Educators must do their homework to keep up with innovation
Schools are under pressure to continuously innovate to keep up with increasing student demand for a more personalised learning experience
Posted by Hannah Vickers | September 08, 2017 | Secondary
digital-disruption, ai, rachael-hartley, cognizant, moocs, virtual-reality

By Rachael Hartley, Senior Client Advisor, Education, Cognizant 

Digital disruption has hit the education industry with a vengeance. With the UK spending more than £900m a year on education technology, teachers, publishers and even educational institutions are under increasing pressure to innovate to satisfy student demand for a more personalised learning experience. These new digital technologies, such as virtual reality (VR), cognitive computing, and artificial intelligence (AI) have the potential to change every aspect of how learning is delivered.

Beyond the impact of specific technologies, digital is also redefining the structure of the education ecosystem. The distinctions between publishers, institutions, and other resource providers are rapidly blurring; for example, textbook publishers are now selling digital learning products and traditional universities now have a significant online learning component. Clearly, educational organisations must find a way to evolve by learning which innovations to adopt, how and when.

Evolution of the ‘four esses’ 

Traditionally considered to be the core pillars of the learning environment, the ‘four esses’ of space, schedule, style and supplement are being disrupted. As tools such as virtual learning environments and MOOCs (massive open online courses) become available to educators, these dimensions have become considerably less of a constraint, allowing students to benefit from more individualised teaching.

For example, technological innovation has done much to transcend the physical boundary of space. Previously, a classroom or science laboratory would be one of the key locations for student learning – if you failed to attend a lecture, you would simply miss out on the material covered. This is no longer the case, thanks to the availability of video and audio recordings, which mean learning can occur almost anywhere in the world at any time, without the need for a group of students to be in a specific physical space together with the educator.

Schedules, too, are rapidly becoming far less of a barrier. Students are no longer constrained by the strict boundaries of time set by a lecturer or teacher or expected to acquire knowledge within a limited time period, at a pace completely dictated by a specific educator. Instead, digital learning platforms, underpinned with learner analytics, can enable students to pick up materials at a time and pace that best suits them. This increased flexibility allows for a more effective learning experience for all involved: those who pick things up more quickly will not feel held back by the rest of the class, while others can ensure they fully understand the material before moving on.

New technology has also allowed for greater variation in the style of teaching delivered, with the role of the teacher to be redefined... more collaborative learning is now possible: we are seeing some institutions use multiple teachers for one class, or even no teachers in the case of peer learning, to support a variety of learning styles

New technology has also allowed for greater variation in the style of teaching delivered, with the role of the teacher to be redefined. The traditional mode of learning would typically involve a teacher speaking at the front of a classroom, while seated students took in the material presented. However, more collaborative learning is now possible: we are seeing some institutions use multiple teachers for one class, or even no teachers in the case of peer learning, to support a variety of learning styles. VR/AR headsets may be of great help to those who learn better kinetically, while more interactive displays can facilitate visual learners.

Lastly, supplement refers to the resources and tools used in teaching, such as textbooks and other reference materials. In an age defined by the mass availability of information, these assets can quickly become out-of-date. For example, classroom textbooks might not be updated with new scientific innovations or discoveries until years after they occur. Learning institutions face the obstacle that it is generally costly and unfeasible to replace these books year-on-year. To counteract this, digital learning assets are increasingly becoming available in smaller blocks, which can be updated and re-used more easily. With the increasing availability of these open educational resources, particularly those without charge, supplement issues are becoming much less of a headache.

Navigating a maze of innovation

With all these technologies now increasingly available, it can be a challenge for providers of education to evaluate the effectiveness of each one. This poses a dilemma for those looking to be innovative. While it would be impossible to experiment with every option, digital evolution must happen quickly to keep up with students’ high expectations. Therefore, the ability to determine which innovations to deploy will be a major advantage. Making the right call at the right time is key – wait too long and your organisation will be late to the game, but act too early and you may be adopting something that later fails. 

The good news is that with these new technological developments, the education ecosystem is more flexible and enduring than ever before

The good news is that with these new technological developments, the education ecosystem is more flexible and enduring than ever before. Opportunities to embrace innovation, such as new online learning courses or use of certain digital textbooks can be identified, then swiftly abandoned if they do not work, rapidly scaled up if they succeed, providing the space needed to think big, but start small. Given the number of innovations buffeting the industry, no one can say how education will take shape in the next few decades. By adopting this approach, however, educators will be able to successfully transform their teaching model for a digital era and provide a better learning experience for all their students.

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