- Big data and analytics
- Artificial intelligence
- Digital reality
- Flipped learning
- Education for sustainable development
New generations will inherit the most advanced world to date, where everything is increasingly digitalised and education needs to transform along with these changes. Digital learning, incorporating technologies like big data, AI, and gamification, will provide tailor-made education that supports teachers as well as learners, making the learning process more effective, accessible, enjoyable, and increasingly personalised. In the future, we’ll also see an increasing transition towards innovation labs, makerspaces, and education for sustainable development.
1. Big data and analytics
In the educational realm, large volumes of data are generated through online teaching and learning activities. Data on lessons, learner performance, attendance, time management, participation, feedback, and more can all be gathered using digital tools. Big data and analytics technology enable educators to instantly analyse learner performance and provide immediate feedback, but also to amend lessons and curricula in such a way that they lead to the best possible learner experience and performance.
Apex Learning, for instance, develops solutions for physical as well as virtual educational environments. This real-time progress monitoring solution is accessible to learners and teachers alike. Santa Anna High School in Texas is one of the schools using the Apex Learning solution. Thanks to Apex’s data insights, the school managed to determine their priorities and make changes to their curriculum to better suit the needs of their learners. And Ashford School, in the United Kingdom, has incorporated big data tools from providers like Socrative, Nearpod, and Classroom Monitor. These solutions enable the school to observe their learners’ behaviour and performance in real time. With this information, the school can make timely changes to their educational approach for the best results. The patterns derived from analysis of individual learner grades provide an indication of a learner’s interests and where they are likely to excel in future. Teachers can use these insights to advise learners on educational programmes, further education, and future career choices.
2. Artificial intelligence and machine learning
We all use artificial intelligence (AI) in our everyday lives without even giving it a second thought – think grammar checks, navigation apps, predictive shopping, and much, much more. AI encompasses any computing technology that resembles human mind processes, whereas machine learning refers specifically to AI that learns by itself. And while machine learning models rely on human input and supervision, deep learning models are actually capable of unsupervised learning. Artificial intelligence has also found many applications in education.
AI-based applications like Coursera, a massive open online course platform, for instance, can help teachers identify areas that need improvement. For example, when a large percentage of learners submit the wrong answer to a homework assignment through Coursera, the teacher is immediately notified. The system provides learners with instant feedback on their work, granting teachers extra time to go over concepts that learners are still struggling with. Schools can also use AI to predict learners’ grades, which can be a helpful indicator of the success of their learning processes. And although teaching via virtual classrooms during lockdowns was a good solution, cheat-proof online exams were a little more challenging. AI was one of the solutions offered. To prevent cheating, AI-based online exam platforms can randomise questions for each learner, but they can also track learner behaviour. Some platforms use AI-powered face-tracking software to spot unusual or suspicious behaviour, and alert teachers to it.
Voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Cortana can be great tools for interacting with learning materials. They can help learners with minor questions like vocabulary definitions, read stories to younger learners, or even interact with them in a foreign language. And due to the nature of artificial intelligence, AI tutors are especially adept at teaching mathematics and writing. AI tutors can also help struggling learners to catch up, which is particularly useful for those from less privileged backgrounds who might not be able to afford a human tutor. Some schools in Hong Kong use facial recognition AI for remote learners to help identify those who might have difficulties. The AI scans their faces, identifies their mood, and alerts the teacher about learners who need attention. AI can also provide smart content – digitised study guides and textbooks with regularly updated content, as well as customisable learning interfaces such as video conferencing.
Gamification can turn existing content into something more interactive, motivational, and ultimately more rewarding for learners. When applied properly, it can make learning more fun, boost engagement, deepen understanding of certain concepts, increase knowledge retention, and give learners a sense of control over their learning. Many learners consider gamified learning to be more effective than traditional classes. Employing gamification techniques enables teachers to replace the text-only slides that are typically used in lectures with videos, which could then be followed up with quiz sessions that reward learners with points, badges, or levels for correct answers.
Gamification can also help learners realise that failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing and even add an element of fun to it, enabling them to receive valuable feedback and motivation to fuel their learning. Game elements like ranks, levels, and leaderboards can help create a more competitive learning environment. By earning more points than their classmates during assignments, quizzes, or tests, learners can feel a similar sense of achievement to defeating an opponent in a video game. And organising group competitions can help teachers promote healthy competition and help learners improve their teamwork skills. Simple progress bars indicating where each learner is in their learning journey can inspire them to keep pushing forward and reach the next level. With all this in mind, it’s no surprise to learn that the market for gamification in education is predicted to reach $1.8 billion by 2023.
4. Digital reality technologies
The increasing integration of digital reality technology into educational environments – from primary school to university – has already led to profound changes in the way learners communicate, learn, and think. Digital reality technology enables new ways of understanding and experiencing the world and offers incredible opportunities for enhancing the effectiveness of teaching and learning. Digital reality technology encompasses immersive, deeply engaging, and multi-sensory technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). Implementation of these technologies will result in more intuitive and natural ways for technology to improve our lives. In fact, the way we interface with digital information in the near future will most probably no longer include hardware and screens, but gestures, gazes, and emotions instead.
Virtual reality (VR)
According to several research studies, VR improves knowledge retention and test scores, and entices even the least responsive of learners to engage. VR enables users to get fully immersed in the educational content, which engages the mind in new ways and optimises the processing of information. Imagine, for instance, geography or history lessons that enable you to visit any place in the world. Experiencing this will be much more powerful and enriching than merely reading about a place in a textbook. Google Expeditions is a good example of such a VR app. It provides anyone with access to a smartphone an extensive library of VR panoramas and field trips and, to date, more than a million students have been on these virtual expeditions.
Augmented reality (AR)
Augmented reality (AR) enables learners to experience phenomena that would not be possible in the real world and facilitates the manipulation of virtual objects, providing a unique opportunity to increase the understanding of complex processes. AR can supplement existing educational material by adding engaging contextual experiences, be used to stimulate interest in different subject areas, and form the basis for activities in the classroom. Because the majority of learners in secondary education own a smartphone, AR is easily accessible. Augmented reality also enables students to learn outside the classroom, making distance learning more efficient. The language-learning Mondly app, for instance, has recently integrated a virtual, AR-based teacher to help students practice their skills. The app combines cutting-edge AR with neuroscience principles, and combines chatbots with course materials to make the learning process even more effective.
Mixed reality (MR)
Mixed reality is neither time nor geographically bound, and can be used to create all kinds of environments, whether real or imagined. By being able to touch and interact with objects, complex formulae, data sets, or abstract concepts, MR provides learners with a much better understanding of them than if these were to be explained verbally. Mixed reality tools and apps like GOVPRO combine AR and VR to revolutionise education in institutions across the globe, helping learners to easily grasp complicated topics and concepts. As Vicky Davis, named the number 2 ‘edupreneur’ in the US by Forbes, says: “Imagine if you used an Acer MR headset to build your own classroom and pick a mentor for the week. Why couldn’t your mentor be Einstein? Or imagine an AI Shakespeare always ready for a conversation or a trip to 16th-century England or the places where his plays were set.”
5. Flipped learning
Flipped learning is an educational approach within an interactive, dynamic learning environment in which the teacher guides learners as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter. To achieve flipped learning, teachers must create an environment that caters to learners’ individual and group needs. With each learner learning at their own pace, the teacher also needs to be flexible about their expectations. While less visibly prominent in the classroom, teachers will have to actively observe and help learners, provide feedback, and point them in the right direction. The theory of the flipped classroom model was proposed by chemistry teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams. In their book, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day (2012), they write that the system is accommodating to the students as it “speaks their language,” helps those who are struggling in their studies, and allows students of all abilities to excel.
Flipped learning also fosters an environment that encourages interaction between teachers and students, as well as among students, which leads to better mutual understanding. With flipped learning, much of the studying is done at home via some form of digital media, such as a video lecture made by the teacher. These typically explain all the key elements of the educational material. Teachers also have an assessment system in place – such as an online quiz, a worksheet, or notes from the video lesson taken at home – to ensure that the learners understand the content. Once the ‘at home’ part is done, teachers devise activities in which learners apply the new knowledge. Most teachers use material from online course tools, and some post their lessons on YouTube. Websites like Nearpod and Playposit offer interactive video lessons, which are three times more effective for studying than normal video. On Playposit, educators can assign videos or interactive prompts with questions. To progress, learners need to finish these mini-assignments, ensuring the required learning material is covered. Most teachers today employ some form of blended or flipped learning, encouraging their students to be active, rather than passive, learners. And it is this active component that promises that flipped learning will likely become an integral part of education in the future.
Makerspaces are physical spaces typically located in libraries, schools, or college campuses where people gather to collaborate, create, learn, and share their ideas, knowledge, tools, and resources. These stimulating environments foster creativity and help build a sense of community and fellowship. They also offer opportunities to benefit from learning important STEAM skills (science, technology, engineering, art, and maths) when working on robotics, programming, woodworking, circuitry, and 3D printing technology. Makerspaces are becoming increasingly popular in educational facilities across the world, and research has shown that they significantly contribute to the transformation of learning. They improve collaborative problem-solving skills, enhance creative skills, increase digital competence, and encourage entrepreneurship. All of these skills feature in the European Framework of Key Competences for Lifelong Learning, and are not only deemed important for effective education, but also for working in the 21st century. There are some amazing examples of successful makerspaces where learning is done by doing, discovering, teamwork, and sharing knowledge and skills.
The makerspaces at Wheaton College in Illinois, for instance, have been recognised as great places to collaborate and create, and feature on the Great Value College’s list of 50 Best Maker Spaces in the US. The makerspaces boast cutting-edge equipment like 3D printers, CAD design software, scanners, laser cutters, engravers, milling machines, digital looms, VR labs, and many other tools and tech. The labs cater to a variety of students and recognise their different needs in different fields. The makerspaces at Wheaton College have the full support of faculty, who collaborate with students on a range of projects and have strong connections with programmes in sciences and the arts, as well as business and management programmes.
Another great makerspace is Maker’s Asylum. It was founded in a humble garage in Mumbai, India in 2013, and has since rapidly expanded with spaces in Mumbai, Delhi, and Jaipur. Its flagship space in Andheri’s industrial zone boasts a 560-square-metre creation and collaboration space for the prototyping of interdisciplinary ideas. It’s “a community space focussed on fostering innovation through hands-on learning and provides access to governments, businesses, incubators/accelerators, investors and subject matter experts.” Maker’s Asylum’s STEAM School is a project-based learning programme that focuses on bringing various stakeholders together to work on solving challenges in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Maker’s Asylum has worked with companies like Adidas, Ikea, Fujifilm, Michelin, and Deloitte on experiential marketing, product development, interactive space design, and various other solutions.
7. Education for sustainable development
The principles of education for sustainable development (ESD) encompass respecting and caring for life in all its diverse forms. This includes protecting and restoring the earth’s ecosystems, respecting human dignity and human rights, respecting the rights of future generations, and respecting cultural diversity. ESD addresses themes like citizenship, climate change, sustainable consumption, justice, human rights, poverty alleviation, peace, ethics, democracy and governance, corporate responsibility, gender equality, biological diversity, and natural resource management. Educational facilities have many opportunities to include and promote sustainable development and can assist learners to become environmentally and socially responsible citizens. The comprehensive concept of sustainability basically consists of three main focus areas. The first being environmental sustainability, where the Earth’s environmental systems are kept in balance, ecological integrity is maintained, and we consume our natural resources at a rate at which they can replenish themselves. The second is economic sustainability, where human communities worldwide can maintain their independence and have access to the financial (and other) resources they require to meet their needs. The third is social sustainability, where basic necessities and universal human rights are attainable by all people.
It’s important for all of sustainability’s focus areas to be incorporated into core subjects, such as maths, science, and even art. This will enhance learners’ grasp of environmental, economic, and social issues and potential solutions, as well as their ability to learn how this could apply to various contexts and industries. Education for sustainable development also offers personal development and life skills, such as communication, management, and leadership. These valuable skills can encourage students to live their lives with respect for the environment, to benefit humanity, and care for our planet, irrespective of their career path or background.
Not only should the educational material offered encompass sustainability, the educational institutions themselves should also live and breathe this in their operations, their buildings, and more. One great example is Wageningen University & Research (WUR) in the Netherlands. This university’s ambition is to integrate social responsibility and sustainability into all of its operations. Its green campus consists of sustainable facilities and buildings, its water and energy usage has been significantly reduced, and waste flow management has been improved. WUR factors sustainability into its newly built projects as well as its existing buildings, and has reached 70 per cent climate neutrality. Sustainability, as well as social responsibility, are part and parcel of procurement processes and dealings with third parties. Employees and students are encouraged to get involved in sustainable initiatives. In terms of social responsibility, WUR strives to maintain a balance between economic, scientific, and social interests and details these matters in its annual report.
To get started with creating the learning environments of the future, we need to analyse what tomorrow’s learners need. We need to take into consideration that today’s learners have frames of reference, starting points, experiences, and knowledge that never existed before. We will also need to determine what constitutes a well-functioning, sustainable learning environment and cater for the fact that the decisions we make today will have an impact for many years to come. And while there is no one correct approach to the future of education, there is the broad consensus that a transition towards participative and experiential educational methods is required – engaging learners and making a real difference in their way of thinking and ability to act. Key elements could include critical reflection, discussion groups, systemic thinking and analysis using real-world case studies, project-based learning, participatory learning like peer or group learning, future visioning, and collaborative learning.