Much like death and taxes, education is an essential part of human life. In fact, unlike death and taxes, education is a part of the rest of the animal kingdom as well. Teaching the young is simply something that we do—helping them understand the world, make better choices and pass knowledge on to the next generation.
While education is an instinctive drive, however, that doesn’t mean we can’t improve upon it. And indeed, we have been, for thousands of years. As technology has advanced, we have inevitably used those developments to the betterment of education … and will continue to do so in the future.
Without further ado, here’s a brief retrospective of how technology has changed education, and a few of the ways we predict it will do so in future. So whip out that laptop or tablet, open your favourite notes app, and let’s get started.
The Written Word
From cuneiform and hieroglyphics to the first modern alphabet with its “one sign, one sound” foundation, the written word has come a long way. While language has existed for tens of thousands of years, it wasn’t until about 9,000 years ago when humans first settled into farming communities rather than hunted and gathered on the move that written language arose. Not only was there more to record, but it’s much easier to keep records on clay tablets when you don’t have to haul them to the next mammal-hunting ground.
What does this have to do with us? Plenty. Writing is an integral tool in formal education, so much so that the ability to read and write was a mark of the educated through much of the first and second millennia CE. Without literacy skills, it is difficult to record a teacher’s thoughts for perpetuity. Moreover, students cannot engage with materials when they are out of earshot of an educator.
Think the classroom isn’t a technology? Oh, but it is. As Purdue University points out, this image is familiar to us all even though it’s from the late 1300s. The school format in which many students sit around one lecturer has become so familiar that we take it for granted, but this form of mass education is, in fact, a major development in civilization.
The Modern Digital Revolution
Personal computing has taken educational tools to a whole new level. Computers used to fill whole rooms, and only the most elite institutions could afford them. Today, though, students have access to phones, tablets, laptops, desktops and other devices on which to search, read, interact and learn.
As Purdue University also points out, “Today, technology enables forms of communication and collaboration undreamt of in the past. Students in a classroom in the rural U.S., for example, can learn about the Arctic by following the expedition of a team of scientists in the region, read scientists’ blog posting, view photos, e-mail questions to the scientists, and even talk live with the scientists via a videoconference.”
Most public schools have stepped up and declared technology an integral need in their learning process, and so made room for it in the budget. However, educators are concerned that the incredible pace of digital turnover will continue to increase the socioeconomic gap between schools that can afford to keep up and those that cannot. This trend is one we must address in the coming decade for the sake of all learners.
Blow your learners’ minds. Frequently.
Real-time reporting against standards, rich media-driven portfolios, a vibrant collaborative learning experience, top-notch unit plans from teachers around the world, and much more. Prepare to get excited about the learning journey every day.
As a pedagogical method, instructional design (ID) might seem like a mere subsection in the book of education, rather than its own chapter. However, this novel manner of creating educational material deserves its own mention due to the intentionality and student-led nature of the learning imparted.
As the Association for Talent Development explains, “Instructional design is the creation of learning experiences and materials in a manner that results in the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills. The discipline follows a system of assessing needs, designing a process, developing materials and evaluating its effectiveness.”
ID has enabled teaching on a much more individual manner. Formerly, a classroom or workplace learning setting consisted of one teacher and a group of students, most of whom were able to follow the content. Those who couldn’t, however, were frequently left in the dust or had to rely on teachers finding time to adjust material to their pace. Now, ID allows built-in differentiation of online or in-class material so that those students get the instruction they need. Not only that; it can assess the remaining needs even in high-functioning classrooms, addressing them and creating even richer learning experiences.
Mobile does more than enable working in the field; it also allows us to learn in it. “Truly mobile learning will support not just moving from one side of the classroom to another, but from a learning studio to a community, whether physically or through a Google+ or Skype-like technology,” says TeachThought. They add that the teaching arena will expand from in-school learning environments to any setting in which learning can take place.
Even if you think you’ve never heard the word biofeedback, chances are you’re familiar with it. If you’ve ever watched a James Bond or Mission: Impossible movie that showcased someone leaning in for an eye scan, you’ve seen biometrics in action. As SearchSecurity explains, “Biometrics is the measurement and statistical analysis of people’s unique physical and behavioral characteristics.” Formerly this technology, which enables scanners and systems to identify people uniquely, was only put to use in security. Today, however, it has a range of educational applications.
TeachThought adds that “the feedback of biological responses including sweat gland stimulation, heart rate, eye position, and other data will provide real-time learning feedback not just for educators, but for-profit organizations for the purpose of analytics, market research, and ultimately consumerism.” We can also put it to use heightening security in school settings. Of course, even with all the new advancements among us, the oldest “tool” of all is still going strong: teachers themselves.
To the Teachers Among Us
In the end, there is no limit to the developments technology has brought and will bring to education. As time goes on, we will likely continue to create new technologies that make pursuing knowledge ever easier. But let us leave you with one note that must be played above all others in this particular song.
Don’t let all the warnings about facsimiles and algorithms replacing teachers scare you. No matter how many gizmos and equations we invent, we will always need human experts to interpret material with which they have experience and students do not. Students will always benefit from the human connection, and the humanity teachers bring to learning. Even if we do see a day where AI can mimic human thought and behaviour so as to become indistinguishable from humans (a debate that relentlessly continues), that day is so far in the future as to be unimaginable.
Whether you hope to become a one yourself someday or simply appreciate the power they bring to the classroom and larger educational arena, it’s worth giving any teacher out there a high five for the learning they offer to students the world over.