In the last decade, technology’s reach across disciplines has been growing manifold that is beginning to be omnipresent. Every domain that one can think of has technology’s touch in some shape or form. The extent of technology dominance obviously varies from one domain to another, and over time even within the same domain. Frank Catalano, a veteran analyst in the digital education space, talks about how technology in education was more of stepchild compared to the consumer and business technology zones, sometime back. Digital learning has come a long way in the last decade and several organizations and individuals have positively empowered this riding wave. E-readers rising in popularity including the more popular ones like Kindle and iPad, digital content from educational organizations, newer learning techniques (including the ones like The Khan Academy) and cooler new approaches by the day (for e.g. most recently MOOC – Massive Open Online Courses is rising in popularity) have all been instrumental in building a beautiful marriage between technology and education. Visionaries such as Bill Gates have been funding a lot of technology projects in education, supporting a lot of research and development including patents that they are directly working on in this space and speaking in support of this move in various interviews and conferences. There is more awareness in digital learning with several conferences and websites dedicated to educational technology.
At an implementation level, schools and colleges are also being very receptive and are better embracing solutions in the marketplace, regardless of their size and scale of operations. Besides formal learning institutes, corporate learning programs and individual offline learners are also actively using digital solutions in quest of their ongoing learning needs. Learning management systems, both commercial and open source are playing a major role in supporting this learning process and are easily customizable to meet the learner’s needs. Learning is truly becoming an anywhere, anytime activity and with the tracking and measuring that learning tools provide the overall process is becoming more effective by the day. Students are able to synchronize their learning content across devices, take notes digitally, complete assignments offline, interact with their instructors remotely and partake in group studies all of which have enhanced collaboration and minimized overhead, helping them focus on the true goals of learning.
While all of these are very heartening to see and especially because we are creating a robust platform around learning for generations to come, we also need to be wary about how this wave is shaping up. Frank in his article talks elaborately about why he fears technology in education could be another bubble that is waiting to burst. Investments are pouring in, in this domain, with several investors holding educational applications and software high in their areas of focus. So, a lot of new market entrants are trying to take advantage in hope of reaping quick returns. Frank also talks about how educational technology is in buzz amongst conferences, websites, start-up events and political agendas that it is becoming a cause of concern with such kind of attention the domain has been receiving. There could be potential players who want to take advantage of all this visibility and attempt to build quick and dirty applications trying to “Make Hay While the Sun Shines”. Political agendas may shake the foundation of imparting true education to the learners and the ample supply of educational software (combined with exorbitant marketing of the wrong products) may suppress products that may truly be useful for the learners. While this is one angle of it, the other is that learners, especially some years down the line, begin to heavily rely on digital learning and fail to see the core benefits that in-class learning provides. Keep in mind though that technology in education is not averse to in-class learning. While it supports remote digital learning, it also has numerous tools to offer and encourage in-class learning with the goal of making the process effective for the instructor and the learner, be it AV tools, tracking tools, access to content etc.
Technology in education is thus a welcoming trend. It is here to stay and continue to make people more learned and informed. It is in all of our best interests that we build a careful balance in ensuring the right mix of instructor led and remote learning, be selective about the kind of educational software and devices we use to suit our needs and voluntarily spread the word about organizations that are building educational software of exceptional value so they reach the right hands and are not diluted amidst other players that flood the field.