Education has had to undergo at least two rapid developments over the past few years – and the adoption of educational technology has increased apace. Firstly, it has had to meet the shifting demands of the workplace for which learners are ultimately being prepared. Secondly, and most drastically, it has recently had to change to conform with the ‘new normal’ that has followed the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, not only do educational institutions need to prepare learners for the digital economy, but they also need to adopt tools and techniques that are consistent with the new environment of distance learning.
What this means is that educators and administrators need to step up the measures they are using to prepare for this new reality. These measures amount to increased investment in educational technology. This can be an expensive investment, however, and school operators need to have a full understanding of the benefits involved before they start directing their funds towards new devices and software. Principals and school administrators need to have a full understanding of the general benefits of adopting this technology, as well as a way to assess the value of an investment in their specific situations.
In the discussion that follows, we hope to provide this understanding. We begin by looking at the changing nature of the workplace for which students are being prepared and touching on the ways in which education needs to change accordingly. We then look at the overall qualitative benefits of learning technology and the ways in which it streamlines and accelerates education. We offer some practical tips for integrating technology into teaching methodologies. Finally, we discuss how school leaders can translate the general benefits of the technology into measurable value, as they assess their investment in the tools.
The value of any educational tool ultimately depends on its ability to aid in the preparation of learners for their future careers. To understand the value of educational technology, therefore, we need to start by looking at the future of work – the future that is hurtling towards us at full speed – and then assessing how the technology prepares learners to deal with it.
Aside from the fact that technological literacy is key to the future workplace, many other skills, such as analytical thinking, communication ability and problem-solving techniques, are just as important. Teaching aids need to help to equip students with all of these, while at the same time building the second-nature ability to interface with the technology itself. Also, companies are becoming increasingly decentralised. Sitting in an office from 9 to 5 every day is a thing of the past. As a result, the workplace of tomorrow has the following five main characteristics.
Remote work is becoming the norm thanks to widespread, high-quality internet access and the ceaseless advance of mobile technology. Colleagues can work together for years without ever being in the same room – or even in the same country! This means that geographic location is becoming less of a consideration for recruiters and workers. In order for this to work effectively, workers need to be au fait with technology, as well as be skilled communicators and self-motivators.
Alongside the move towards decentralisation is the growth of the gig economy. Not being tied to particular locations makes workers more flexible and more willing to try different work. This will affect the situations both between and within businesses. Aside from people being more inclined to take short-term contracts rather than permanent posts, positions inside companies will also be more fluid. Titles will be less important and strict organisational structures are likely to flatten out or change on a project-to-project basis.
The need to upskill employees is nothing new, but it is fast becoming a prerequisite of satisfying work, both for employers and employees. Considering the pace at which technology develops, together with the central role it plays in the workplace, it will make the constant updating of skills all the more necessary. Workers will have to improve their knowledge almost as often as their devices undergo software upgrades. This demands continued adaptability and openness to learning that wasn’t necessarily required in the offices and factories of the past.
As the development of artificial intelligence rolls ineluctably forward, we are increasingly interacting with our devices, rather than operating them. Workers, therefore, need to be comfortable with the evolving relationship between humans and machines and the benefits this symbiosis can bring to the workplace and the economy as a whole.
With flexibility and mobility being so central to the working styles of the future, people will need incentives other than simple remuneration to make jobs attractive to them. Aside from feeling a strong commitment to the work they do, they will need to see that there are opportunities for growth and development, as well as access to new devices, software and methodologies.
On the whole, then, the future (or should we say present) worker is one that has well-developed technological skills (this is as fundamental as the ability to read and write was in the previous century), analytical and problem-solving skills, strong communication abilities (taking the developing methods and etiquette of remote, electronic interaction into account), a lifelong openness to learning, and the ability to be a self-driver (as direct supervision becomes less prominent).
This is what educational technology is required to prepare learners for – and its value is to be assessed in accordance with how well it performs this function.
Considering the nature of future work, technology should be both the object and the medium of education. In addition to students learning to use technology – with the aid of technology itself, they also need the tools to help them develop in other aspects of their education, such as numerical literacy, life skills, language skills, etc. So, how does educational technology help to facilitate and accelerate learning in all these areas? It should do so by emphasising the following features and functions.
Learning is accelerated through interaction and collaboration. These help pupils to get clarity on learning material. Technology helps by enabling communication among learners, as well as between pupil and educator. They can share and answer questions, form study groups and contact teachers directly when they are experiencing difficulties
Strategic use of learning devices, both in the classroom and for home use, can help to package course material in ways that are tailored to each student’s particular level and learning style. Although the content is the same throughout the class and tested according to the same standard, the way in which it is delivered can be altered slightly for each user.
Following their personalisation function, these tools can also help students to develop their own learning environments and to organise and direct their own engagement with the material. Educators can set overarching objectives and students can then use the technology to work towards these with their own tailored goal setting, self-evaluation, and time-management tools.
The use of technology removes any limits that teachers may once have experienced in terms of disseminating information and helping students to grasp and internalise it. Educational software comes with capabilities to create simulations, virtual reality environments and game-based learning tools, all of which help students to understand course content much more quickly and more deeply.
With educational technology, teachers have the ability to provide more effective, punctual and targeted feedback to keep students informed on their progress and performance. Whereas in the old days, students would submit work for marking and then wait, there is now the opportunity for automated response systems, which enable students to check their answers in real-time.
When fully employed, these functions and features of educational technology have the capacity both to accelerate and deepen pupils’ learning experiences.
The benefits of educational technology should now be apparent. However, understanding the potential gains and adopting them are two very different things. It can be a challenge to adopt new ways of working, especially when there are many people involved, all with different levels of comfort and ability when it comes to technology. A gradual approach, without too much risk of ‘future shock,’ is the best way. School leaders should introduce the technology gradually to their staff, who should do likewise when bringing the devices into the classroom and familiarising learners with it.
Once you have made your choice and procured the technology, HP Education recommends an approach to integrating it that begins with the establishment of time-based goals for the roll-out of the technology. Start by deciding what your objectives are. Is it a complete roll-out of devices throughout the entire school body by a certain time? It could be a partial deployment only for certain classes, perhaps. Whatever your adoption goals, map them out with the faculty and then put a plan in place to meet them, starting with your procurement schedule, your staff training agenda, and the scheme for the roll-out and integration of the technology. Keep communication clear in all directions and allow time for staff and pupils to adjust.
Once you start implementing the chosen technology, encourage a collaborative atmosphere that will enable the quicker, early adopters to share information and help out those who are slower to adapt.
Given the benefits of educational technology that have now been outlined, as well as the central importance of technology per se in the future economy, the value of integrating devices and software into teaching methodologies should be apparent. It has already been mentioned but it bears repeating: technology is as important today as reading and writing were 100 years ago. It is rapidly becoming as essential to teachers and learners as textbooks, pen and paper, and chalkboards have always been. The benefits of educational technology include, but are not limited to, the following:
Education solutions provide benefits for school leaders, teachers, students and IT administrators. Each of these groups experiences the benefits of educational technology in the following ways:
School leaders value the technology innovation and blended learning approaches enabled by our solutions.
IT administrators have peace of mind knowing that students will be using devices rugged enough for rigorous use with long-lasting batteries.
Teachers are empowered to create collaborative instructional environments that engage students at all levels while keeping the class on task. They can differentiate instruction, orchestrate their classrooms, and save time by facilitating their lesson planning, as well as administrative and assessment workflows.
Students love using the latest technology that reflects their life outside of school and adapts to a variety of learning activities. They can learn everywhere, all the time, with tools that enable true learning.
These points help you to understand the general value of technology in education but the question is, what specific solutions are best suited to your institution and will yield the best balance of costs and benefits for you? To answer this question, you need to assess the value of investment (VOI) in integrating technology into your curriculum. Don’t allow pressure to force you into adopting technology too hastily. Rather take a step back and ask yourself exactly what you want to achieve. Define it as clearly and specifically as possible. Then, with this goal in mind, work slowly through these five steps to assessing your VOI and making your procurement decisions:
An investment in educational technology is an investment in the future of your institution, in your students’ future, in your staff’s future ability to teach, and in the future of the economy as a whole.
HP Education Solutions offers students and educators access to leading-edge educational technology systems, complete with all the benefits we have touched on here.
For more information on HP Education Solutions in South Africa, contact Tarsus Distribution.