At this very moment, a group of mad scientists is trying to find a solution to a very interesting problem – if everyone and everything is connected into a single, all-embracing network, what is the best possible way of keeping everyone and everything safe? The Internet of Things perplexes both creative minds and watercooler chatters not with its complexity, but with its inevitability instead. Soon enough, technology will turn every baffling possibility into a stark reality; the future really is here.
So, how come our digitally-native kids are still a part of the same educational system that we once were? Be it institutional conservatism, a lack of competence or something completely different, some deeply regressive force keeps our schools at the standstill.
Thus far, we’ve seen traditional classrooms getting equipped with a couple of computers and a handful of visionary teachers tapping into learning managements systems. For quite some time, this has been just enough to call our schools modern. Lately, not so much.
Hopefully, educators will see the immense potential of embracing game-changing technologies in the nearest future. They’re already there, and they could make our minds spread wider than ever before.
Knowledge Is Everywhere Around
Though it may seem that way, it wasn’t the digital age that spurred the already notorious low attention span. More than low, our kids’ attention spans are hyped, but even if that wasn’t so, such tendency was there long before scrolling, tweeting and snapping.
New learning theories for the digital age have been around since the 80’s, which means that typical Millennial behavior was predicted almost 40 years ago. Be it as it may, the fact is that today’s educational system doesn’t suite nor accommodate the students’ changed cognitive aptitude.
The aforementioned Internet of Things is yet another concept that has been studied for years. Being a network that connects us all into the largest knowledge database in the world, the online environment directly defines the way we learn. And, it’s not only actual information sources that are available to us with a single click; more importantly, this database includes social and cultural contexts as well, thus transforming the learning process into a continuous exchange between individuals.
The consequence? Knowledge today rests both in diversity of opinions and in non-human appliances. Knowledge is not factual nor constant, and learning is a continual action. Most importantly, knowledge is everywhere around us, and the only thing we need to do is to find the most efficient, most practical way of obtaining it.
That’s also why a modern learning process knows no restrictions or norms. In fact, the only thing a school needs to teach our children is how to learn, where to find information and when to be critical.
Currently implemented through “flexible assignments” that liberate students from the shackles of the traditional educational system in which a single rule applied to all, “personalized learning” is certainly a teaching method to look forward to.
Consider this for a moment – if an aspiring businessmen can find a solution that can track, monitor and record their customers’ behavior in a way that enables them to custom-tailor their offers according to the needs, preferences and paint points of every single individual, why is it that we don’t use the same technology in our classrooms?
Such powerful analytical systems would allow us to approach every student as an individual with unique capabilities, passions and learning styles and then adjust lessons according to these criterions. Learning management systems are quite close to achieving that goal, and once they’re there, each student will be empowered to use the humongous knowledge source that the internet is in the way most suitable and efficient for them personally, thus reaching their full potential.
For the same reason, more students will opt for an online schooling solution instead of applying to college. Not only do these courses follow the principles of the aforementioned learning theories for the digital age, but they also encourage productivity, secondary education and continual learning.
Though an indispensable part of the social system, third level educational institutions are now a big investment, which would be fine if that was a sure investment in future. Besides, the specialized knowledge that traditional colleges offer is too narrow for modern standards – in 4 years time, students can finish 4 different courses and thus lay a solid base for continual learning in these fields.
Instead of wasting both their time and money on “party schools” and other unproductive learning environments, they will keep on choosing online classrooms until campuses eventually cease to exist.
Tutors Instead of Professors, Collaboration Instead of Hierarchy
Until that happens, technology will remain a driver of small, yet important changes. The “flipped classroom”, for instance, is a good example of a restructured learning environment, but it’s only the beginning. The ultimate idea, after all, is to erase academic hierarchy whatsoever and establish a structure of equality.
If knowledge rests in diverse opinions and our goal is to raise visionaries by teaching students to think both creatively and critically, then traditional roles are no longer sufficient. Instead of professors to guide them through the learning process, students will share the experience with tutors.
Collaboration tools that allow real-time communication and exchange of data regardless of form are already a huge part of connected classrooms, but they will certainly reshape the educational system in years to come.
And, now for the fun part. To teach is to model and demonstrate, and what better to fit those demands than making models and demonstrations so vivid that they are almost tangible?
Of course, a pentagonal prism is already perfectly understandable when explained with a simple metal model that fits into a teacher’s hand, but what happens when some concepts can’t be visually presented or physically simulated? Whether for a history lesson on French Revolution or for a physics class that has to make gravity intelligible, virtual and augmented reality are long-awaited classroom Cabot Solutions.
Education by example, the power of visualisation and interactivity are simply indispensable when it comes to teaching and learning abstract notions, which is why an opportunity to charge with Napoleon’s battalions and walk on the surface of the moon is an opportunity that cannot be missed.
All of which comes down to what educators seem to dread the most, and what will completely transform the schools of tomorrow in the best possible way – the rise of artificial intelligence.
Though everywhere around, AI somehow continues to puzzle us. What most people don’t understand is that non-human intuition is the very thing that helps them locate the nearest fast-food chain every time they ask Cortana to do so instead of them, and the very advanced algorithm that suggests them their elementary school friends on Facebook. It already assists almost every industry and aspect of our lives, which is why education’s stance on artificial intelligence seems quite inexplicable.
There’s no doubt that artificial intelligence will find its way to classrooms sooner rather than later. Intelligent Tutor Systems are only the first of its many applications, and they have already brought several changes in learning by tracing “mental steps” of the learner during the problem-solving tasks.
This intuitive solution provides both guidance through the learning process and feedbacks once the problem is solved, thus encouraging and training productive learning behaviour. As such, an Intelligent Tutor System is where restructured learning environment that promotes tutors instead of professors meets the long-awaited educational artificial intelligence.
Custom-tailored lessons that we’ve mentioned before are also one of the possible applications of AI in the classroom. Deep learning systems can provide valuable insight into individual learning styles and social contexts, and help us improve teaching methods, materials and resources even further.
Furthermore, artificial intelligence will enrich our opportunities for knowledge process outsourcing, remote education and a global classroom that everyone will be able to access; through interconnectedness, knowledge will finally become free and available to anyone, the way it always should be.
Finally, emerging technologies will hopefully break boundaries that separate different study fields and teach our kids to learn in brackets; only when that happens, learning will become a never-ending, active process that doesn’t segment knowledge, but selects and connects information. It’s a first step towards actionable knowledge that implies both versatility and functionality and knows no physical limits.
The possibilities truly are inexhaustible, which is a great thing – as generations continue to change, and our digitally-native kids grow up to replace those who’ve thought and tutored them on their way to adulthood, education will no longer stay immune to emerging technologies. Luckily, that change has already started, which is why connectivity, virtual reality and artificial intelligence will doubtlessly be the hallmarks of learning in the future.