By: Jessie Woolley-Wilson
There’s no need for a crystal ball, since it’s clear that the future of learning and education is becoming easier to predict every day: it’s digital. According to a 2013 Cisco report, the number of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and Internet-capable phones will exceed the number of humans on the planet this year. That’s mind-bending, and projections indicate that numbers are going to continue upward at a swift pace.
President Obama and his administration are urging widespread technology adoption in education, such as every student having a digital book by 2017. The President also advocates that every student learn to code in school to master the tools and technology because, as he rightly states, it “is changing the way we do just about everything.”
That’s true, particularly in education. The combination of ubiquitous mobile devices and dramatic improvements in personalized and engaging digital learning experiences has resulted in drastically reduced time-to-market for high-quality, technology-enhanced educational content. Gone are the days of waiting several years for textbooks to be revised and reprinted. As a nation, we spend between $7 and $9 billion dollars every year on printed textbooks that are often times obsolete before they’re even delivered. Remember that set of encyclopedias in the family room growing up? They were the go-to resource for everything from book reports to curiosity and exploration. Do you think today’s students would tolerate those clunky books, or would they insist on doing a simple Google search that would provide up-to-date articles, research reports, images, and videos about the topic they are researching? We need to make learning relevant for today’s digital-savvy student. We need to provide learning tools and experiences that ready them for the Information Age, 21st century workplace, and global economy.
I’m intrigued by the thoughts of futurist and author Alvin Toffler. For a while now, he has talked about the need for speed in learning—and relearning—and the essential skills required for success. He’s said, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” While I believe fundamental skills in reading and math are essential building blocks to future success, I believe that they are insufficient for achieving that sort of success. We have no idea what industries and companies—let alone what jobs—will exist 20 years from now for the kindergartners who currently grace our classrooms. We must help children learn how to learn so that they can drive progress in the 21st century. Those who can develop a nimble intelligence that is responsive to a rapidly changing world will be those who will drive innovation and thrive in that world. Skills will likely have a shorter shelf life as we get further into our fast-moving century—just think about all the jobs as well as the items and activities that have been advanced or outdated by technology. The ability to individually access current information and adapt to it in real time will and must be the new normal.
A major element of the Framework for 21st Century Learning is the “ability to learn through digital means, such as social networking, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) literacy, technological awareness, and simulation.” This is critical because it enables students to function in social networks, and contributes to the development of the social and intellectual capital we need to become and stay competitive.
On-demand access via mobile devices and broadband facilitates highly personalized learning pathways that will be supported by dynamic technologies such as Intelligent Adaptive Learning™. The latest results from Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow and an advisor to DreamBox, and her Speak Up 2012 National Research Project and Project Tomorrow survey of 364,233 participants, shows the upward spiral of tech use, even by the very young. Seventy-one percent of students in Grades 3–5 use the Internet from home to help with schoolwork; and within that same cohort, 40 percent have smartphone access, and 41 percent have tablet access.
Our digital and connected world calls for changes in how our children learn and how our teachers teach. We’re evolving from the “sage on the stage” model to one of coach and facilitator, and that’s a good thing. Technology is allowing teachers, particularly those who have been in the field for some time, to recharge through professional development that gets them up to speed in the technology use that enables differentiated instruction and the delivery of authentic digital learning experiences for their students. Additionally, colleges and universities, where our future teachers are being trained right now, need to ensure that they’re fluent in blended learning techniques so they can better connect with their students. We have the opportunity right now—and this is very exciting—to partner with schools and proactively design the future of learning and teaching in tandem.
I believe that the most effective educator is one who deeply understands the learner—where he or she is in the moment of their learning journey. These educators use every skill, technology, and method to anticipate the changing needs of the individual learner. Right now, technology such as Intelligent Adaptive Learning empowers teachers to do just that—to see a student’s learning trajectory, identify if it’s going in the right direction, and make adjustments in the moment to place the learner on his own accelerated path to mastery. On some level we are giving teachers a crystal ball that not only shows them the “now” but also provides a glimpse of the amazing future available to their students.
Jessie Woolley-Wilson is President & CEO DreamBox Learning.
Dreambox Learning is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.