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Technology continues to revolutionize the way we go about our daily lives, and every generation benefits from enhanced learning experiences in their youth and beyond. Chalkboards have become smartboards, homework is accessible through online portals, and tablets have become a legitimate tool for education in the classroom. Furthermore, home learning has been significantly changed in this digital world, with resources freely available online in any conceivable format. This means that people can learn what they want, how they want, when they want.
It goes without saying that this gives educational publishers—both large and small—a sizable opportunity to cater to the digital learning demand.
First, though, it’s important to understand the changing consumer habits in the classroom, lecture hall and home. Then, it’s about releasing apps and interactive ebooks that truly inspire learners and engage them with their field of study.
Tablets for Learning
In 2014, educational tech charity Tablets for Schools released a report saying that around 70 percent of schools in the UK used tablet computers in lessons. In 9 percent of these schools, there was a tablet computer for each student. Taking a more cautious perspective on tech in the classroom, a recent Ofsted report claimed that 30 percent of UK schools operate with a BYOD (bring your own device) policy, which they suggested may be “extremely disruptive” for teachers due to their diminished control. However, in a world in which learners expect tech to benefit every area of their lives, there is a tension between the necessity for devices and the dwindling budgets of UK state schools.
Paradoxically, some schools are removing technology from the equation completely. The Waldorf School of the Peninsula strongly believes that tech has no purpose in the teaching of students. Students study in specially designed classrooms void of electronic distraction; the school adopts a “holistic approach” and develops strong relationships between teachers and students through interaction and communication. Waldorf argues that the creativity and enhanced expression they promote is highly beneficial to learning.
While this is undoubtedly true, the implication that a student cannot be creative with technology is misguided. Engagement and interaction aids in learning, and technology can be a facilitator rather than a barrier to achieving this goal. While schools such as Waldorf advocate for the effectiveness of field trips and one-on-one learning, it could be argued that this either/or approach is unnecessary, as the tools on each end of the spectrum are by no means mutually exclusive. Each approach can enrich the other, providing a mixed and dynamic learning experience.
Does Technology Help Learning?
One study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) argued that we have seen no noticeable improvement for reading, mathematics and science as a result of technology in the classroom. However, while the study is certainly damning of progress thus far, it suggests that a new approach could bridge the digital divide more effectively. Director of OECD, Andreas Schleiche, said in the report:
“School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st Century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st Century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world.”
According to Schleiche, current learning environments are not making the most of tech, but have a massive opportunity to do so in the future. This requires a buy-in from every link in the chain to succeed, though.
And while there’s clearly much more to be done, other studies have suggested that the “gamification” of learning can yield extremely positive results. This was put neatly in an article by New Media Institute:
“To progress in a game is to learn; when we are actively engaged with a game, our minds are experiencing the pleasure of grappling with (and coming to understand) a new system.”
The article also highlights how people don’t tend to learn when education or training is dull. Instead, when an interactive environment is offered that provides risk-free experimentation and consequences, we learn and apply that knowledge to real-world situations.
To that end, the National Summit for Education Games showed back in 2006 that:
“Learners recall just 10% of what they read and 20% of what they hear. If there are visuals accompanying an oral presentation, the number rises to 30%, and if they observe someone carrying out an action while explaining it, 50%. But learners remember 90% if they do the job themselves, even if only as a simulation.”
And the gamification of education need not only apply to interaction with technology. Good-natured competition can take many different forms, from traditional quizzes to essay competitions.
But publishers have an opportunity to incorporate game-based learning into their products to increase interaction with stories—whether they be true-life scientific case studies, or fictional language learning stories.
Making Technology Effective
So if educators are not making the most of technology in their teaching environments, what can be done to improve its effectiveness?
Firstly, technology must empower and strengthen the role of the teacher. For this to happen, the function of devices and the content on them must support the curriculum and offer new ways for teachers to work the minds of their students. Secondly, teachers need to be comfortable with the technology and plan their lessons accordingly, rather then shoehorning in an iPad where it’s not welcome. Thirdly, educators must have access to the very best learning resources that keep each learner’s mind engaged with the topic of study. In addition, if a school employs a BYOD policy, it’s important that applications function uniformly on every device without bugs or inconsistencies.
While schools, colleges and governments have a part to play in pushing this trend along sustainably, educational publishers should focus on creating better interactive products. Tablets and mobile devices will continue to infiltrate education—that’s for sure. But it’s about shaping interactive ebooks and apps in the right way, and optimizing the learning experience. Align the goals of all major players.
Furthermore, it’s easy to get caught up in the obsession of great design, as well as the need for an interactive and slick user experience. But one mustn’t forget the necessity of good storytelling. Writers are as important as ever, and by combining the craft of the author with that of the designer, publishers can create a magically interactive experience that brings learning to life.
Tablets and mobile devices should never completely replace the human interaction between teacher and student. These devices should instead be seen as facilitators of enriched learning experiences, bringing stories to life and testing the reactions, knowledge and concentration of users. We shouldn’t be “teaching children through machines” or using them as an excuse to not physically interact with learners. Rather, they need to be seen as one tool in the educator’s toolkit.
We must also remember that children are exposed to technology in the home from a very young age. This means that, through nurture, their brains are geared better toward multimedia than in previous generations. Education should reflect lifestyles outside the classroom.
The textbook has so often been the staple classroom learning resource, and it’s proven to be effective over generations. What publishers can do, though, is elevate the learning experience, push the boundaries of the content that learners read, and help them interact with information in new ways.
Interactive ebooks also provide a superb learning opportunity for adults, and those who wish to learn new skills from the comfort of their own home. This is particularly useful for language learners, whose success depends upon an immersive and engaged approach to mastering another tongue. Language learning podcasts have boomed, as have Internet-based courses and Skype virtual lessons.
Interactive ebooks and apps can get in on the action here, telling stories and to engaging the learner even further.
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