The landscape of research on learning in low-tech environments

Date11 November 2019
Publication Date11 November 2019
AuthorKathleen Campana,Naresh Kumar Agarwal
SubjectLibrary & information science,Librarianship/library management,Library & information services
The landscape of research on
learning in low-tech environments
Kathleen Campana
School of Information, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, USA, and
Naresh Kumar Agarwal
School of Library and Information Science, Simmons University,
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Purpose This paper aims to review the landscape of research in pedagogy and learning that surmounts the
challenges of low-tech, information-rich environments during the past decade. It also reviews the methods used,
populations studied and places where such research was carried out and proposes a conceptual framework.
Design/methodology/approach A scoping review methodology was used to provide initial, broad
insight intothe eld of learningin low tech environments.
Findings The study found that low tech wasnot a barrier when it came to effectiveness of pedagogy and
learning. In addition, it becameapparent that active learning strategies combined with no-tech, low-techand
high-tech resources and strategies can lead to learning environments that are learner-centered, knowledge-
centered,assessment-centered and community-centered.
Originality/value The authors propose the framework for learning in low-tech, information-rich
environments, which can be used by researchers, educators, practitioners and policymakers in environments
with low technology, or in those with high technology seeking to transfer expertise and technology to these areas.
Keywords Learning, Information rich, Pedagogy, Learning environment, Scoping review, Low tech
Paper type Literature review
1. Introduction
Jerome Bruner (1961), a noted learning theorist, described learning as the process of
acquiring information and internally organizing it for future use. Kuhlthaus (2004)
information search process framework further ties information and learning together and
builds on the work of Dewey (1910) and Vygotsky (Kozulin, 2003)by depicting information
behavior as a process of constructing knowledge. Bruner and Kuhlthaus positionssuggest
that people are seeking out and learningfrom information in the environments in which they
exist in their daily lives. Often, theseenvironments are enriched with information delivered
through a variety of technologies. However, thereare many places where people exist, seek
out information and learnin low-tech information environmentsas well.
A low-technology or low-tech information environment is one that is rich with information
delivered through mostly analog, non-digital materials along with limited digital technologies,
as opposed to a no-tech environment which incorporates all analog materials. While rapid
developments have occurred in technological infrastructure in many parts of the world, low-tech
information environments persist for many reasons. For instance, institutional and broader
cultural practices and mind-sets often do not support organizational changes in information
technology; the push for greener and healthier information practices may sometimes favor low-
technological environments; or the lack of infrastructure or resources, even temporarily, may
require organizations and institutions to adopt adaptable and often low-tech solutions.
Learning in
Received11 October 2019
Revised28 October 2019
Accepted31 October 2019
Informationand Learning
Vol.120 No. 11/12, 2019
pp. 687-703
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/ILS-10-2019-0103
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Jonassen (2011) contends that learning environments that are structured for problem-
solving, with accessibility to the information needed to solve problems can maximize
learning potential. Many organizations that are able to provide relevant information, albeit
low-tech or tech-free, may still serve as highlyeffective learning environments. For example,
Nicol et al. (2018) found no noticeable difference when comparing the performance of
students in high-technology classrooms versus those in low-technology classrooms
designed for active learning. Campana (2018) found that public library storytimes offer
multimodal information environments that support learning for young children using
screen-free methods such as books, manipulatives and other people in the environment. In
addition, studies have also found that addingtechnology in a limited way to environments
that were previously technology-free can generate a low-tech information environment that
helps to support and extend the learning processfor those involved (Nedungadi et al., 2018;
Masters and Grogan, 2015).
While there have been a number of studies with the low-techtheme, there is no single
paper that provides insight into the eld of learning in low-techenvironments, especially on
research and developments duringthe past decade. This paper is an attempt to review this
landscape of research on learning in low-tech,information-rich environments. The research
questions that we seek to answer are as follows:
RQ1. What are the most prominent strands of research into the opportunities and
challenges of low-techpedagogy and learning carried out in the past decade?
RQ2. What are the methods used, populations studied and places where such research
was carried out?
To answer these questions, we used a scoping review method because a scoping review is
useful for mapping key domains and gaps in a eld to provide initialinsight into the broad
area of study (Pham et al.,2014).
Such a review will be useful to researchers and practitioners in environments with low
technology in the Asia-Pacic, Africa, Australia and other regions of the world. It will also
be useful to people in high-tech environments seeking to transfer technology and make a
difference to those other regions. It should also be useful for those who want or need to
support learning throughlow-tech methods, rather than following the current trend of using
high-tech learningstrategies.
2. Methodology
To map the landscape of researchon learning in low-tech environments, we chose to conduct
a review of existing literature. Because reviews of research literature can be useful for
providing insight into the trends and themes occurring in the research area, a variety of
methods have been developed for completing such reviews (Grant and Booth, 2009). A
systematic review, possibly the most common review method, seeks to accomplish
comprehensive searching while using a structured search process with predetermined
guidelines to arrive at resultsthat are both reliable and meaningful (Munn et al., 2018;Grant
and Booth, 2009). Another common review type, the meta-analysis extends the systematic
review by statistically combin[ing] the results of quantitative studies to provide a more
precise effect of the results(Grant and Booth, 2009, p. 94). For this study, we chose to use
another common review type, the scoping review, over a systematic or meta-analysis
review, to delve into the research completed on pedagogy and learning that incorporates
low-tech methods and environments.

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