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Digitality is a good servant but a bad master

In search of the lost cat 5


Virve Vainio

Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 05.06.2020

Why do we miss the company of other people and the atmosphere of doing things together? This is an interesting question, which deserves a closer analysis by examining the basic questions of learning as part of human communication.

Dr. Fernand Poyatos has written a lot about speech behavior. He argues that there are biological, physiological and sociocultural variables with which the spoken language is interwoven. These variables and information passed through different senses affect how we recognize meanings in interpersonal interaction.  In a digital environment, vital information is not present. In a virtual world, we have limited access to non-verbal signals. In addition, there is no way to place our dialogue into the wider social and physical context behind the screen.

Interaction as a phenomenon is thus much more complex than exchanging language messages, thus, bodily activity in an authentic environment has a crucial role. Let us take a common example: the instructor explains to the trainee various stages of a task, then he/she asks the trainee if he/she has understood how to proceed. Often the answer is “yes” or an affirmative nod even if the trainee has no idea what to do next. As pedagogues, we must ask what this tells us.

The experience gained from different work, the tools used at work and the work environment including our co-workers, all facilitate the understanding of spoken/linguistic information. Ethnographic research shows that the more concrete the situation is, and the more means there are available and used for guidance, the easier it is for the trainee to understand and follow the instructions. 

Pedagogically it would be beneficial to let the trainee have concrete experience and perception of the task as it enhances learning and internalizing. Here the instructor has a vital role and should be available to the trainee. It is important that the trainee and the instructor share the learning process. This also is difficult via the screen.

It is our task to harness digital equipment to serve our pedagogical goals – not the other way round. If the digital world would harness us, we would become extensions of our tools, not masters using them. However, as a servant, the digital media has a vital role in the pedagogical world.  

Poyatos, F. 1983. Language and nonverbal systems in the structure of face-to-face interaction Language& Communication, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 129-140, 1983.

The text was written by lecturer Virve Vainio from Haaga-Helia School of Vocational Teacher Education and education management professional Kari Viinisalo from Oppisopimuskummit ry.

In search of the LOST CAT  -series:


Embodied knowledge in learning in search of the lost cat


Learning through mind and body


Dear teacher, wait a minute, please