listen.

Click here for resources to start your own podcast! [1]

RSS Feeds

  • Using an aggregator, you subscribe to sites that have RSS feeds. The result is that, instead of going to all you favorite sites to stay up to date on what’s new, you only need to check your aggregator site!


Making PowerPoint a Multimedia Tool

The Microsoft program PowerPoint is ubiquitous today. Almost any meeting you go to, whether you are a teacher, doctor, or lawyer the presenter will be using PowerPoint to display the presentation. But have you thought of using PowerPoint as more than a presentation tool in your classroom? PowerPoint has many features that are not often used that can make it an interactive, multimedia experience. As DenBeste notes, with careful planning “PowerPoint can move beyond its static presentation by a ‘sage on the stage’ and lead to opportunities for discussion and consideration of visual sources” (2003, p. 492).


Most Power Point presentations go in a straight line. Click to get to the next slide. However, it is very easy to insert an element of choice into the presentation through “action buttons.” This tool can make presentations more interactive as teachers and students explore the presentation together, choosing the next learning objective as fits the discussion. Teachers can also design interactive presentations that students can complete independently. This option is an excellent way to introduce K-2 students to the art of using hyperlinks to explore a webpage without the worry of unleashing young students on the Internet. Hyperlinks can also be used to link to an Internet site. This option allows for many educational opportunities. The presentation can link to further information, pictures, games for practice, etc.

For an example of a non-linear presentation with hyperlinks see the power point presentation Archaeology in this wiki. (

Make it happen:

Add an action button

1. Under Auto Shapes on the drawing toolbar choose an Action Button

2. Insert the Button into your slide

3. An Action Settings dialog box will appear

4. Use the Hyperlink pull down menu to link to any slide in the presentation or a url

Link an already existing clip art or word

1. Highlight the clip art or text

2. Under the Slide Show menu choose Action Settings

3. Use the Hyperlink pull down menu to link to any slide in the presentation or a url


One of the most powerful tools available in PowerPoint is the option to include video and sound files. By including multiple types of media, teachers can increase student interest in the presentation while helping students to discover new ways of viewing and processing information. As Grabe and Grabe note, “Multimedia presentation allow students more diverse experiences that may be more motivating or present information in ways that are more informative” (2007, p. 167). Additionally, this is an excellent way to differentiate instruction to meet the varied learning needs of students.

Make it happen:

Please note: It is important to include all video and sound files when copying the presentation to another media such as a CD or disk. This will ensure that the presentation will be able to access these multimedia files.


1. Save a video file to your computer

2. From the Insert menu select Movies and Sounds

3. Select Movie from File

4. Browse for the saved video file, insert

5. Choose whether the movie will play automatically or on click


1. Save a sound file to your computer

2. From the Insert menu select Movies and Sounds

3. Select Sound from File

4. Browse for the saved audio file, Insert

5. Choose whether the sound will play automatically or on click


Looking for a new way to transmit information? Why not make a commercial using Power Point? Design your presentation with quick, easily readable statements/instructions and graphics like a commercial. Follow the directions below to play the presentation continuously, sit back and watch your students enjoy and learn.

Make it happen:

1. Under Slide Transition choose Advance Slides Automatically

2. Apply to all slides

3. On the Slide Show menu choose Set Up Show

4. Select Loop Continuously Until Esc

Photo Essay

PowerPoint can be a great way to reach visual learners. Design a lecture for visual learners based on pertinent pictures. Or have students design a photo essay by taking pictures related to a specific subject and stringing them together. For example, students can take pictures of the angles that can be found all around the school or outside. Lastly, you can use pictures of your students to make a fun and touching slideshow.

Make it happen:

1. Save picture files to your computer

2. From the Insert menu select Picture From File

3. Resize picture to take up the entire slide

Technology Integrated Lesson Plans

The links below are activities that use technology as tools to enhance meaningful learning in the classroom

Art Lessons

These lesson plans have been used at different levels in the art curriculum. All can be adjusted to suit a particular grade level.

Mini Masterpieces SOLs listed for grades 5,8, and Art I. Students are divided into three groups: before, during, and after computer use.

Tessellations This lesson is written for middle school students but can be used with fifth graders as well. Students create a tessellation on the computer to reproduce as a two dimensional work of art.

Watercolor Landscape and Haiku Fourth grade students painted a fall landscape and wrote a haiku to expain the feeling autumn promotes in them. One class period was spent in the computer lab typing the haiku. This form of visual literacy can be added to any art project.

Alphabet Book Fifth grade students created alphabet books for the kindergarten classes. Their tasks were to create a collage and a word page for the letters of the alphabet. One class period was spent in the lab typing their words and saving the pages for printing at a later time.

Useful Resources

Meaningful Learning Activities

Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking

Enriching Student Minds: Meaningful Learning Experiences through Technology-Rich Information Inquiry

Meaningful, Engaged Learning

Using the New Bloom's Taxonomy to Design Meaningful Learning Assessments


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