What is the state of learning technology in education today? Simplilearn’s learning and development (L&D) specialist, Dan Biewener, was interviewed on the Clever Books EdTech Podcast, where they discussed opinions and forecasts about the use of emerging technology in education, including blended learning (or the “flipped classroom” model). While this podcast focused mostly on classroom education, the tools and concepts they covered apply broadly to learning as a whole, including continuing education and even corporate training.
The many technologies that have been developed and deployed—both in classrooms and online—are making a meaningful impact on the quality, engagement, retention and even cost-effectiveness of imparting knowledge and skills to learners, whether they’re in the K-12 classroom or the company cubicle. Here’s a wrap-up of some of the important points that were discussed in the podcast, including some of the latest research and tools for learning, the benefits of employing EdTech in teaching and how to overcome resistance to such new technologies.
You can listen to the podcast recording below, or if you’d just like to have a written refresher, here’s a roundup of the key points in this article.
Q: Are you positive or negative in regards to technology in education? Why?
A: Working for an eLearning company, Simplilearn, of course I feel positive about technology in education. Thanks to the tools and multiple delivery modalities provided by EdTech, not only does technology speed learning and improve accessibility to knowledge, it greatly increases learner engagement and retention. Using technology in the training process doesn’t just improve learning, it teaches students something else which is essential— and that’s how to use technology. Even digital natives suffer gaps in digital knowledge. Learning new technology and research skills will not only teach them the tools but also prepare them for being a better adult or a more productive employee.
Technology in education is more important than ever. At many universities, to get a degree in Education, especially a Master’s, candidates are required to take courses specifically in technology integration, so graduates and future teachers will know how to vet, incorporate and use current and future technologies in their classrooms.
Q: Which technologies can be a good supplement for education, in your opinion?
A: Where do you start? There are so many great technologies for classrooms. Probably the most immediately useful and easy to access are integrated online software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools like Google Classroom. I know several teachers who use these free Google tools to share information, assignments and calendars with students, track progress, record when homework is turned in and so on. Because it’s all in the cloud and secure, these records can be shared with parents to monitor at home. In the corporate training space, this monitoring system is called a learning management system, or LMS. It’s a dashboard or portal that lets managers monitor and support the progress of their staff who are undergoing training.
eLearning, in the form of online video courses, is another valuable technology, even in classrooms. Teachers have been supplementing classroom instruction using multimedia-based educational aids for half a century, and to great effect, and now e-learning makes access to such multimedia and multi-modal learning easier to access than ever, at any time and any device. eLearning is an effective method of knowledge transfer, particularly because it adds engaging variety to the material and enables close-up, repeatable video demonstrations and real-world visuals. It provides a very rich learning experience. What’s new about eLearning is that rather than just incorporating it as an online accompaniment to their in-person instruction, in some classrooms it’s become an integral part of the educational setting.
Online self-paced videos are becoming a ubiquitous element of education, where learners study videos during certain lab hours or even on their own time—and later follow-up with their instructors for live mentoring, applied practical exercises, group discussions or collaborative projects with others. This type of environment is called blended learning because it combines the most effective aspects of video, enabling people to study and learn at their own pace and then add the process of live interaction with teachers or other learners. In K-12 education, blended learning is often referred to as the “flipped classroom” model because it reverses the traditional learning environment by delivering the majority of instructional content outside of the classroom (when they would typically be considered homework) and then having learners reconvene in the classroom to apply concepts under the guidance of their instructor.
More and more eLearning involves a live virtual classroom, where students or employees from all around the world can watch and interact with a live instructor (and in some case, even each other). This gives the opportunity for teachers or learning and development (L&D) managers to invite and “bring in” the best guest lecturers from anywhere, online.
Besides the cost savings compared to developing original content and bringing the best guest instructors into the classroom, eLearning also enables just-in-time deliverability. It’s repeatable and always consistent. Plus, it’s infinitely scalable. It suits any number of students. eLearning makes a difference because multiple delivery modes improve learning. Using multiple modalities, such as live instruction, text and video, even at the same time, reinforces engagement, learning and retention dramatically.
Numerous studies show how learning is improved (for almost everyone) by utilizing as many learning delivery methods as possible (video, live instructor, social and practical). Using multiple media enables you to fill-in any knowledge gaps left by modes that were less than optimal for the specific topic or learner. In study after study, we find that redundancy either improves learning or has no effect. It never harms learning.
A study by the Georgia Institute of Technology showed that computer-based multimedia appears to help people learn more information in less time than traditional classroom lectures.
The greatest potential benefit from eLearning can come when it enables adaptive learning...or personalized learning…using the computer to deliver different content to different people based on their inputs, for example, using quizzes to determine what material should be repeated, reinforced or skipped, depending on each learner’s progress rather than depending on a one-lesson-fits-all approach.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have enormous potential for education, particularly for teaching things that are messy, wasteful or dangerous. VR, through affordable headsets like Google Cardboard or Oculus Rift, make immersive learning possible. This technology is ideal for studying things like anatomy, where the student can navigate virtually through layers of the body and see organs functioning as they do in a living creature rather than in photos, models or even a dissection.
A few months ago, Apple announced a host of new ARKit apps including Froggipedia. An AR dissection app for the iPad or iPhone, Froggipedia lets students use an Apple Pencil stylus to peel the skin off a virtual frog. The only difficulty I see with AR apps in the near future is that they may be dependent on specific devices like iPads. It will be much better when Virtual Reality AR can be delivered on a much wider range of platforms and phones, so more students have accessibility.
Artificial Intelligence is certainly going to make its way into classrooms soon. Since 2012, companies like Hewlett Packard have been developing algorithms for automatic essay scoring. One program has already achieved a 94.5% average correlation between AI and human graders in both scoring student essays as having answered the question, and even providing automatic written feedback on those essays.
Chatbots are another area where AI is making headway into education. This has been tried successfully, especially in help desk functions and student orientation websites.
Some people may scoff at the idea of chatbots, but nowadays, people (especially digital natives) are very comfortable dealing with chatbots. Not only are more people familiar with using chatbots, thanks to the thousands of eCommerce sites that use them, but many people say they prefer them to live operators who often sound awkward or rigidly scripted. Under specific circumstances, Chatbots are now routinely passing the Turing test, where they’re indistinguishable from a live human. Take for example Google Duplex AI, which uses robo-vocalization. You may have seen the recent demonstration where their AI-driven automated assistant made a telephone appointment with a hairdresser and a restaurant reservation, with live humans on the other end who seemed to have no idea they were interacting with a machine.
I can imagine such chatbots would be great for providing 24/7 interactive help with homework. For example, say a student was up at midnight, struggling to solve a pure quadratic equation, where there is no C, So the quadratic formula can’t be used. The chatbot could then guide the frustrated student through an alternative process (like describing how to find the greatest common factor) until eventually, the student would connect with the way that made the best sense for him or her, without having to wake up a parent, call a friend, email the teacher or waste an hour trying to find the solution on YouTube or social media.
I think the best way to integrate all these technologies is through a BYOD policy. Bring Your Own Device. All these classroom technologies should be mobile-friendly and usable on any smartphone or mobile device. Whether it’s eLearning through self-paced videos, or AR and VR, chatbots or connectivity with smart boards, it’s important for students not to have to depend on a classroom device, let alone a desktop-based system.
A study featured on elearningindustry.com reported that 92 percent of students say that it is easier to use their own mobile device to access information, so they will not be stranded and will be able to find anything they want to find, right at the time they need it. They can read their lessons in bed on their smartphones. After researching a topic they can create and upload short selfie videos to give original oral reports about what they learned. They can communicate in online class forums from anywhere.
Mobile is also ideal for accessing microlearning content. “Moment of need” (or just-in-time eLearning) is going to become even more important in the years ahead, especially for continuing education and employee training. Instead of extensive courses, once you have a solid basic education, it will soon be less important how much you know, but more important to know how and where you can learn just what you need, just when you need it.
Q: Why, in your opinion, might teachers reject technology in their classroom?
A: Some teachers might be against technology in the classroom for a lot of reasons. Some may simply have difficulty learning the technology themselves. Or they may be attached to tradition. They might also be afraid of malfunctions. What if something goes wrong? But then again, as a teacher, part of your lesson planning has to involve having a backup in case something does go wrong.
Then there are those who say technology is distracting. Well, teaching has always had distractions. Before cell phones, there was passing notes, or doodling on your Peechee folders or even just looking out the window. At least with technology, you have ways to track and monitor students’ activities online. You can see the history of what students are searching. Even if they’re using their own device, as long as they’re logged into the school’s wifi network, teachers can ask their tech department to look up the student’s login and history.
Of course there are exceptions to this trend of technology in classrooms. In the United States we have about 160 Waldorf Education schools, which utilize only traditional and artistic tools for learning. There are no screens at all. Computers aren’t allowed in the classroom. The schools even discourage students from using them at home. Ironically, these schools are pretty popular in Silicon Valley, California where even some high-level executives at tech giants like eBay, Apple and Facebook send their children to Waldorf schools. Their teaching philosophy focuses on physical activity, creative expression and hands-on tasks. Their proponents say that computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.
I think this is a noble idea. After all, it’s the way myself and other non-digital natives from baby boomers back to the neolithic man were educated. However, the reality is that technology is a part of life, and like some communities have seen from the failure of abstinence-only education, if the kids don’t learn it in school, and their parents won’t explain it, they’re going to learn it from their peers...and that’s not always the best advice.
Resistance to technology in classrooms is nothing new. Teachers resisted the pencil and eraser. Plato and his followers thought writing itself was deviant and untrustworthy and thought that writing would cause memories to deteriorate. But of course we now know the opposite is true. Writing reinforces memory.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to cover?
A: Technology isn’t the only answer to improving learning in the classroom. Anything you can do to add modalities and build engagement will improve learning. Outside of technology, I believe that physical, experiential demonstrations and exercises can help. For example, if I were teaching astronomy, I would take the class out to a giant empty parking lot and have us pace out a scale model of the solar system, with a basketball representing the sun, and a sesame seed as the Earth 25 meters away. Then one student could pretend to be a sunbeam traveling at the speed of light and take eight whole minutes to walk from the Sun to the Earth...and then Mars, a tiny red pinhead at 43 meters away from the sun, and Jupiter a ping pong ball at 80 meters out...and so on. The next-nearest star would be a basketball 7000 kilometers away.
I think technology is a great thing for education, but there has to be a balance with other more physical and experiential aspects of learning. The more we can involve not just the minds of students but their physical and other senses as well, the more engaging and thorough and long lasting their skills and knowledge will be. The more modes the better.
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Despite some instructors’ and even L&D managers’ resistance to incorporating established and emerging technologies into their corporate learning process, the future of EdTech is extremely promising, regardless of the age, disposition or profession of the learner. eLearning makes an ideal environment for learning, not only because of its flexibility and mobility, but also because of its ability to serve as a conduit for many emerging technologies and modalities, from AI and VR to exciting methodologies not even yet conceived.
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