The other week while at the Google office in Cambridge, a student asked a senior manager what industry he thought technology would disrupt next. His response was education. He explained how the cost of higher education can not continue to rise as it has and he thought technology would totally redefine it in the coming decades. I was intrigued by his answer and wondered how data will drive education to be more efficient? What innovations will break the status quo in education at large? Then, I began to think about experience with technology in the classroom.
The biggest infusion of technology was in math class. While in high school, the math department at my public school began “flipped classrooms” where students would watch the lesson at home, start the corresponding homework, and then come to class with any questions. The entire class period was spent on extra examples and practice. Not only did this make it easy for students to make up work, it also helps students go at their own pace allowing them to pause or re-watch an example. Further, it made it easier for the teachers to miss class and manage more students. Instead of having a substitute try to teach a lesson, students could just spend classroom time working together. Could this model be applied to higher education, too? I don’t know – but here are some ways the digitization of education is already changing education worldwide – making it easier to access as well as more affordable, while constantly evolving and innovating.
Accessibility & Affordability:
Similar to my flipped classroom, many companies offer high quality online courses for free. Given that a person has access to internet, he/she can access hundreds of educational options. Khan Academy is a not for profit education platform that offers exercises, videos, and personalized learning dashboards to allow students to learn about new subjects at their own pace. edX is an another online learning platform created by Harvard University and MIT in 2012 that offers high quality courses from some of the best universities in the world to students everywhere. Open edX is the open-source and free platform that powers edX courses. With Open edX, educators and technologists can build learning tools and contribute new features to the platform, creating innovative solutions to benefit students everywhere. This allows users all around the world to create Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as well as training models. Although these education options aren’t for degrees, edX offers certificates to showcase coursework completion.
Beyond the free online platforms, physical schools have adopted tech innovations to cut costs. The cost of primary education is a big factor for many people, especially in developing economies where “free” public education isn’t really free because of fees, nor does it offer quality education. In some developing countries Bridge International Academies is offering an alternative approach to education by leveraging technology. Instead of having teachers each plan their own lessons, Bridge has standardized all its learning objectives and lessons. Each morning teachers meet with the school master to download the day’s lesson onto their tablets. The standardization allows for easier way to compare school’s performance and it holds the school managers accountable. Although this is a controversial way to run a school, it has enabled hundreds of children to get an education because of its low cost and accountability.
Innovations and the Future:
Data in many ways is driving innovation in the education field. edX is collecting huge amounts of data on its users and analyzing it to improve their operations. By carefully assessing course data, from mouse clicks to time spent on tasks, to evaluating how students respond to various assessments, researchers hope to figure out how learners access information and master materials, in order to improve outcomes of the course. edX isn’t not only expanding access to knowledge, but developing best practices to enhance the student experience and improve teaching and learning online.
Additionally, collaboration continues to grow as a leading trend of education. Jhansi Mary, an analyst from Technavio, who specializes in research on the education sector, said “the rising use of smartphones and tablets has proven to be effective in the digitization of education through cloud technology. The collaborative feature of the m-learning (mobile learning) system enables educators and students to share data and work together on different projects through a single platform.” Furthermore, the emergence of gamification in the education sector shows another trend. Gamification includes game mechanics and game design techniques in a non-gaming context. It is considered a powerful tool to help students in character building, developing cognitive and motor skills, and driving innovative thinking through the incorporation of points, levels, and awards into the learning experience. According to the Education Arcade at MIT, “game players regularly exhibit persistence, risk-taking, attention to detail, and problem solving, all behaviors that ideally would be regularly demonstrated in school.” The development of more programs and apps that incorporate learning into games will likely increase over the coming years.
These are just some ways education has digitized. Although these innovations scale from kindergarten classrooms to college courses, it appears primary education has been more disrupted at this point. Higher education will surely develop more in the coming years and I am interested to see what role technology plays.