Digital learning platforms create fairer student outcomes

Empowering students by creating an atmosphere of curiosity

Education plays an outsized role in our lives. Of the many roles that the education system fills, the most primary is that of a sorting mechanism – schools’ sort for colleges, and colleges sort for the labour market. The cornerstone of this sorting are grades. And in the United Kingdom, grades are never more important than at the A-level. The cancellation of the 2021 A-level exams, following a year of forced remote learning, and the subsequent decision that a form of teacher assessment will be used to grade students has re-opened a fairness debate. Grading without examination relies on subjective teacher predictions. The system trusts the teacher to draw on a range of evidence when grading the student, and though there is to be a robust appeals mechanism, it has raised concerns among students and universities.

One outcome that experts have warned about is that inflated grades could leave many admissions departments highly stretched, particularly for laboratory-based courses with limited capacities, such as medicine and engineering. Universities at the lower end of the academic spectrum will conversely need to admit students who would not otherwise have achieved high enough grades to get to university.

Outmoded educational model

With more students than the system can cope with, learners can expect increased pressure to perform and adapt to independent learning. Universities will also find infrastructure stretched to deliver the experience and support learners’ needs. But even before the pandemic struck, the existing education system, which emphasises memorisation and standardisation, was showing its age. For a generation that spends a staggering 10.6 hours daily consuming content online, hour-long rote learning sessions, one-way communication – the s’age on stage’, rigid schedules, passive listening, and generalised syllabi are not going to make the cut.

With more students than the system can cope with, learners can expect increased pressure to perform and adapt to independent learning

Gen Z students expect hyper-personal, imaginative, empathetic, and on-demand learning experiences that are frictionless. As digital natives, these students are at the forefront of creating an entirely new economic structure based on their preference for experiences and social collaboration. Our education system was already calling for an overhaul to make it relevant for the digital age. This need has been accelerated by events of the past year. To be sure, educational institutions have already been adopting digital aids. With computer labs, projectors, desktops, hybrid infrastructures, and limited online libraries, schools assumed that they were digitising education.

In today’s cloud-native era, education has shifted towards enhanced immersive experiences, digital social learning, and collaborative environments

In today’s cloud-native era, education has shifted towards enhanced immersive experiences, digital social learning, and collaborative environments. Here, education is imparted through modular online platforms accessible on mobile devices and laptops, agile models, online training and debates, and human-machine interactions like biofeedback. Additionally, learners find that they need opportunities to practice their learning, apart from finding creative spaces and tools for self-expression. Technology has promised much, but any robust learning platform for schools and colleges must have these four foundational elements built into it – convenience of access, relevance of content, engaging modes, and analytical feedback.

Digital natives need digital-enabled learning

Convenience of access

For a generation that’s ‘always-on’, educational tools and platforms that are part of their habits make great sense. Designers of education platforms can learn from the retail industry how omnichannel customer journey maps are built. Habituated to these experiences, learners expect lessons to be always accessible – online or offline, across connectivity bandwidths 4G or 5G, anytime anywhere. They should be able to start learning on their tablets, pick up where they left off on their mobile devices, and finish on their laptops – seamlessly.

Relevance of content

Content is at the heart of all learning. Relevant, domain-specific, digitally rich content – be it instructional videos, infographics, or even two- and three-dimensional simulations can bring alive hard-to-understand concepts and complement written content. With VR-powered simulations, topics like anatomy or topography that are abstract and image-heavy, can be easily imagined and understood. Teachers can introduce near-authentic experiences into their pedagogy for better engagement and recall from open sources. Students enjoy learning and understanding concepts through visual aids and experiences that strengthen their thinking and imagination, rather than sitting through classes.

Engaging modes

Learning systems need to move towards engaging and challenging students at individual and group levels. They must support different types of learning – from instructor-led training to self-paced e-learning, and different learner types – visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic, social and informal learning, and a blend of all these. Engagement by way of personalised learning recommendations greatly help students on their learning paths. Additionally, social learning in the form of discussion forums, group quizzes, and blogs, as well as informal learning from channel boards or even social media platforms feed into the learning preferences of this generation.

Analytical feedback

Learning platforms need to have analytics and telemetry that are AI/ML- based to monitor learning progress and applications to predict student engagement, efficacy of learning, and likely success rate with an engagement index. Such tools enable intervention for disengagement, assess the areas of disengagement – whether they dislike the faculty’s methods, or are learning with a non-preferred learning style. These platforms need to be customised to provide an optimal learning experience for every student – from preferred learning styles, to unstructured and non-linear approaches, to best learning times and windows, and study patterns, all of which help to personalise content and learning material, which leads to educational success.

With technology-enhanced educational strategies like blended learning, algorithmic flipped learning, AI-based personalised learning, and cloud-enabled anytime-anywhere access, digital learning can empower students by creating an atmosphere of curiosity. Platforms can enhance faculty effectiveness, boost peer collaboration, enable customisation, and track progress. Finally, digital learning platforms can ensure that we move away from a single high-stake exam that will determine the future of a student and adopt a method of continuous grading and formative assessments. This will enable the education institution to better chart progress and map past performance with future opportunities.

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