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The future of education is already here: part 3

My most recent post, The future of education is already here: part 2 looked at the impact of data on teaching and learning, and how the relationship between school and home was changing as result.

But another important result of the way we are able to use data is how schools approach the business of teaching and learning. In this last article of the series, I shall discuss the ways technology supports flexible, student-based learning, as well as the ways the easy access to knowledge is changing how teachers operate in the classroom.

Our understanding of learning is constantly developing, and this has led to changes in how we teach. There is a myriad of learning theories, of varying degrees of credibility, but one thing is clear: people learn in different ways, at different times and with different subjects.

The whole process is then further complicated by factoring in the different ways people teach. So the more that teaching can be tailored to meet the needs of the individual, the more likely we are to see successful outcomes. This requires teaching to be as flexible as possible.

Technology allows teachers to share material with their students in a manner that allows the learner to use it in the way that best suits them. Furthermore, with less time being spent going through notes, teachers have more time to work with individuals and small groups so that they can better meet their needs at that moment.

Flexible learning can also lead toward a greater degree of independence in the student's study habits. This in turn means that teachers need to provide a more thorough guidance for their students. Online learning platforms provide teachers with a format where they can collate appropriate resources, ensuring that students have a suitable starting point for their work, and feedback in detail throughout.

By using tech solutions, content is both easy to manage as well as being accessible on any device the student is using, (mobile, laptop or desktop).The idea of having the accumulated knowledge of the world at your fingertips should be a good thing, right? No more having to rote learn facts that will be mentally discarded as soon as we've sat the relevant exam.

But this vast ocean of knowledge throws up its own challenges for students as they have to navigate their way through to the most useful/accurate and unbiased knowledge for any particular task. Traditionally controlling this flow of information was relatively straightforward - the knowledge you need is in a textbook and further information can be found in the school library. In the current technological environment however, one of the problems that teachers face is in being able to direct their students to the appropriate information. A good online solution will allow teachers to provide students with either a 'walled garden', (particularly useful for younger students) or a series of starting points for research. This gives students the freedom to explore topics whilst still receiving guidance on what knowledge will be useful.

Of course, access to such a wide knowledge base also stimulates a desire to discuss what we have discovered. Whilst one of the benefits of the classroom environment is the ability to talk about ideas and collaborate in refining them, an online environment that facilitates discussion (through a forum for example) can help to ensure that any follow up, face-to-face conversations are more focused and informed. Teachers are able to better understand student misconceptions before the lesson takes place and plan activities accordingly.

Technology has made an extraordinary impact on the world we live in and the rate of change can at times feel breath-taking. I don't consider myself to be 'old', (although my children might disagree), but I remember a time when the use of 'multimedia' in a lesson involved the whole class trooping off to the TV room to watch a BBC education programme that was being aired at a specific time. Forty years later we teach in an environment where the tools for using multimedia in a classroom can be the size of a notebook in the hands of every individual in the classroom. Historically, education is notoriously slow to catch up. This is in no way a criticism of teachers - if we are to use a new tool appropriately, then we need to know what it can do. However, the pace of change in technology today allows us to approach the question from a different perspective. Instead of looking at what technology currently provides, perhaps we should be looking at what we want it to be capable of. As teachers we also need to broaden our ideas of what teaching and learning should look like if we are to really take advantage of the new tools we have available.

The future is here now. Technology is providing us with the opportunity to not only embrace new ideas and innovation, but also to think about how we might want to shape the changes yet to come. As our understanding of learning develops, the growing diversity of our interaction with students can deeply inform the discussion. And, as teachers, we need to make sure that we have a strong voice.

Don't limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.
Rabindranath Tagore

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