Using Technology to Create Transformative Learning Environments

5/15/2012 12:00 AM ,

Innovation in leadership education today means incorporating emerging technology and social media in ways that enhance learning and provide for a more transformative learning environment.  It means that educators are able to reach more students, connect those students to each other, and have a greater impact on learning. While technology will never replace the crucial face-to-face interaction that leadership can require, using these methods will reinforce concepts in a way that a classroom experience or workshop seldom could.

Creating a transformative learning environment also means understanding how students learn. Tomlinson (2001) provided a model called Differentiated Instruction that states what a student learns, how they learn it, and how they demonstrate mastery of what they have learned must match a student’s readiness level, interests in the concepts, and preferred learning style. In other words, in addition to focusing on the differences in how one learns, educators must also spend a great deal of effort focusing on how a student’s capacity and interest in leadership affects how they learn. 

Our students come to us with myriad diverse experiences that have informed how they have constructed meaning around the concepts of leading, leaders, and leadership.  These differences provide for a wealth of learning opportunities, but also pose a challenge. Ensuring that every student in a class, on a staff, or in a workshop reaches the same learning outcome(s) about leadership is difficult when each has different thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about what leadership is. By understanding Differentiated Instruction we can adapt the use of technology so we can, as Tomlinson suggests, clarify key concepts and generalizations, emphasize critical and creative thinking, engage all learners at their own pace, and provide a balance between teacher-assigned and student-selected tasks.

For example, a significant driving force of the Education Technology (Ed Tech) Movement today is the concept of the flipped classroom. The flipped classroom switches the place where content is delivered, from the classroom1 to the student’s home. Instead of learning new concepts or reviewing information read from texts during class time, students access the material at home—on their own time, when it’s most convenient.  The classroom is then transformed into a laboratory of sorts where students can practice what they have learned.



This exciting new teaching method puts the concepts to be learned squarely at the center of the class, not the instructor. Educators have more time for in-class experimentation, while learners learn at their own pace and have concepts reinforced during class through hands-on practice.

For leadership educators, flipping the classroom  might mean using screen-capture software like Camtasia Studio to create original video content describing course lessons.



Video would then be uploaded to a social sharing site like  YouTube for students to watch online or download onto their laptops, smartphones,or tablets. When students come to class, they then can participate in activities, simulations, and exercises without having to sacrifice precious class time going over content. For me, one of the most challenging parts of teaching leadership is finding enough class- or workshop-time to not only facilitate the exercise, but to also reflect and debrief the activity properly. Flipping the classroom enables us to do this more efficiently. It also opens up a world of possibility to incorporate opportunities to use the classroom experience for doing more experiential learning like group projects, role-plays, case studies, and field trips.

The possibilities are truly only limited by your own innovation. Aside from the traditional brick and mortar style classroom, we could also flip student leader training series, club officer workshops, or even online classes or webinars. Have a topic you seem to be teaching to RAs or Orientation Leaders each year and it never (or rarely) changes?  Try videotaping the workshop and uploading it so that in the future students can watch it on their own time or as many times as needed. What about watching a video or reviewing a Slideshare PowerPoint about a new concept, and then joining an online webinar where participants actively discuss the content instead of passively listening to a speaker and occasionally, maybe, having the opportunity to ask a question.

At Saint Louis University we use Edmodo, a free online social media learning environment, to deliver content for our Bright Idea Grants program.



Using Edmodo has allowed us to put our workshop content online, use quizzes to test to see what they have learned, poll students who may need additional assistance, and house student grant proposals for review. Within their teams, students will typically work through the workshops together on their own time and discuss how the content relates to their project.  This has led to greater student participation and comprehension, much-improved quality of proposals, and has ultimately strengthened the student teams and success of their projects.

Additionally, collaboration is also a key aspect of ‘doing’ leadership as well as teaching leadership.  Often times I will hear from colleagues that using services like Facebook and Twitter makes them uncomfortable because that is where their personal lives are and they do not want to mix work and family.  For this I like to turn to either Ning or Asana.  Ning provides a service for creating your own social networks, which can be used to bring every participant together without having to use Facebook.  A Ning social network could be designed to allow participants to collaborate on projects, discuss relevant issues, or otherwise interact in a learning environment that can be completely user-developed.  Asana is a free and easy online team collaboration tool. Just sign up and invite your team (students, staff, club, etc...) and begin discussing how the work gets done.  

Developing transformative learning environments for leadership education begins when we embrace the use of emerging technologies and social media to enhance student learning. For more information about incorporating technology and social media into leadership education, visit my blog at hackingleadership.ning.com.  Visit and learn about new innovations, read case studies where these technologies are being used, or help to contribute by writing a post of your own or review something you have used to teach leadership. View our iLead Community at SLU channel on YouTube channel

References: Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. (2nd Ed.) Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

1For the purposes of this article, the term ‘classroom’ can also mean workshop, seminar, training room, staff meeting, or any other learning environment used for the purposes of leadership education.

Note: I would be remiss if I did not add one last, very important detail: I do not officially endorse any of the websites or companies in this article, nor do I receive payment for mentioning them. I only suggest valuable resources that I have used or seen used well so that leadership educators may enhance their experiences and improve student learning. 

Todd J. Foley serves as Assistant Director for the Student Involvement Center at Saint Louis University working with servant leadership programs, fraternity and sorority life, and student transition and engagement programs.  He also serves as a leadership educator teaching classes on servant leadership, social change, and social movements.  He can be reached at tfoley1@slu.edu.  Follow him on Twitter @hackingleadrshp

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