Digital Education Comes Alive Featured Signal of Change: SoC959 August 2017

Author: Eilif Trondsen (Send us feedback.)

In most countries, education systems—including both K–12 (kindergarten through grade 12) and higher education—generally have lagged behind other industries in the area of digital transformation. But the speed of change in education is beginning to accelerate as a result of the introduction of digital technologies and innovative educational-technology (EdTech) companies' driving new applications, pilot projects, and full-scale implementations. The goal and expectation of such education transformation is that digital tools will enable better access to learning, lower costs, greater student engagement, and more effective learning in schools, universities, and companies.

The goal and expectation of education transformation is that digital tools will enable better access to learning, lower costs, greater student engagement, and more effective learning in schools, universities, and companies.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are among the emerging technologies that could change education in dramatic ways; however, the technologies and their content are unready for widespread adoption in most educational settings, and their cost-effectiveness and ability to provide a return on investment have had no conclusive demonstration. But technological pilot projects and education experiments are proliferating globally, creating new optimism about how technologies could improve education—especially by making education more engaging, interactive, and even fun. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines represent a common target for the application of digital technologies. For example, publishing house Kommuneforlaget (Oslo, Norway) teamed up with information-technology company Innit and media-production company Making View (both Hamar, Norway) to develop and test VR applications for use in teaching mathematics. Potential benefits of using VR to teach mathematics include greater student focus, less student distraction, and more effective learning as a result of digital visualizations' engaging students during the learning process more than traditional books do. But many disciplines other than STEM disciplines could also benefit from the use of digital technologies. For instance, teaching history may benefit significantly from the ability to put students into immersive historical environments so that students can experience the contexts they have only read about.

Many analysts believe that the AR market will become much larger than the VR market will. Some rumors suggest that companies such as Apple (Cupertino, California) have serious interest in and intentions to develop AR-based applications. In recent years, Google (Alphabet; Mountain View, California) has vastly outperformed Apple and Microsoft (Redmond, Washington) in the education marketplace, but many other players will also be competing for the attention of students, teachers, and school administrators. For example, MobilizAR Technologies (Bangalore, India) has unveiled Orboot—a 10-inch globe that works with a companion mobile app to provide an educational AR experience. Viewing the globe on the screen of a smartphone or tablet that is running the app shows users small symbols on the globe that pop up and morph into animals, maps, stories, and other informative interactive elements.

Recent economic and social developments have moved into the foreground a focus on reducing the misalignment between the skill and knowledge requirements of well-paying jobs and the competencies that students obtain during high school and even higher education. A growing number of private education start-ups have recognized the significant business opportunities that have opened up as a result. Coursera (Mountain View, California), edX (Cambridge, Massachusetts), FutureLearn (The Open University; Milton Keynes, England), and other providers of MOOCs (massive open online courses) are now targeting working adults who need to retrain or reboot their careers. Coursera offers what it calls "Specializations"—bundles of courses that teach students skills in subject areas that corporations have identified as high priority (see www.coursera.org/featured/top_specializations_locale_en_os_web for examples). And Udacity (Mountain View, California) is gaining traction with new Nanodegree (www.udacity.com/nanodegree) programs that offer short courses that are often codeveloped by prominent companies.

New players are emerging to address expanding and unsatisfied market needs. One of these new players is ISDI Digital University (ISDI; Madrid, Spain), which recently launched in San Jose, California, and focuses on teaching subjects such as digital marketing, design thinking, mobile technology, and user-interface design to prepare students quickly for work in the field of digital transformation. ISDI Digital University focuses not only on teaching the skills that tech companies in Silicon Valley, California, require but also on teaching the skills necessary to navigate the region's constantly changing job market. According to ISDI Digital University cofounder Steve Cadigan, "We want to not only provide the skills to be very fluent and effective, but to also have the network and the knowledge to carry you through the changes that are inevitably going to happen. What we are bringing to the school is the concept of the living network. No matter what changes in your job market or your vertical, we are going to know people, and you will know people who will help you navigate that inevitable challenge. Career agility and career resiliency is so critical" ("ISDI Digital University tackles tech skills gap," Mercury News, 16 April 2017; online).

So far, innovations in education and the use of technology to improve educational processes have emerged mostly in North America and Europe. Many people perceive education systems in Asia—especially in China—as having remained somewhat traditional, focusing on rote learning instead of on meeting needs for digital-economy jobs that require creativity, teamwork, and use of new digital tools and technologies; however, the education system in China has met the needs of nation's rapidly evolving economy, and it has enabled the economy to bring millions of workers into the middle class as per capita GDP increased rapidly. But China is now preparing to move from a manufacturing-based economy to an economy "that is consumer-driven with services, innovation and value-added industries. It will therefore also need to rebalance its education system" ("China: Education's Next Frontier," EdSurge Independent, 20 March 2017; online). As China prepares for its new economy, what tech-based innovations will it try to adopt and perhaps adapt to its own needs?