Preparing learners for digital disruption

Limit gadget use: We have to bring the digital natives of today back into the learning sphere before they head on a journey to nowhere. -

WITH 21st century technological advancements accelerating at a rapid pace, the impact has been felt not only by businesses, but also by education institutions.

For these institutions, it means adapting to the digital learning styles of Gen Z and digital natives.

For learners, it means constant lifelong learning to meet the ever-evolving needs of businesses.

In the conventional playbook, the traditional learning stratagem involved derivative learning tools comprising blackboards and whiteboards.

Back in those days, primary school pupils used to carry light backpacks but presently when they attend physical schools, they seem to resemble military soldiers with heavy tactical rucksacks.

Some can even be seen tugging their bags on wheels, much like travellers at airport terminals.

On the contrary, tertiary students don’t even carry any books; the truth is most of their backpacks are filled with grooming kits and digital devices.

Thus, are traditional approaches to education still relevant in the era of digital disruption?

We need to completely reimagine education.

Technology is the decisive enabler shaping the paradigm shift and reorientation.

Instead of memorising facts and figures, learners at any level need to be in an “experiential learning” environment.

The dramatic change of education for tomorrow is based on the learners of today whose demands surround technology.

Educators and education institutions are the bridge that facilitates this experiential learning process.

In 2008, I taught my first postgraduate class of 50 students. On the first day, I told them that the notes on the whiteboard were not in the handouts and were critical to the assessments.

Throughout the two-hour session, I could hear them engaging in “50 clicks of desperation” via their mobiles.

Today, digital assistive technology helps educators to explore writing support, text-to-speech and literacy tools aggressively.

These tools offer a great opportunity for educators to tailor instructions for each learner.

A learner’s vision in education is for it to be specific, outcome-based and learner-empowered, as well as to offer easy accessibility to data or information, an inclusive curriculum, a zero exam-based journey, and the ability to experience.

Let’s look at some of the technologies of today that are influencing both the education and learner landscapes.

Predominantly, technology can be deployed for any subject delivery.

It maintains the constructive, collaborative and contextual elements allowing educators to be semi-autonomous contractors within the education landscape.

In the tech world, virtual reality (VR) is currently the trendiest and hottest commodity. Tech giants are gearing up for a ferocious war over it.

In one of the areas of VR applications at my institution, students learn via interacting within a three-dimensional (3D) world allowing for immersive and experiential learning.

For example, a learner can experience seeing how the Colosseum in Rome was built in stages over a decade.

Likewise, immersive VR learning can apply to other areas such as engineering.

Another disruptor in the education landscape is artificial intelligence (AI).

This game-changing technology allows institutions to automate key activities such as grading assessments, and providing feedback and a personalised learning environment for students.

Through machine learning, adaptive programmes have been developed to address the individual needs of students.

I am humbled to be part of a research project with an academic colleague working on a “Gamification Design Model to Support Autism Children Interaction Skills”.

This is amplification to my previous charity work, which started with my being a supervisor at my first Autism Summer Camp for autistic kids in Kalamazoo, the United States, back in 1995.

Perhaps that was the start of an adventurous professional journey that has now landed me in the truly compelling world of academia.

Nothing beats a potential trailblazing technology-based research outcome that benefits society.

Although many parents may dread it, gamification has great emotional and social impact on students since the reward systems and competitive social mechanisms serve to motivate them.

Gamification itself is a multifaceted technique involving psychology, design, strategy and technology.

In addition, 3D and 4D printers, and additive manufacturing are causing ripples in the education sector and learners love it.

Who needs to buy toys anymore when you can design, build or print them overnight?

Content that was previously taught via textbooks can now be exhibited through 3D models addressing complexity.

At the tertiary level, having seen this in my own drone project students, final system prototypes have been taken from concept ideas and turned into reality within a short period.

Social media too brings a group of learners with similar interests together, thus facilitating collaboration and communication rather seamlessly.

The Internet of Things (IoT) applications enable a smart whiteboard to be connected to a local network deploying “learning from anywhere” experiences.

Digital registration of attendance using biometrics or any online tool also allows for data analytics of student attendance or other student-related reports to be generated rather effortlessly.

There must be a limit to gadget usage by the digital natives but as the famous Arabic proverb states: “The difficult is done at once, the impossible takes a little longer.”

Their lives revolve around digital screen-oriented electronics.

Technology in education permits the collation of data, automatically suggesting academic topics of interest to learners just by the flick of a fingertip.

We have to bring the learners of today back into the learning sphere before they head on a journey to nowhere.

It is the responsibility of every educator and institution.

Technology can aid to make that happen but is the education sector ready for technology infusion?

Prof Dr Vinesh Thiruchelvam is the deputy vice-chancellor at Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation and chief innovation officer at APIIT Education Group. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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