Back in 1988, an interview with prominent sci-fi author of the time Isaac Asimov, went a little something like this:
“Once we have computers in every home … then you can ask, and you can find out, and you can follow up, and you can do it in your own home, at your own speed, in your own direction, in your own time, then everyone will enjoy learning.”
If only he’d included that such technology would let us put puppy ears and oversized tongues on our selfies, he’d be right on the money. Yet his vision of what the Internet and computers would become today was still uncannily accurate. We take for granted our instant access to almost any conceivable piece of information we could ever wish to know. Learning is not just better off today because of this, but technology has fundamentally changed the way education is being delivered to children and adults alike.
The Role of the Educator is Changing
For a very long time, the role of a teacher has existed in the eye of a prepubescent storm we have come to know as the classroom. Goals are clearly defined (get the students to pass their exams), and the means are more or less in place (curriculums, timetables, and little square desks whose undersides are repositories for generational transfer of gum). Yet the journey tends be a little more divergent from the intended one.
Since holding the attention of 25 fourth graders for more than 12 minutes is already a feat, up until today the role of the educator has been one part cattle herder, and one part tutor.
Any Time, Any Place
Technology has begun to shape the role of the educator in different ways. While the classroom still exists, the rise of personal tutors has increased exponentially in recent years. The reason is not because private tutoring has suddenly become a ‘trending topic’ in society, but rather that accessibility has increased. Negotiating a time, place to meet, additional commute fees or just coming to terms with having someone in your home at inappropriate times of the day, all go away with online tutoring. For the first time, total, undivided attention can be given to an individual learner, at scale.
Augmented Skill Set
But there are other, subtler advantages. The online tutor’s skill set is augmented too. Before, communicating new concepts and complicated concepts was directly proportional to the level of mastery with a piece of chalk. Since just writing in a straight line with a piece of chalk is considered a challenge, the addition of online or interactive tools has been a big deal. Teaching tools such as flash cards, reward systems and interactive exercises free up the tutor even more to focus exclusively on interacting with their student and adjusting the lesson to suit the learner’s needs.
Rural Education is Catching Up Faster than Ever
Advances in technology have also greatly impacted the accessibility to education for rural and underserved areas of the world.
Access to electricity
Electricity, or the lack thereof, plays a huge role in the ability of students to learn. Projects like Luci Light provides solar powered light sources, and their focus area? Students who need to do homework and study in the evenings. Uncharted Play is another organization that develops toys that create energy. A soccer ball that charges every time it is kicked, or a skipping rope that collects energy when it is swung are two examples of technologies that are looking at innovative ways to serve the needs of children.
One of the most difficult resources to obtain in rural areas, is access to high quality teachers. In the US alone there are 7,100 rural school districts. Even with willing local teachers in the area, oftentimes they too have limited exposure to global education standards and practices, which can negatively impact the learning potential of students. Online classrooms have enabled teachers from all over the world to further empower and supplement the efforts of local teachers. Especially in the realm of language learning, technology makes face-to-face learning from a native speaker possible, regardless of location.
Pop Up Classrooms
In extreme cases, some learners are not even afforded the luxury of a classroom. Projects like HP’s Future Classroom create cloud-enabled ‘smart classrooms’ that can be deployed rapidly, anywhere. These classrooms are self contained learning centers, equipped with computers, software and even curriculum. Shipping container-like classrooms, powered by the internet, are becoming an unconventional means of ensuring all children gain access to a proper education.
What We Learn is Subject to Change
Almost all our current education systems rely on a set of standards and curriculums as a means to provide uniform education. Yet the very notion of uniform education is slowly changing. As Sir Ken Robinson argued, children should be empowered to study the things they are passionate about. Until now, the biggest hurdle in that pursuit has been the practicality of providing personalized education to children individually.
But all that is changing. With today’s level of access, a master chess player in Norway can easily teach a budding young chess whizz in Uganda, and it would be as simple as clicking a button. This opens up a plethora of opportunities just waiting to be explored.
As we venture more and more into the technological wonder world of tomorrow, education will continue to be shaped in ways never before dreamed possible.
Make sure you’re part of that change.