Kristin Palmer, Director of Online Learning Programs, University of Virginia
Gone are the days when employees expect they can finish their college education and then never have to learn anything new. Our world is changing and transforming as technology becomes ubiquitous in work, school and life. People expect they will need to learn new skills and adapt to the changing requirements of work. For example, there are many job opportunities for people who are literate in programming languages, have data visualization skills, or are certified in cybersecurity. Many of these technologies are new and evolving. Education is adapting to meet these evolving needs. Since the 1990’s, educators have been looking at how technology can be used in education.
Defining educational technology and understanding what is being used.
Technology used to facilitate learning is called educational technology or edtech. There are thousands of edtech solutions. In the 1990’s there were historical games such as the Oregon Trail where users would participate in a role-playing narrative while learning about the westward expansion and manifest destiny. Other popular game designs were behaviorist in design and what we refer to as “drill and kill.” These games were typically in reading and math and designed for early skills development such as learning multiplication tables or sight words.
During the same time, institutions were doing distance learning programs and increasingly using technology to deliver materials with digital file sharing and encourage student interaction through discussion forums. Over the past several decades there have been amazing advances in edtech and online learning. Edtech has evolved, given which role-based games still exist but can have millions of outcomes and be played from different vantage points. For example, the Bay Game models the Chesapeake Bay and how different behavior from a range of stakeholders affects the health of the Bay. This simulation game can be played by hundreds with thousands of variables. While there are still some “drill and kill” games, there are more problem-based learning and games based on storytelling narratives that can be adapted based on the learner’s interests.
Online learning has evolved to the extent where teams can work collaboratively on presentations, chat synchronously using video, do project-based work and learn from instructors anywhere in the world
Online learning has also evolved where teams can work collaboratively on presentations, chat synchronously using video, do project-based work and learn from instructors anywhere in the world.
While we aspire to have personalized learning with adaptive content, the reality is that current usage is more mundane. One survey of 440+ million data points identified the five most common edtech tools to be Google Docs, Google Drive, YouTube, Canvas Learning Management System (LMS) and Kahoot (Learn Platform, Ed Tech Top 40, 2018). The main uses of edtech are for assessment, delivering content, managing content, reference, and social networking.
Investment in edtech is more ambitious with start-ups raising $1.4+ billion in the US and $1.8+ billion in China in 2018 (Edsurge). There is a trend for data intensive tools that provide learner analytics, tools to manage operations, and upskilling tools such as coding bootcamps and MOOC providers. Best in breed digital solutions are available for a range of domains from math to language learning. Emerging digital content solutions have the opportunity to surpass legacy providers such as traditional publishers. There are advances in using artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, simulations and gamification for learning but many of these have more adoption in other environments. For example, using augmented reality, blending digital and physical environments, is starting to be used in manufacturing and design workplaces and virtual reality is more common in the gaming industry.
What will the future of education look like?
There are more opportunities than ever before to learn. There are opportunities to do simulations, project-based learning, and just in time training. There are providers whose content tends towards ‘edutainment’ such as Ted Talks. There are providers such as Coursera and edX, that have partnered with elite institutions globally to develop content ranging from courses to degrees. There are providers such as LinkedIn Learning and Udemy, with just in time training for a wide range of skills. There are a range of credentials available from badges, boot camps, certificates, and degrees. At the University of Virginia (UVA), we offer hundreds of online courses and dozens of certificate and degree programs. These high-quality programs are available to anyone, anywhere through the use of technology.
As for the future, the Star Trek series shows us a vision of the future which many find appealing. They provide an image of a learning environment where each student is individually tutored, presumably taught in subjects that motivate them as well as a general curriculum, and all the content is adapted to their personality and learning abilities. Another vision of the future comes from Ernest Cline in his book, Ready Player One. In this version of the future, everyone is spending as much time as possible in virtual reality (VR). Characters wear their haptic suits and VR glasses and they go to VR schools where there are field trips to the pyramids, Mayan ruins, and many other immersive environments where the characters can witness events of the past as if they were there, learning by witnessing, almost doing. Technology is developing exponentially, and it does have the power to scale and be adaptive. There is investment in educational technology, artificial intelligence, simulations, game-based learning, augmented reality and virtual reality worldwide.
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