When considering the future impact of technology on teaching and learning there is an element of crystal ball gazing. That being said, working for an organisation such as Microsoft offers me some unique insights into the plethora of new technologies that are becoming available, which, in turn, allows me to make the odd educated guess on this subject. We are all learning, though, and it would be great to get your thoughts and suggestions in terms of how teaching and learning will be impacted as a result of emerging technologies.
Before looking into the impact of future technologies on teaching and learning, though, I thought it would be useful to look at some examples and scenarios of how we are going to be using technology in the near future. Microsoft's Productivity Future Vision, shown below, does an interesting job of showing how some of the technologies we are already using, such as mobile, touch interfaces and location based services, are going to potentially evolve and add even great value to our lives in the future.
With some of the examples shown in the video already being realised both in our day to day lives and in the classroom, there are also number of trends developing that are creating the perfect environment for some significant changes in terms of teaching and learning, but also learning environments themselves.
The current economic climate, and the resulting budget cuts, is one of the most significant trends currently impacting the sector. As a result of the budget cuts, and the challenges and opportunities associated with these, schools are being required to do more with less.
Furthermore, with the changes with the global economy as a whole, education, more than ever, needs to evolves and become more relevant. STEM based skills are a prime example of this. The IDC predicts that in the next decade, 77% of all jobs will require technical skills yet there are many countries that are not producing STEM graduates to fill those jobs. With this in mind, the education sector as a whole, combined with industry partners, clearly needs to step up to the challenge to address these gaps!
Another core trend that is impacting the sector, and society as a whole, is the concept of social connections. Through web apps such as Facebook and Twitter, the world is becoming increasingly interconnected and economies and cultures intertwine more and more. It is not uncommon, for example, for students and faculty in completely different geographic locations to connect virtually.
Additionally, social media now dominates as a real time feed for news, stories and world sentiment and you only need to look at the Arab Spring uprising to see the real impact of the power of social media.
A third major trend impacting the sector, and arguably most relevant to the topic of this post, is technology itself. Recent advances in technology have created a wide range of new and exciting ways to engage with content and interact with our devices.
Natural User Interface (NUI) is a great example of this and the Kinect device has helped brought NUI to a mass audience that is extending much further than just gaming. The video below offers a great overview of this.
Touch and gesture is another major technology trend and you only need to look at how children as young as 2-3 can pick up a touch based device and instinctively navigate around the environment. Amazing!
Additionally from a technology trend perspective, the cloud is a massive development and is changing the way that we consume and purchase software and services.
The impact of many of these trends on education and learning is huge. The cloud and more ubiquitous connectivity is driving a significant increase in the blending of informal and formal learning. Driven by the digital content revolution, powered by eBooks and apps etc, many students are studying when and where they choose and , in many cases, coming into the classroom already pre-wired with content.
Web services such as the Khan Academy, MIT Open Course Ware and a personal favourite, the Code Academy, is helping drive this. We still have a long way to go, though, in terms of how are taking advantage of technology within the classroom.
Advances in cars, planes and even mobile phones have not been replicated in education, with some exceptions clearly. This is quite a broad brush statement, but if you look at a classroom from a 100 years ago and compare with one today, its almost like a game of spot the difference. They are almost identical.
In some ways, our current use of technology in the education is actually a way for telling us far we haven't come.
Outside of the classroom, students use a wide range of devices to stay connected. When they step into the classroom, though, in many ways its like boarding a plane. They file in, buckle up, put their seat tables up and turn off all their devices. They are cut off from the outside world for the duration of the class and the use of social media and mobile devices, in particular, is off the table.
Back to the Future
Even when we do look at how technology is being used in the classroom, much of the recent developments have been around automating/digitising traditional ways of learning. While these uses, such as eBooks, add value, I would argue that we need to go beyond just automation and digitisation to realise the full benefit of technology in education.
Social connections and the web should play a key role in achieving this, but, if managed effectively, technology should actually be changing what we learn and how we teach.
Role of the teacher
So if young learners are coming to class/lectures already pre-wired with content and connecting with peers all over the world, what is the future of the teacher in all this?
With so much amazing (and not so great) content available, the role of the teacher is changing to act more like a curator or guide. The aim of which is to develop opportunities for young learners to have a more emotional connection with their learning material. With this in mind, the role of the teacher is more important than ever!
But what about the role of the device on all this? You often read headlines along the lines of 'digital devices have improved attainment in a particular school by 20%'. When I read that, I must admit a little part of me dies inside.
It wasn't the device that made the learner smarter. It was the teacher and student that improved attainment. The technology just serviced the journey.
Therefore, It could be said that technology and bad teachers has no impact and little scale, whereas technology and great teachers have the ability to help the learner achieve their full potential. Food for thought...
So what's the next step?
Creating emotional and personalized experiences using technology rather than simply digitizing traditional methods is going to be key.
There are many example of how technology is being used to create more engaging and emotional connections with learning materials, a great reflection of which is gaming in education. Gaming focuses on emotion. You can have funny games, scary games, adrenalin inducing games, and I believe that we need to get to this same place with the use of tech in education.
Games offer a wide range of benefits that are well suited to education, such as challenge, progression, reward and access to personalised real-time experiences. What's not to like!
Furthermore, within traditional education, failure is seen as a negative thing. In games, however, failure is seen as a positive part of the gaming experience. With a new game, you die/fail often. With experience, you improve until you eventually become an expert and conquer the game. Why is it not the same in education? A radical change in the assessment process would be needed, but this would be more reflective of the workplace and would be particularly relevant in a world that is needing to encourage and nurture more entrepreneurial tendencies.
In her book, Reality is Broken, Jane McGonical talks about the need to play more games to address global challenges, including education. Jane explains this concept far better than I can in the video below, and I highly recommend taking the time to watch the first 3-4 minutes in particular where she talks about the 'epic-win' face.
That’s where we need to reach with education in general and technology can play a significant role.
Impact on Teaching and Learning
Ultimately, technology is going to have a significant impact on teaching and learning. The power of the cloud and more consumer orientated devices are going to make anytime, anywhere learning more commonplace and accessible to all. Furthermore, with access to free, or very cost effective, learning content now becoming ubiquitous, the role of the teacher is going to evolve and become more important than ever.
With a eye on making education more relevant to the workplace, and with a focus on STEM based skills, building emotional and engaging connections with learning materials is going to be the key part in the next phase of development for teaching and learning and gaming in education is going to be a underlining theme throughout!
This blog post is based on the presentation I delivered at the recent Capita SIMS Independent Schools conference. The slides from the session are shown below.