The future of education will be shaped by technology

  • A day in the life of the student of the future
  • The transition from blackboard to multi-touch LCD screens
  • Augmented learning with augmented reality
  • The valuable feedback of biometric eye-tracking
  • Video games – from annoying distraction to enjoyable, effective learning
  • A broader range of learning

Technology is bringing about a bigger transformation in learning than any invention ever before. Emerging technologies such as augmented reality, cloud computing and 3D printing are paving the way for the future of education. Teachers are increasingly realising the value of the latest technology and devices and the roles they play in becoming more efficient educators. They can assist with lesson planning, paper grading, communication with parents and many other activities. More and more educators are integrating these new technologies and devices into their lessons. There is a clear evolution taking place in which traditional learning is making way for online learning, with free courses accessible to anyone, to be attended from anywhere in the world. In this article we’ll have a look at some of the ways in which technology is transforming education as we know it.

A day in the life of the student of the future

In the future, education will no longer be about a teacher in front of a class. Instead, you will be at home, looking at a screen where a classmate will give you a list of possible topics to explore. Students will rank these topics, after which the educator customises the course. The educator assigns students to research certain topics after which they take turns teaching. You won’t physically meet any of your fellow students, by the way. For instance, a student could have recorded a video lecture at home in Spain or in China around a topic that he will teach that day. Learners from all over the world will be able to attend this lecture remotely. If, at any time during the video there is a word that you don’t understand, you can pause the lecture and look up the meaning of the word or phrase. You can then also share that information with the other students by linking it to the video, at the relevant time stamp. While watching the video lecture, you can read your fellow students’ notes or mark important points yourself and share them. When you get tired of being indoors, you simple switch off your computer or laptop and continue the video lecture on your mobile, while enjoying the sun outside on your patio. If you think this is a far-fetched scenario of what learning might be like in 2020, think again. In the new world of education, students teach each other and they teach their educators. Technology makes it possible to take free online courses for which thousands of students can enrol. They attend classes via live video streaming or pre-recorded video lectures. In an era when students have the ability to access more information through their cell phones than an educator can consume and teach in a lifetime, the classroom or university as a physical place of learning might soon become a thing of the past.

Various universities have already registered with the virtual world, Second Life, in order to enable students to socialise with each other via an online platform. Logged onto these social networks, students can freely share ideas and content while teachers take on the role of moderators. Sharing ideas in this manner is hugely empowering as it will instil new perceptions; that learning is not the lecturers’ or teachers’ responsibility, but the students’. This interactive concept of many-to-many learning, where there is a free flow of ideas, is also much more in line with the world of today, where collaboration in the workplace is often the norm. Of course, if there is a need, lecturers, teachers and professors are there to upload useful and important information to the cloud community or they can provide guidance on forums. These types of social platforms can also serve as valuable feedback tools to improve the courses. No matter which way you look at it, a social-based approach to learning will become more and more relevant to our future students.

The transition from blackboard to multi-touch LCD screens

There have been many transitions in the past decades and this hasn’t been different in our classrooms. From blackboard to whiteboard to overhead projector and now video projectors. The next step in this development will be giant touch screen LCD screens which will enable more interactivity. The screens, connected to computers, will generate unlimited combinations of images and videos and will be able to detect the input from many students at the same time. Unlike video projectors which hang on the wall, these new generation tablet-style screens will lie flat on a table. Students will be sitting around it and operate the screen by swiping, dragging and typing. These tablet desks will offer limitless possibilities and enable live collaboration with other students from all over the globe by manipulating virtual objects in real time. A fantastic existing example of this type of technology is Durham University’s Multi-touch SynergyNet.

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Augmented learning with augmented reality

Augmented reality in the classroom is still mostly limited to smartphone apps but with the next generation AR devices such as Google Glass, learners will be able to experience deeply enhanced ways to explore the world of learning. This is possible via a layer of supplementary and interactive information that appears when they look at an object through the Google Glass lens. This enables them to learn more about the history of an object or a place. Another application of augmented reality in learning is virtual field trips. Online science and physics teacher Andrew van den Heuvel taught his students from inside Switzerland’s Large Hadron Collider, thousands of miles away, by live streaming what he saw through his Google Glass headset. They could all see each other as if they were in the same classroom. Apart from capturing videos, Glass can also be used in Google Hangouts, which are live video conferences similar to Skype. Google Hangouts enables live streaming of educational content across the world.

A blue background with a laptop and half a book merged into one
In the future, you will be at home, looking at a screen where a classmate will give you a list of possible topics to explore.

The valuable feedback of biometric eye-tracking

Biometric eye-tracking can provide valuable feedback for educators. It is used to quantify visual attention, giving educators insight into how their students absorb content. Eye-tracking is done via a small camera mounted underneath a computer screen. It is extensively used in advertising research to find out how customers respond to ads – in order to determine and leverage what actually captures consumers’ attention. Similar forms of analysis can be done to determine whether a learning program or course is effective. The S2 Eye tracker research tool from Mirametrix can be used to assess the ways in which students learn. This is done by obtaining information on where they look during online courses. The S2 is used all over the world by software companies, marketing agencies and universities. The data obtained via biometric eye-tracking can be integrated with learning systems in such a way that it can adjust the educational content to best accommodate each student’s learning style. The patterns of the eye movements can also be a valuable tool in determining the best way to deliver content. If a learner gazes at a particular section longer than other sections it may indicate that the student has trouble understanding it.

Video games – from annoying distraction to enjoyable, effective learning

Traditional teaching methods will slowly but surely make way for methods that align themselves with our modern, fast paced times. This will be done by making use of what has generally been considered as a serious distraction to learning – computer games. Instead of focusing on game play itself, however, the emphasis will be on teaching students the process of designing a video game. Gamestar Mechanic, for instance, is used to teach primary school students basic designing skills without the complexity of actual programming. The program consists of fun, game-based quests to help students learn game design and make their own video games. In doing so, they develop important skills such as systematic thinking, problem solving, language, art, storytelling and much more. Gamestar Mechanic is very similar to today’s popular role playing video games, so the students really relate to it. This is just one example of how traditional classroom teaching is slowly making way for a type of learning in which students actually have fun. Today’s generation grows up with modern technology and students will therefore need technology enhanced education. They will only really be interested and able to learn if the classroom environment offers them higher, or at least similar levels of excitement.

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The fact that we are facing a crisis when it comes to the development of science, technology, engineering and math skills in our students comes as no surprise. Forward-thinking educators are however trying various methods to teach creativity, problem solving and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills. The past four years, David Conover, video game design instructor at Connally High School in Texas, has been exploring video game design via STEAM Video Game Program of the school. The ‘A’ in STEAM stands for the arts, which features prominently in the program. Via interactive, game-based activities and a focus on student accomplishments, they take a client’s real world challenge and work towards developing potential solutions. This type of game-based learning aims towards creating a completed game, giving the student the confidence to go on to higher education or pursue job opportunities.

By 2020, more and more students will engage in learning through other innovative technologies such as analytics, 3D printing, mobile learning and virtual laboratories. These will all inspire creativity, innovation and leadership skills and the knowledge and competencies they develop will be valuable tools in the real world.

A broader range of learning

In the future, standard teaching methods – even the ones used by the most charismatic of educators – will soon lose their effectiveness. Education will no longer be restricted to traditional institutes. Instead, learning will take place outside of the classroom. Technology such as adaptive learning systems, augmented reality, cloud computing and social networking, when implemented appropriately, can encourage interaction and have a positive influence on the learning process. Anyone, anywhere with access to a computer can gain access to incredible courses with fabulous teachers. What the diehard technology naysayers often fail to understand is that learners are not empty cups that need filling with information. Educators need to immerse learners in a culture of a discipline and teach them how to be lifelong learners. What’s more, the average person will change careers at least 3 to 4 times in their lifetime. Therefore they need to learn how to be versatile and adaptable. The future of education will see the encouragement of experiments and mistakes. With technology such as game-based learning and 3D printing, mistakes and experiments have fewer, if any, real life costs or consequences. Using technology, students will soon realise that learning isn’t necessarily a chore but an important and rewarding part of life that needs proactive participation. It is critically important for educators to continue exploring and experimenting with new technologies in order to successfully propel their students into the future.

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This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

Trendwatcher, futurist and international keynote speaker Richard van Hooijdonk takes you to an inspiring future that will dramatically change the way we live, work and do business.

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