Technology and the Democratization of Education

Educating today’s youth is a constantly evolving challenge. At the core is the basic goal to ensure that all students, regardless of income, race or location, achieve their academic potential and develop the skills they need to succeed in college or in the workplace. Unfortunately, many schools have not been able to implement changes fast enough that address the needs of students, parents and employers. In the U.S., more than 1 million children still drop out of school every year, and millions more graduate from high school while still lacking many basic skills.

Without significant changes to the entire teaching and learning system, educators will continue to realize only incremental progress without reaching the primary goals of eliminating achievement gaps and ensuring that all students have the skills to succeed in life.

Fortunately, innovations in education technology are showing great promise in providing students with better teaching and learning experiences that boost student achievement, regardless of the student’s background. In essence, new technologies are leading to the democratization of education.

This goes beyond just putting a tablet or notebook in the hands of students. It requires a holistic reform strategy by schools that addresses how these technologies are utilized in and out of the classroom. It also requires looking at advanced technology concepts, such as big data and artificial intelligence, to see how they can be leveraged to advance the learning process and further level the education playing field for all.

Web-based educational technologies are one area that is highly scalable and shows great promise. Online teaching tools and lecture videos are being created to make the skills of some of the most effective teachers more widely available to students across the country and the world. While there has been some concern that new sweeping technology changes in technology may create a wider gulf between groups of students, and potentially a winner-take-all educational system, the opposite is actually true.

“Superstar” teachers, created by web-based educational technologies, actually play a big role in the democratization of education. With this approach, educational resources are more equally distributed. Additionally, “non-lecturing” teachers benefit as well. These teachers, freed from some of the content development and lecturing, can focus on more direct interaction between themselves and their students, allowing them to quickly and accurately assess if a kid is understanding a particular lesson.

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Taking this concept one step further is the idea of the “flipped classroom.” This refers to a learning model that changes how time is spent in and out of the classroom and puts more ownership of learning on the student. Students can access lectures after class, via a device such as the 3E, to watch videos, listen to podcasts, read enhanced e-book content, and more. Class time is used for active, project-based learning where students work to gain a deeper understanding of the subject. Teachers can also devote more time to interacting with each individual. This approach is more flexible, active, and more engaging for students.

The use of “big data,” most commonly seen in the business world, is also emerging in educational applications to improve student retention and provide a high quality, personalized experience for learners. Learning analytics research leverages student data to build better teaching methods, target at-risk student groups, and assess whether programs designed to improve retention have been effective. Students who struggle in an area can leverage digital learning tools, such as interactive quizzes and personal tutorials, to spend more time on a given topic, while others can move on to the next subject or chapter.

Applications are also being developed that can use an artificial intelligence approach to help figure out what an individual kid knows and does not know. In fact, a competition recently launched to develop open source software to allow children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic. Five teams will receive $1 million each and the ultimate winner will receive $10 million. This will ultimately help bring quality learning experiences to children no matter where they live.

The bottom line is that individuals learn differently and at their own pace. A big part of education’s future will be identifying the best use of digital learning tools for each student, with the goal of ensuring that each and every student is taught the skills required to succeed in life.