Examining the future of education and the role of technology in shaping it.
SVForum held the first education and technology conference in Palo Alto on October 21. With advances in technology, online learning models are getting higher stakes every day. Although the education market is evolving, it is still bound by the models of our 50+ years old education system. However, is technology the answer to the issues in our traditional education system, or is just a catalyst?
Our traditional education system was designed over 50 years ago addressed the society needs then, but not the 21st century. This system relies on printed materials, which include a fixed curriculum and ‘one way’ of presenting specific subjects to all students. We have long realized that learning styles vary and one system doesn’t fit all, therefore unification of one standard of teaching doesn’t work. Personalization of education will help more children master the skills and knowledge the education system set forth.
Keynote speaker Naveen Jain discussed ‘Reinventing Education Using Neuroscience’. Mr.Jain is a philanthropist, entrepreneur and a technology pioneer. He is the founder and CEO of Intelius, a founder of InfoSpace and a past senior executive at Microsoft Corporation. He is also the Co-Chairman of Education and Global Development at the X Prize Foundation.
He talked about the need for individualized education programs: instead of having an educational system that moves students along a fixed time line with changing curriculum standards per grade level – regardless on how much knowledge students actually mastered at each level – we should focus on learning as the focal point for progressing to the next level, by employing a variable time line. This way, mastering subjects is the focus and not the child’s age. Students should be able to learn at their own pace different subjects. This self paced approach, which are based on mastering and not on a time line (i.e. the child’s age), will provide students with a stronger foundation before they enter the next school environment (like high school, as we know it today).
Jain talked about teaching: teachers will benefit from individualized self-paced programs too, as they won’t have to repeat the same lecture year after year to new groups of students. He noted that a computer program can repeat subjects, and therefore, the role of the teacher would change. He called for utilizing the technology for what it does best and leveraging the teacher for what he/she does best.
Jain also spoke about the social aspect of learning. In fact, learning software programs that incorporate avatars have an additional benefit to education: we learn by teaching others. Avatar-based programs enable children to teach others in the virtual environment and achieve virtual awards. These types of educational systems engage today’s kids through game-like tools.
Read more on How to incorporate quality programs and technology into the education ecosystem.
We know that children learn through doing. One of the examples of successful implementations is the introduction of environmental concepts at the elementary school level. Environmental hand on education at schools involves children in ‘doing’: recycling, preparing zero waste lunches, and more. Several schools encourage students and their parents to cut on the collective carbon footprint by walking, biking, and car-pooling every day. Some engage in competitions to see which school community can have the highest carbon reduction through a system of points or simple metrics.
Internet utilization in consumer markets, such as mobile, social media, and gaming technologies have skyrocketed in the past decade and it will continue to grow. We begin to see a few attempts to use the technology effectively for education and this is an area that is expected to strive and change. Investors at the conference said they were looking for breakthroughs and presented several criteria:
– Have measurable improvements for each student, especially un-performing students.
– Examine the ROI on the investment in hardware, software, and programs.
– Create plans for scaling of the service or product.
– Reduce costs but never compromise quality.
– Deliver quality education.
Some of these items are hard to measure as the ROI (return on investment) is partly derived from the stakeholders’ perception as to the effectiveness of the technological tools in education.
Margaret Heffernan, Author of “Willfull Blindness“, closed the day. She is an Entrepreneur, a visiting professor (Simmons College in Boston and Executive in Residence at Babson College), and a recognized media, author and business expert.
Heffernan gave a fantastic disillusioned presentation, covering facts, required cultural shifts, and the importance of the social aspect of learning. She noted our need to understand the education system problems thoroughly: the issue isn’t learning per-say. When looking at the developed world, American children are the least educated. The US has the fewer schooling hours in the developed world. She compared the 180 days of school in the US to European and Asian countries, which have an average of 220 days. In addition, the long summer vacation in the US affects children’s learning, which is compared to loosing one month of education in a year. Research has shown that once US students graduate from high school, they have a cumulative shortage of one year of learning in comparison to Europe and several Asian countries.
Although most of education sector stakeholders, experts and technologists are enthusiastic about making learning fun, Heffernan presented a different approach. She talked about our cautious culture around teaching kids. Making kids learn might be perceived as fracturing childhood innocence. Therefore, there is a sense that we need to compensate and wrap education as forms of entertainment, although this approach is essentially limiting. She explained that hard work doesn’t need to be packaged into entertainment. We need to teach children focused dedication and that it doesn’t need to be fun always. Encouraging kids to continue working and not quit, not give up.
Students learn much more from each other than from their teachers. Therefore we must approach the social aspect of education and not hurry into embracing the model of isolation in online teaching. Heffernan called for including social learning as an essential component in redesigning education models. She warned that using technology as the only tool will end up in a society where people do not know how work in teams, collaborate, and learn from each other.
Heffernan concluded her presentation with the realization that technology alone would not solve the education system problem. A combination of social learning, real world experiences, and technology will provide better learning environments. Not one over the other, as each by itself creates barriers to learning.
She offered this punch line:
Technology innovations offer tools, but we need to be clear of the ultimate goal in educating youth: A well stock mind with a moral courage to use it!
1. Naveen Jain website: http://www.naveenjain.com/
Check his website for resources and information about his companies.
2. Margaret Heffernan website: http://www.mheffernan.com
Check her website for resources on business and education