We live in a Technology Saturated World, a world in which all of us, people of all ages, all walks of life encounter technology in one way or other in our daily lives. Technology is everywhere, weaved into almost every part of our culture. It impacts how we live, work, eat, play, and most importantly how we learn!
Our next generation, is born into this digital world, a world that is lightning-fast, with instant access to information on their finger tips, a world that is highly interactive and engaging, a world of internet, smartphones, video games, virtual and augmented realities and what not. They are clearly citizens of this digital world. They are what we call the “Digital Natives”.
Over the last couple of years, my team and I at EnhanzED, have been closely studying the learning habits of these Digital Natives. No surprises here, these digital natives consume and process information in a very different way. They have developed unique learning styles and problem solving strategies. Basically they think and work differently, compared to the rest of us.
- First of all, they have a really Short Attention Span, the attention span of a gnat. Its very natural for them to keep shifting between apps and screens, every few seconds.
- They prefer Short, Bite-sized Lessons that are precise, relevant and focus on one particular subject or concept.
- They look up or access content in a very different way, mostly Random, Sporadic and Non-sequential, typically quick look ups on the internet or buzzing their friends on social media. We all do that nowadays, but they do that more often than anyone, and they are very quick at it. Its actually a very important and integral part of how they learn, assimilate and retain information.
- They have an unwavering preference for Rich and Engaging Multimedia Content. Content that is crafted to enthrall them, while perfectly fitting into their short attention spans.
- Most importantly, they love to learn and consume content On-the-go, Anytime, Anywhere, on their personal devices. They love listening to podcasts, watching videos, doing quick reads while traveling on the bus, waiting at the doctor’s clinic and often on the toilet seats!
Now, you are one of them, a Digital Native, someone whose world is inundated with technology, gadgets and devices, and you walk into a classroom that looks like this -
A crowded classroom, with closely packed desks, a tight atmosphere, with fingers on lips, all eyes on the blackboard, with an instructor next to it, delivering what would most probably be an hour long monologue. You are not allowed to carry your personal devices, that you’d typically make quick notes on, you are cut out from the internet, that you’d use to quickly look up on things being discussed in the class.
Essentially, you are walking into an environment that is not natural to you, an environment that restricts your natural instincts and behavior, a whole new world that feels ancient!!
It is very important for us to accept these realities, and open our minds to adopt more technology into our education systems to create learning experiences that resonate with the current and next generation learners.
Lets start with our class rooms. The class room should no longer be a location or a room, that students would dread to walk into, or yearn to walk out off. It should be an experience, a rich, engaging, interactive and most importantly fun experience that students would love to be part of.
Classrooms today are seeing dramatic changes.
- Traditional black boards are making way for touch screen smart boards, that instructors and students can interact with
- More multi media content is being used in classrooms to engage students
- The classroom layouts are changing, promoting interpersonal skills among students
- Above a certain age, students are allowed to carry digital devices into the classroom
- More schools and colleges are providing Wi-Fi facilities across their campuses
- Fancy Technologies such as 3D printers, Smart Science Kits, Virtual Reality Head Sets are making their way into the mainstream schooling systems.
Learning does not happen only in the class room. A lot of learning happens outside the classroom, online - watching videos, playing games, reading articles, interacting with friends.
I’m sure we all watch videos online, read articles, probably even take courses online, and we've been doing this for a while now. So whats new?
Something interesting has happened over the last 3-4 years. A magic device called the Smartphone. Smartphones have created a “paradigm-shift” to the way we communicate and consume digital content.
The Smartphone is a very personal device. It lives in our pockets for most part of the day. We breath, eat, sleep with our smartphones next to us. Its an integral part of every individual today.
If I want to learn about something, I do not run to the nearby library, I do not run to my desk to find my computer. All I do is reach out to my pocket and pull out my phone, and start swiping. I don't even have to type in my question, I can just use my voice to get answers. The best part is, I can do it anywhere, anytime, on-the-go.
Smartphones are a strong digital channel that connects each and everyone of us to the world of internet. This is a channel that needs to be leveraged effectively for learning and education! We are already seeing increasing number of smartphone based education products in the market, and this will only grow in the years to come!
The biggest drawback of conventional education is the lack of personalization. Imagine a class of 60 students. Every single individual in that class is different. Students come with different abilities, they come with prior learning dispositions, they have different strengths and weaknesses, some are quick in grasping a concept, some are slow and need additional help.
In the conventional education system where the students clearly outnumber the instructors, it is impractical for the instructor to give personal attention to every single student addressing his or her needs on a daily basis. All students are treated the same! The same set of lectures, homework, assignments are forced down the throat of all the students, irrespective of their abilities, progress and performance.
Technology can solve this big problem. Learning Platforms are growing smarter and smarter, thanks to the advances in Technology, we can today capture fine grain details about the progress and performance of individuals, and create personalized learning paths for each individual based on his or her needs.
If a student is struggling with a particular concept, the platform knows that and pushes more videos and additional practice exercises onto the student's device helping him/her get up to the mark. The platform can also learn an individual's learning styles and habits and craft content accordingly.
So, there will be Technology everywhere, inside the classroom and outside the classroom. Does than mean that the role of instructors is diminishing?
Not really !! Technology is just a means to an end. The real magic would be in the hands of the educators, instructors and the content creators. They need to work towards creating an environment that best suits the student, and not an environment that they are comfortable with. It is important for educators and instructors to embrace technology and use it effectively to bring about a change.
Ultimately the Goal here is to help the learner in all of us to “Remember to Remember, and Forget to Forget”. How well we do this, is in our hands!