Technology has already made educational content accessible on a large scale and at lower costs, but more is yet to come. As institutions begin to realize that digital experience extends well beyond offering online classes, we are starting to glimpse a new shape for the future of education. What if we could completely reimagine education through technology?
The Rise of New Technologies
Technology is having an impact on many sectors, and it comes as no surprise that education is no exception. In some institutions, e-books have replaced print textbooks and improved the reader experience in many ways. For example, we now have built-in dictionaries and functionalities that can help readers with dyslexia.
And that’s not all. When in 2011 Stanford University offered a free online course in artificial intelligence, no one expected that the experiment would attract 160,000 students from 190 countries and generate the rapid proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOCs). This changed education in terms of space, time and accessibility as it made top educational resources available, for free or for very low prices, to people who otherwise would not have access to them.
However, can we say that technology in education has revolutionized the way we learn? Not really.
According to a study conducted in 2015 by educational researcher Katy Jordan, the average completion rate for MOOCs was only 15 percent. Moreover, earlier studies, including one published in 2013 by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, found that many learners who finish a MOOC are already well-educated while individuals without access to higher education are underrepresented. Therefore, MOOCs may not be as accessible and massive as initially expected.
Current Educational System
To better understand why technology has not radically changed education, we should start from the observation that maybe we have not used technology to improve the way we learn. Where and when we learn have definitely changed over time, but the ‘how’ still remains undisrupted.
Teaching has always tended to be lecture-format and many courses are still using this approach. Even though lectures have their own advantages, they do not engage the listener in the right way, especially if the instructor lacks in effective speaking and presentation skills. This can result in superficial learning, less ability to use what is learned, and the information being deemed irrelevant by students. According to neurologist and educator Judy Will, a student must consider new information important for it to be stored as a long-term memory. “Student-centered learning can lead to mastery, because the lesson has personal meaning that they can see has the potential to increase their success and skill in achieving something they care about.”
In other words, teaching should not be passive at all, as it should inspire students on why they are going to learn those subjects. This is key to ignite their learning.
A different approach to leveraging new technologies might help students become more creative, entrepreneurial and inquisitive and show them how to apply the theory in a real setting. Therefore, how can we use technology further to fully reshape the future of education?
Therefore, how can we use technology further to fully reshape education?
Machine Learning and Data Analytics
One way technology can innovate how we learn, consists in the use of machine learning (ML) and data analytics to make the learning experience more personalized and dynamic.
Examples are personal assistants from universities, like Genie, the natural language app from Deakin University, or Jill Watson, a virtual teaching assistant from Georgia State University used to augment and amplify student-teacher interaction in its online AI course.
Moreover, successful applications of ML and (big) data analytics are emerging for secondary school students and IT employees. Learning platforms employ machine learning algorithms and predictive models to determine learners’ skill levels, estimate their future performance and personalize their learning path.
Other technologies that can help in completely reimagining the learning experience are immersive technologies like Virtual Reality (VR).
There are already examples in this direction like Unimersiv’s VR app, one of the largest platforms for VR educational content.
Learning from books or lectures does not have the same effect as learning through hands-on experience. Higher levels of curiosity and engagement play a vital role in the storage of information. Also, our brain stores information better when the learning process involves many senses.
Classes are currently trying to alternate theory with practice through homework assignments, but most of the times they are uninspiring and far away from real-life problems. This makes the subject emotionally unengaging and difficult to memorize.
A great way in which immersive technologies can contribute to the enhancement of the current educational system is by offering students the chance to apply the skills they are being taught in a realistic scenario. Virtual field trips, language immersions and game-based training are a few examples.
VR in Practice
Virtual field trips have become one of the most popular applications of VR technology for learning and many schools have begun using Google Expeditions to virtually transport students everywhere. Imagine being in a geography or even a history class and learning about a certain place and its importance, while being able to actually see everything that you are being taught!
Another example appears in the learning of new languages. It is well-known that learning a new language is not an easy task and that a full immersion in the new language is one of the best and fastest methods to improve listening and speaking skills. VR simulations can trick the brain into thinking the experiences are real and can be more affordable than visiting the foreign country. Moreover, the fear of making mistakes can sometimes restrain learners in the real world but not in a virtual scenario. ImmerseMe is about virtually stepping into a beautiful and authentic location to practice the language while interacting with other people in a virtual world.
Gamification can provide more practical experience to students during their classroom lessons. For example, the University of Westminster has built a virtual game for criminal law students in which they hunt for clues to construct a murder case. Rather than simply reading witness statements, they can walk around a building and gather pieces of evidence from a real scenario in order to decide whether the case is a murder or not.
With immersive technologies, educators can create experiences that would normally be impossible, to engage students in new ways.
Look into the Future
Technology has already made education more accessible but much more is yet to come.
Just imagine how the future of education could look like. You could connect through your mobile device to a virtual teacher or advisor, available to provide the support you need at any time. You could track your performance using advanced analytics and get just-in-time formative feedback to improve your weaknesses and further develop your strengths.
At work, you could make use of simulated projects to test different methods and practice new methodologies. Also, VR could help you explore new fields and ignite new interests. This spark could be picked up by wearable devices and sent to your personal virtual assistant to check if this interest is consistent with your aptitude profile and then generate personalized suggestions. As you go through your daily learning experience, a secure blockchain-based credentialing system could post it on your resume and make it public for new learning opportunities such as social and civic-related initiatives.
Technology will help us move from the idea of learning anytime and anywhere to that of learning everywhere, all the time and in every conceivable way.
There is no doubt about it – the coming future will be an interesting time.