EduTech Feature: How technology is set to disrupt education as we know it

Published April 13, 2018

Technology in education is arguably one of the most exciting areas of tech development – and you can’t avoid thinking of it if you, like me, have children in school. AI, AR and m-learning have the potential to fundamentally change both who education can reach and how impactful learning can be in the experience. The following article focuses on 6 areas where technology has had a significant impact on education for people of all ages, all over the world.

M-learning
Over 6 billion people in a world of 7.8 billion have mobile phones. In some parts of Africa, in particular West Africa, the combination of a fast–growing economy and rising young population has meant a massive upsurge in unique mobile subscribers, by far outnumbering those who own PCs. In parts of the world where traditional school learning has been severely hampered by a lack of teachers, textbooks and facilities, the significance of mobile access to learning is huge. M-learning has the potential to empower people who have had very limited access to knowledge and information, empowering them with access at any time and in virtually any place in the world.

M-learning is not just about school or school children of course, last year the winner for innovation in m-learning at the Learning Technology Awards in London went to Hunkemöller, the fastest growing lingerie retailer in the world. The company’s major growth plans meant that thousands of new employees worldwide needed to be trained-up and instilled with on-brand confidence and values. Hunkemöller collaborated with TinQwise to create a “blended onboarding solution that begins during the hiring process and fully exploits the unique attributes of learning via a mobile device.”

“Structured learning can be carried out on any device wherever and whenever the employee needs it and there are lots of opportunities for new employees to take part in social ‘events’ and use social media type options and actions. Live it Up! has proven effective and efficient. Around 88% of all new employees successfully completed Live it Up! within the 20 days allocated to the programme.”

Cloud storage
Any school kid will tell you that the upside of cloud storage is that “you don’t lose stuff.” A salient point. Students don’t need to worry about losing files or breaking USB sticks (“Sir, my dog ate my USB stick”). However, the really great thing about cloud storage is that it replaces costly hardware and infrastructure set-ups in school systems that, at least in the UK, are already tight on budget. Cloud storage makes it easier to share information between teachers and students as it provides a single point of publishing. Why could the cloud be disruptive in education? From Quartz: “Online “cloud” teaching is cheaper; universities can offer such online-based (or majority-online) degrees at the lowest rate—making for an affordable degree, available to everyone with access to the internet, and taking place completely digitally….”

Once again, the disruption seems to be in the democratization of access to knowledge and learning tools.

Big data
Despite the recent Cambridge Analytica and related brouhaha, there are numerous exciting ways that traditional teaching and learning roles are changing thanks to insight gained from big data – an example is Panorama Project in the US that helps staff stay in touch with aspects of pupils’ education that usually falls outside of their domain: pupils sense of safety and personal wellbeing. Having this information allows teachers to operate with greater awareness. Online learning platforms (MOOCS especially) analyse data gained from user experience to craft more personalized courses and optimize the user experience for their students, to win their interest and keep them engaged. The advantage of big data analysis lends itself to personalization, revolutionizing a system that has traditionally taken a one-size-fits-all approach.

Gamification
The advantage of adding a game-type element to learning has a positive effect on motivation. This seems to work well for both children and adults. The wonderful thing about a gamified learning system is that education happens pretty much as an afterthought. Watch a child using the coding game ‘Scratch’ to create an animated battle between two knights (for example) – they have to learn to code (granted in a very basic way) in order to make their game – it’s obvious from seeing this in action that the process of learning coding happens in a flow with the child’s main focus being on the animation. Interest fuels the desire to play. Sit the same child down at a computer and explicitly start her on a course of coding and watch the lights go out almost instantly (with the exception perhaps of those students who actively want to learn to code and find it innately interesting).

AR & VR
Imagine that, instead of learning about the ocean floor you could actually go there? Or instead of learning about the inside of the human body you could be inside it? Examples already exist: a field trip to Mars is a school bus with VR windows that gives students on board a lifelike Martian experience. A great example of VR use in education is one that challenges assumptions about others, based on nationality and politics. Karim Ben Khelifa’s The Enemy is “an ingenious project that uses virtual reality to show the testimonies and perspectives of war enemies in three conflict zones around the world: the Maras in Salvador, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in Israel and Palestine.

The project’s guiding question is “Could I be you if I was on the other side?” This sort of learning could really serve to change perspective, challenge stereotypes and encourage empathy.

AR has extremely exciting possibilities too – think Pokémon Go with an educational purpose. Examples are easy to imagine: a school trip where students walk around a real-life site wearing AR goggles – they see how the site looked in a past era: Vikings landing on the coastline, a Victorian street in London… Another example is one developed by MIT’s Teacher Education Program and The Education Arcade, “MITAR Games blend real-life locations with virtual individuals and scenarios for an educational experience that research proves entirely valid. Environmental Detectives, it’s first offering, sends users off on a mystery to discover the source of a devastating toxic spill.”

Machine learning and AI

“If you cannot explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it.” Richard Feynman.

When you went to school perhaps you realized at some point that one of the best ways of learning is by teaching someone else. If you can’t teach it– to paraphrase Feynman– you don’t understand it. A lovely example of AI in the classroom is the CoWriter Project’s humanoid robot. Students struggling with writing, for example, teach the robot how to write words; this encourages them to spot mistakes and areas for improvement. At the same time, it makes the students feel good about themselves while helping others. It’s proving very effective! AI lays the groundwork for ‘smart content’ systems that respond to learners in real-time, creating a personalized feedback system. An example is Content Technologies, Inc.’s Cram101, which uses AI to help disseminate and breakdown textbook content into a digestible “smart” study guide that includes chapter summaries, true-false and multiple choice practice tests, and flashcards.

So, what is the future of education?
There’s no doubt that tech has the potential to change everything. The advantages technology brings to the education table are no less than thrilling. The exception, ironically, might be in the classroom where overworked and underpaid teachers work towards often-changing goals and archaic expectations based on producing a certain level of grades from a certain number of children. Adding technology into this mix can be (and in my experience with two children at secondary school has been) frustrating and demotivating for everyone involved. Without taking the time to train teachers to a level of competency that at least matches their digital-native students – puts an unfair pressure on them.

On top of that, the education system itself is a giant beast burdened by its original purpose of passing on replicated information from one generation to the next for dissemination across an empire. It is further burdened by age-old ideas of what it means to be educated in a civilized world. In many societies, education has traditionally helped to define class and privilege and to uphold those divisions and still does.

Tech advantage is that it can respond to the natural curiosity that motivates all good learning especially when there is not a teacher there to nurture it – tech can be there when humans or textbooks and stationery cannot, tech can immerse us in experiences that we have previously had to learn about only in theory or that we may never have the privilege of experiencing in reality. Some places in the world of course simply deny its citizens access, but by and large, it seems safe to say that Edutech has the potential to reach beyond most limitations… but then I’m a card-carrying idealist.

Laine Redpath is a content writer at Mad4Digital with a particular interest in how disruptive technology can be utilized for good. Mad4digital is a tech marketing company insanely curious about the technology of everything. Our partnership with businesses like Inline Marketing a leading marcomms, print, and fulfillment company to the education sector is just one of many ways we keep our team informed of the tech challenges certain sector faces. To learn more about us and how we can help elevate your brand get in touch.