The lines between personal, instructional (educational), and assistive technologies are not clear cut. Personal technologies might be considered programmed systems and devices, or tools, that we all might want to use, or even require, in our daily living. Educational technologies are those systems and devices that are developed or adopted primarily for learning. And assistive technologies are those systems and devices developed to accommodate individuals with disabilities. However, most items falling into any category can be classified as “all of the above” once used, intentionally or not, outside of their intended purpose or when adopted by a larger population.
From laptops and productivity programs like Microsoft Office to the apps on our smart devices to activity trackers and other wearable technology, personal technologies allow us to be productive, efficient, and accurate as well as achieve something that cannot otherwise be done. Their use for assistive and entertainment purposes is ubiquitous. Used in education, personal technologies get a boost from educational and assistive technologies in helping all students learn.
From online tools such as graded discussion forums to personalized and simulated learning activities to interactive whiteboards, instructional technologies allow students to be active participants in their education, to collaborate, and to find optimum ways to personally engage with and demonstrate their learning. They allow faculty to be innovative, transforming activities to engage and reach the most learners; this includes bringing traditionally in-person activities online. Educational technologies also permit faculty and students to communicate efficiently and easily with each other: privately, as a class, or beyond the “closed” group as a greater community.
From voice recognition software to personalized digital displays to mobility devices such as adaptive keyboards, assistive technologies accommodate people with visual, auditory, cognitive, seizure, or other disabilities and allow them the opportunity to participate. More information about disability categories and assistive technologies can be found on WebAIM’s page Introduction to Web Accessibility and the Maryland Department of Disabilities’ Assistive Technology website.
Other “Everyday” Technologies
Technologies are constantly being developed and, in their infancy, may be harder to classify as personal, educational, or assistive. One example is augmented reality (AR) applications that provide layover, or superimposed, digital content on what’s around us through an app on a smartphone or other device that can record or at least view the real world. AR was first developed strictly as a means toward scientific research, but it has since been used in entertainment, manufacturing, medicine, and education, and as an assistive tool for everything from translating written words to translating emotions conveyed by facial expressions (for individuals not able to naturally process those communications). Learn a bit more about AR on the Interactive Design Foundation’s page on AR’s past, present, and future.
Rest assured that many of these newer technologies are finding their way into education. The demands and boundaries of education and technology are constantly pushing each other toward innovative solutions.