How Technology Has Risen to Meet the Evolving Needs of Learners

While the need for education technology to evolve is not new, today’s increasing pace of technological advancement has put unprecedented emphasis on its ability to adapt to learners’ needs.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Teaching has been a central component of every culture throughout the history of human civilization. Only in the last century or so, though, have educators begun to understand the importance of adapting teaching to the individual needs of learners.

As technology and innovation continue to accelerate, so does the need for implementation of adaptable teaching methods.

Technology has always involved in formal learning.

Formal education institutions first arrived on the scene with the ancient Sumerians.

The goal of these earliest schools was to teach the newly-invented skill of writing. The expectations for students of the time were straightforward and stable: learn to write and then spend the rest of your life writing down everything that happens.

While this might be a bit oversimplified, you get the idea: students had one task to learn and a reasonable expectation that that task would be their life’s work once they were done with school.

So powerful was this new technology of writing that academia in some ways elevated the act of recording and recalling data above the subjects that the data related to. This preoccupation with data, over time, led to a firmly entrenched reliance on lecturing and memorization.

The tendency to worship the written word would dominate academia for the next three thousand years.

Precursors to modern education.

The first glimmerings that mainstream education was ready to move beyond the worship of the written word came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Thinkers like John Dewey and Jean Piaget forged a new path for education based on experiential learning and student engagement. Their collective work and research would eventually support incredible advances in education.

Maria Montessori developed a teaching method in the early 20th century that encouraged young children to learn in a self-directed manner with minimal restrictions placed on their exploration of the environment. Her research served as a direct precursor to the modern understanding of self-directed learning as a practical approach to education.

Even so, large-scale change in teaching technology and methods would not be seen for another 100 years or more.

The online education revolution.

Online education began sometime in the 1980s in the form of digital classrooms.

The earliest online classrooms were nothing more than videos of traditional lectures. But, by 2006, a new development in online education appeared that promised an interactive, democratic response to the so-far disappointing experience of the online classroom.

Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were envisioned by Stephen Downes and others as early as the mid-90s. The first official MOOC was offered in 2006, and the first forays into commercial use were made in 2012.

Though massively open learning largely failed to live up to the hype surrounding it in the 2010s, the innovation and research that were sparked by it have led to a genuine revolution in online learning.

More importantly, MOOCs served to catalyze a change in thinking about education. This more open-minded view of what learning could be shattered thousands of years of academic tradition and moved mainstream education, finally, beyond the worship of the written word.

The future of online learning.

From ancient use of clay tablets to 21st-century experiments in massively distributed courses, the fundamental principles of learning have not changed:

  • People learn better when they feel engaged socially, physically, and intellectually.
  • Self-directed learning is more effective than a prescribed curriculum.
  • Learners who don’t see a tangible personal benefit to learning a subject are less likely to achieve good outcomes.

Two things that have changed over the last few decades are the quantity of information students are required to absorb to be considered an expert in their field, and the ability of technology platforms to help them get there.

As people’s lives become more and more integrated with their work, and their education extends into a lifelong learning experience, our understanding of the roles of educational institutions must adapt as well.

The future of education relies on primary schools and universities to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) basics, as well as soft skills like communication, teamwork, and problem-solving.

Certain hard skills, like specific scientific disciplines, are well-suited to the university environment. More specialized hard skills are now, and will continue to be, taught via just-in-time training methods and micro-learning platforms.

As artificial intelligence improves, the ability to personalize the experience of individual learners will become more effective and efficient with the ultimate goal of automated, hyper-personalized learning experiences.

Improving lives through learning experiences. Delivering a transformative and effective learning experience, everywhere.