How IT is Revolutionizing the Way We Learn

March 30, 2016 Alyson Shane

Education's digital transformation.

Changing Education Industry - ICT & Digital Transformation

Today’s students are growing up in a highly diverse digital educational landscape, far more advanced than when we were in school, and leaps and bounds ahead of what our parents could even dream of experiencing.

Using digital devices on a daily basis has become the norm. Laptops, mobile phones and tablets are standard, and the apps that drive activity have helped advance usage in education at an incredibly rapid rate. We see evidence of this digital shift in how we share information and ideas in an educational setting.

The Canadian-based MindShare Learning touts 2016 as the year of the ‘Highly Connected Teacher’ who use wireless technology, social media and programs to make Canada a leader in innovation for the education industry. Their stats show this evolution, with 66% of students have classroom access to wireless Internet, 70% of educators seeing technology assist with student participation, and YouTube stealing the show as the top social media tool used in the classroom.

MindShare Learning Education

And the shift is natural, as students are accustomed to consuming their information on screens, watching videos and by interacting with more engaging forms of media. It only makes sense that the modern classroom should be adapting to facilitate these needs.

How has information technology started to reshape the educational landscape here in Canada and abroad? Let’s take a look…

Access to Resources

The Internet allows us to have access to more knowledge than any other time in our history, and it’s begun to impact how we learn, too. Instead of relying on outdated and archaic textbooks, both teachers and students can readily access a wealth of information to find and share educational material with a few clicks.

In the U.S., 82% of grade 9 - 12 students have access to smartphones outside of the classroom, and to no surprise they want to stay connected at school. 75% of students feel it's important they can access their social media profiles from school as well. With such high sentiments towards access and staying connected, social media and mobile are becoming a requirement in the education toolbelt.

And mobile usage is on the rise with the American student population. 53% of school principals already allow or plan to allow students to use their own devices at school. That's a bold BYOD policy step, and one that reflects the times. 

Access to technology is changing how students learn. Many schools and most universities offer online courses, many of which never require the students to be physically in the classroom. They can watch recorded lectures online, communicate with their instructors via email and chat with other students to share resources on forums.

A teacher who wants to prepare a lecture, whether it’s an online course or a traditional class, can include both visual and audio elements that they have found online. Images, free videos from news outlets or YouTube, plus articles, infographics and reference materials can be found within seconds for almost every situation. The amount of content resources available to teachers is phenomenal.

Fewer Books, Cheaper Resources

One of the most frustrating parts of being a student, particularly at the university or college level, is the expense and hassle of buying books for each class. Most instructors expect their students to purchase several books per term, which can add up quickly and become cumbersome to carry around.

However, with the introduction of the eBook, a digital version of the traditional, paper-based book, students can access their learning material from their computers, laptops and even their smartphones.

Realizing that this is a boon to their pupils, more and more educators are starting to assign reading material that can be accessed online, or textbooks that have been transferred into a digital format.

Not only are eBooks easier to access and reference, but they are also significantly cheaper than most traditional format books, making them a great option for the budget-conscious family or student.

Tablets Connecting Students

Some schools and classes are widely adopting the use of tablets for their students. Instead of requiring a tablet as standard resource material for each student, the school may supply a number of devices to the class, and students can log into these shared devices with their own unique passwords.

As evidenced from Apple, their Education program targets students of all ages and adjusts access requirements and usage recommendations based on the child’s age. Students can log in to any shared iPad in the class and then have access to all their apps, books and materials to get started with the class. Then teachers can guide students through lessons on their shared iPads and track their progress. What a revolution compared to years ago when we just had access to the shared set of encyclopedias on the classroom shelf.

Apple iPad for Education industry

But this leads to technological issues. What if a student forgets their password or doesn’t know how to use the device? The latter is likely a quick fix with intuitive training, and young kids pick up an iPad as if it’s second-nature these days. If they forget a password, the education program is set up to give teachers easy access to quickly reset a password and manage device settings. They can add new students and even purchase new apps for all devices from the portal. This self-service component makes the IT department workload more manageable.

Democratized Learning

Before access to the Internet was readily available, the vast majority of educational opportunities existed in controlled and limited environments such as classrooms, seminars and lectures. They took place at specific times, in specific areas, and a student interested in attending had to adapt their schedule to meet the requirements of the class.

In recent years, however, students have been handed the ability to study, watch classes, and take control of their learning in ways that simply were not available even a few years ago. The opportunity to attend classes online or watch a recorded lecture at your leisure also means that remote access to education has increased, too.

Nowadays a student anywhere in the world, from the Americas to India to Europe to Africa and everywhere in between, can attend courses online, giving them the same access to resources and educational opportunities that many Canadians enjoy.

Opportunities to Connect & Share

Traditional classrooms can often be utilized as group projects to teach students about teamwork and collaboration. These can often be stressful situations for shy students, students with learning disabilities and those who did not learn English as their first language.

With the introduction of online forums, students have an opportunity to contribute to the discussion in a non-threatening environment, allowing them to type out answers and share links and resources with one another. They can also participate in audio and visual chats, sometimes crossing national and international borders. This allows students to ease into the collaboration, developing their soft skills while using digital tools.

Audio Visual Learning

Traditional chalk-and-blackboard classrooms don’t deliver the engaging and captivating learning opportunities that humans naturally seek out. While overhead projectors have been a staple of teaching for decades, recent improvements in mobile technology and Internet access allow teachers to integrate videos, interviews and other types of media into their curriculum.

This has led to the use of technology such as the SMART Board from Calgary-based SMART Technologies, which completely revolutionizes the concept of the old-school chalkboard. The SMART Board acts as a digital display combined with an intelligent whiteboard, allowing teachers and students to draw over maps, charts and images. A teacher can write notes on the board while those notes appear instantly on the students’ devices on their desks. The students can then interact with the board directly from their devices.

Audio-visual elements in teaching help convey more complex ideas than writing them on a blackboard. This can contribute to keeping students engaged for longer periods of time because their attention doesn’t begin to wane from reading line after line of text.

How do you see technology changing the ways we learn? Tell us in the comments section below.

About the Author

Alyson Shane

Alyson is a Winnipeg writer, content marketer and social media manager. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric & Communications from the University of Winnipeg and runs her own business providing businesses and individuals with their copywriting, content marketing strategy and social media needs. She lives and breathes digital culture and has been nicknamed the "Queen of the Internet" by her Twitter followers. When not online she can be found gardening, riding her bike or sipping fancy coffee.

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