Education technology is already widely used around the world, with Google Classroom having over 10 million regular users and the Khan Academy website receiving over 5 million unique visitors a month. The value of the ed-tech market generated $88bn in 2016, and this is forecast to grow to $189bn by 2020. The rise of technology in the classroom is inevitable… but is this a good or a bad thing for children’s learning?
The biggest challenge faced by educators is how to smoothly integrate technology and encourage its everyday use, without allowing children to just passively sit staring at a screen. Educators cannot ignore the rise of technology and its potential impact on learning both in and outside of the classroom. We must confront the challenge of digitising the classroom in order to ensure the success of its inevitable transition into the education system.
But while debates are still raging between educators over how technology can best be implemented into the classroom environment, most agree that technology can be useful in schools. A key argument for its introduction stems from the ‘digital natives’ theory: that those born after 1980 have grown up alongside technology, and so are highly adept at interacting with it as it is a natural part of their lives.
Technology has the potential to foster greater engagement among pupils, as they see technology an exciting addition to the classroom, rather than seeing the classroom as an unexciting space removed from the normal world in which they live. For example, in Modern Foreign Language lessons, technology gives children a chance to say Hola and practice their newfound language skills with Spanish-speaking children around the world via Skype, which is ¡muy bien!
Technology also allows educators to gamify learning and therefore more closely align learning with pupils interests outside of school – especially since over 75% of young people are now gamers. Additionally, many experts, such as Sugata Mitra, see technology as an opportunity to empower children to take charge of their own learning, both inside and outside the classroom.
Technology gives children the ability to create and shape their own educational journeys, and will soon become as natural to the learning process as a pen and paper. Indeed, Mitra believes in the advance of technology in the classroom to such an extent, that he believes “asking somebody to learn without their phone will be like telling them to read without their glasses”.
The innovative SOLE experiment used by Mitra employed technology to create a ‘portable classroom’ in which children, inspired by technology in the classroom, took charge of their own learning and development and continued to study independently at home. The Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs) was such a success story that average test scores actually increased in the following months the initial activity as children continued to learn independently outside of the classroom.
So, education technology has the potential to increase young people’s engagement with their learning, opens the door to increased gamification and allows children to take control of their own learning journey.
However, it is important to recognise the limits of technological innovation in the classroom. While it can prove to be an incredibly useful tool, technology is only useful when used in a certain way in schools. When children are just sat in front of a screen, this risks fostering a culture of passive learning. Educators must also recognise that children today are spending an between 4.5 and 6.5 hours a day looking at a screen, and so it may not be wise to digitise too many aspects of children’s school life too.
A further worry for parents is the increased risk incurred by allowing technology to become such an incremental part of children’s lives and learning experiences is that they leave themselves vulnerable to having their privacy eroded or being contacted by strangers online.
The growing use of technology in the classroom would also give corporations a chance to infiltrate schools and the curriculum, and negatively influence the learning journey of young people. Who knows, like Skynet maybe it could one day become self-aware…but this time there won’t be a Sarah Connor to save us!
Despite this, even in small doses, tech in the classroom, if properly implemented, has the potential to completely revolutionise young people’s learning. by gamifying the curriculum to actively encourage increased participation, allow young people to take ownership of their own journeys through education, and carry their education with them wherever they go – giving them the opportunity to continue learning in their the home.
But more recent advances in technology have the potential to offer even greater benefits. As virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) become more and more affordable, they can be used to enhance children’s learning journey in previously inconceivable ways.
Imagine the possibilities! VR headsets could transport children to exotic rainforests, beaches or volcanos in geography lessons, or let them see ‘first hand’ what life was really like as a Tudor peasant in history lessons. AR could bring a special guest visitor into every lesson, allowing children to ask Shakespeare about the real meaning behind his plays or interrogate Cromwell about his reasons for overthrowing the King.
The increased use of technology in schools is inevitable but it also presents untold possibilities to revolutionise learning in ways that were previously not possible. If educators, and government decision makers, plan ahead to embrace rather than resist education technology then we can build an education system better equips young people for the demands of the modern world. One in which children are excited by learning methods which more closely resemble the ways in which they play, and where they are able to learn independently, empowered to take ownership of their own learning journey.