It’s undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused tumultuous disruption for pupils across the globe. According to UNICEF, the education of over 1.5 billion children worldwide has been affected in some way, and will continue to be throughout 2021, whether it’s the continued closure of institutions or the cancellation of exams.
But technology has played a vital role into allowing education to continue among the disruption. As more and more educators lean into technology to support learning, we are presented with the opportunity to reinvent education. With the uncertainty as to when in-person teaching will resume, it’s important for educators to accept that blended learning might be here to stay, and should start to explore the benefits technology can provide in developing the skills of tomorrow.
The new future of education
Not only does technology connect teachers with their students, and students with each other, but digital and online learning can be remarkably effective in engaging students in the information they are presented. Data from the Research Institute of America found that, on average, students retain 25–60% more material when learning online, compared to only 8–10% in the classroom. Technology and online content therefore have a valuable opportunity to generate interest, cultivate imagination and inspire curiosity. But this will only happen if students are equipped with the right resources and hardware.
With this in mind, when adopting technology for digital learning, we are presented with the task of bridging the digital divide. Students need the right physical devices, which has been a primary focus in the UK, but they also need guidance on all aspects of the move to digital learning. As well as laptops and connectivity, students must have access to meaningful content such as digital learning courses, as well as IT consultancy. The HP Refresh Programme, for example, has been developed to help communities crowdsource donations of unused computers to allow students to continue learning remotely.
Defining new ways of learning
In a world where technology is shaping every corner, education must take an evolutionary leap for students to thrive in our digital society. Access to PCs and other basic technology, be it at home or in school, is the first stage. According to the recently published EU Skills Agenda, there’s a rapidly growing demand for digital experts that can’t be met. The World Economic Forum highlights that 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist. On the flipside, as businesses evolve, more and more are turning to newer technologies such as 3D printing and VR to remain competitive. 3D printing is poised to disrupt a US$12 trillion manufacturing industry, creating 3–5 million new jobs in the next decade. As this market grows, like many others, traditional learning models must be reinvented so that the talent pipeline is ready.
To that end, we need to rethink the old learning models. Rote learning – that is learning from memorisation – must be replaced by more experiential approaches. Technology can help with this, by transforming the learning experience with innovative instructional practices, rooted in real-world relevance. Augmented and virtual reality, for example, can elevate learning across various subjects; AR can motivate student learning and foster collaboration, whilst VR works on the premise of creating a virtual world in which students can mimic real-life practices. What’s more, education around entrepreneurship, including skills in business and IT, will not only improve employment success, but will allow businesses to remain competitive and sustain a pipeline of future employees and customers.
Blended learning models, in which students learn at least in part through online learning, are becoming prominent, with an element of self-control over time, place and path. Blended learning moves education away from the ‘one size fits all approach’, offering students the opportunity to go at their own pace, thus reducing stress and improving retention for both fast and slow learners.
As the majority of students around the world begin yet another term at home, we are faced with the opportunities to create a new (and somewhat improved) normal for students and teachers. With the right approach, technology and resources, we can prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, on platforms that are becoming more accessible and using methods proven to be more powerful. Reinventing education is something to be excited about, and it all starts now.
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