How Technology Is Transforming the Way We Teach and Learn

Our education system is in need of reform. Most students are not taught to be self-motivated lifelong learners, nor do they come out of the school system with the skills, mindsets, and values required to survive a world of accelerating change. Most students do not graduate to feeling inspired to contribute to human progress.

Traditional school curricula have mostly gone unchanged for centuries, and there is a lack of scientific basis in pedagogy. There continues to be an emphasis on short-term grades and individual achievement.

How can we effectively educate future generations? What do we need to change about mainstream education? The answer to these questions does not entail small incremental changes, but rather a complete overhaul of mainstream education as it exists today. It also requires changing how we define education to begin with.

Technology is already transforming the way we teach and learn. Digital classrooms, global online collaborations, and personalized learning are just the beginning. What will these technological trends in EdTech lead to? What will the word “education” even mean 30 years from now?

Ten years ago, the Millennium Project set out to to explore this radical future of education and released a groundbreaking report called Education 2030. Ever since, we have been seeing their predictions, concerns, and solutions begin to come to life. Here are just some of the highlights.

Integrated Lifelong Learning Systems

Education should not be something that you do at a specific institution for a specific period of time for a certification. Instead, it should be a lifelong journey of exploration, self-discovery, and liberation driven by intrinsic rewards. Effective education needs to be integrated into our everyday experiences, including entertainment. According to the Education 2030 report, future education will be tailored to users “across all age groups from pre-natal programs to programs for the elderly that provide knowledge, work, and leisure enjoyment.”

A lifelong learning mindset is essential in order to be employable in the future workforce. A report by the World Economic Forum revealed that almost 65 percent of the jobs elementary school students will be doing in the future do not even exist yet. New industries are consistently being born and dying out through disruption. Future workers need to be able to leverage online MOOCs and the vast array of educational resources available to them in order to gain on-demand skills.

It’s tragic how very few curricula focus on teaching young minds how to learn and un-learn effectively. In the post-industrial era, the impact of technology has meant we have to be agile and adaptive to unpredictable consequences of disruption. We may have to learn skills and mindsets on demand and set aside ones that are no longer required throughout our lives.

There’s more. These integrated lifelong learning systems could also be critical in tackling the many sources of unhappiness and mental health issues seen in society today. As pointed out by the Education 2030 report, continuous evaluation of individual learning processes can be designed to prevent people from becoming unhappy, and “programs aimed at eliminating prejudice and hate could bring about a more beautiful, loving world.”

Immersive Learning Experiences

Virtual and augmented reality are revolutionizing the learning experience. They allow students to take journeys into ancient history, travel across the universe, and visit museums in different countries, all without leaving the classroom. One of the biggest feats of such technologies is that they make the learning experience more engaging, awe-inspiring and transformative. They allow us to shift mindsets and send powerful messages through immersive experiences.

For instance, the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program will allow teachers to take their students on a journey anywhere in the world. Whether it’s “exploring coral reefs or the surface of Mars in an afternoon,” teachers can take students on immersive virtual field trips. Could this be the beginning of an entirely virtual school?

These immersive experiences have the potential to contribute to faster learning, better retention, and improved decision-making. It is important to note the curricula integrated with the technology are just as important as the technology itself. There is no point digitizing already flawed curricula. Simply implementing virtual reality is not enough—the content and curricula implemented into this technology need to be innovative. The virtual journeys we take students on will need to be based on the relevant skills, values, and mindsets that we want to instill in future generations.

Cognitive Enhancement: Improving Intelligence

Education is increasingly being treated like a science. We are seeing the rise of  neuroeducation, wherein scientists are gaining a better understanding of the mind, brain, and the learning process. These developments in understanding how our minds operate can have powerful implications on our learning capacities. Many educators are being encouraged to use these findings to adapt how they teach.

Some experts even hope for a complete mapping of human synapses to discover how learning occurs and thereby develop biological strategies for improvement of learning. Understanding these mechanisms also paves the way for a wave of cognitive enhancement drugs, genetically-enhanced intelligence, and integration with AI devices through brain-machine interfaces.

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s already beginning to take effect.

Earlier this year, the first study to show significant cognitive improvements for cognitive enhancement drugs, modafinil and methylphenidate, in chess, was published in the peer-reviewed journal European Neuropsychopharmacology. In addition, a team of experts from Italy have set up a plan for an e-learning platform that operates on a brain-computer interface, called BRAVO, to customize the educational experience, according to users’ reactions and preferences.

While BRAVO is currently running on EEG headsets, such technology has potential to be directly integrated with artificial neural networks embedded in our brains. The implications of this are profound. Imagine being able to download an entire field’s worth of knowledge directly into your mind. Imagine being able to directly upload your thoughts and ideas onto the internet. Imagine re-wiring your brain on demand. What will education mean in this context?

Education as a Tool for Civilization-Level Change

Extending this new definition of education, we must also begin to see education as a tool not just for self-improvement but also for driving civilization-level change. Expert Marc Prensky, who actively promotes “civilization-level change” in global education, points out that most of us have an outdated perspective about what an education means and what it serves to do. We need to use it as a tool to inspire and empower young minds with the necessary tools to contribute to human progress.

The technological tools outlined in this article can be powerful, and it’s important to recognize that they can be used to either better or worsen society. One of the biggest issues in education, which will only be amplified as these new capabilities emerge, is the lack of universal access. The Education 2030 report points out that governmental bodies should develop ways to encourage democratic and fair usage of these new technologies without letting their abuse by the few disadvantage the many.

Even worse, many political bodies will view these new educational capacities as a threat to their power. In fact, some of these techniques will be outlawed to perpetuate existing regimes, ideologies, and belief structures in various places around the world.

“Our civilization is now in the process of changing,” says Prensky. “Those places in the world that take quick and appropriate action towards implementing a new educational paradigm will be the ones where children prosper and flourish in the future.” And the places that don’t will fall behind on the path to human progress.

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