As part of my looking ahead series, I will publish a few blog posts on what I see as the future of certain areas that I am really passionate about. These pieces may also appear in other media, so I will let you know if they are cross-posted.
Across the world, nearly 4.9% of our GDP is spent on education. In countries such as USA and UK, the % is much higher and in countries such as ours, much lower. As we look into the future to get our citizens more educated and informed, we find that the biggest change will be the end of the “one size fits all model”. The future of education will be hyper-personalized, catering to individual students needs and focused on learning outcomes that enable one to do something meaningful with their learning.
At the heart & center of the education, we tend to sometimes forget, is the student.
What would be the ideal learning environment for the student? From Kindergarten to 12th grade, higher education through graduate programs and finally ongoing learning for skills refreshment, what helps the student learn better?
If you ask a student, they’d like to a) be inspired to learn, by having the subject brought to life with examples and experiences, b) learn at their own pace and enjoy the subject and c) learn so they can apply it towards a task they want to perform.
Teaching can be broken into 3 elements – “instruction”, “application” and “review”.
“Instruction” is the explanation of the theory and concept with a few examples. Most of the sciences & math are taught this way already. The social sciences are largely taught this way as well, but the examples are replaced by stories in history, locations in geography and local government examples in civics. For languages the theory is replaced with a large dose of rules. Most are arcane and require rote memorization. Teachers, tend to force students to learn every concept at the same time, regardless of the student’s ability to learn. Inexpensive tablets and applications on those will replace the blackboard based teaching in the next 10 years. Currently instruction is also done in a linear fashion and uses the same tools and techniques for everyone. I know in my own personal case this is meaningless. My son, a 9 year old, prefers if I explain it to him using stories, but my daughter wants to watch videos about history.
“Application” is currently performed by repetition and practice. Instead of applying the learning concepts to a project (in some private schools they are given projects), students are asked to do the same “problems” and answer the same questions multiple times. The expectation is that repetition will ensure you will remember it. The future of application will be based on science kits, drama renditions of historical facts and real-world recreation of circumstances where you would use math. The student is more likely to remember a drama they participated in about the Mughal Empire than the multiple chapters devoted to them in the history textbook. This will also help counter the folks who claim that computing is making students “insular”. The fact that you are doing a project (or a drama) requires teamwork and cooperation.
Finally, “Review” is done by tedious and stress-inducing exams, with emphasis on how well you learned to “learn”, instead of learned to “apply the learning”. Computing is already replacing the paper-based exams in the higher classes, and they will continue to do so even in the lower grades. Reviews might also get replaced by multiple “demo days” at the end of a semester – with the emphasis on “show me what you learned”.
The future, will feature personalized applications based on experiences with inexpensive tablets and mobile phones replacing the text and images of the 2D text book with voice, video, interaction and text.
While teachers won’t be replaced, the tablet will enhance the teacher’s ability to be a facilitator instead of setting the pace. While some favor setting the pace approach, research has proven that most students are motivated to learn certain subjects faster than others.
The teacher’s role will change to be a curator of great material and a person that understands the unique needs of each student. This obviously means, that not all students in a class will be at the same “level” during the class. Some might surge ahead in Math, others in Literature and still others in Art. Which is a good thing. It will help the students excel in “something”, rather than be ordinary at “everything”.
The future of all student education will be hyper-personalized. From Kindergarten to elementary, middle school to high and from undergraduate programs to post graduate and beyond, each student will focus on having their “own” teacher, their “own” curriculum and their “own” books.
Lastly I want to highlight the differences between hyper-personalized, customized and individualized. They are not the same.
Customized means take a curriculum, tweak it somewhat to the local “needs” of the school and then teach all students the same thing. This is followed by most of the private schools in India. They follow ICSE or IGCSE and “custom” tailor the curriculum for the entire class.
Individualized is what home-schooling is. The focus is on what the tutor (in most cases the parent) feels is best for the child. Individualized programs will work for kids with special-needs in the future, and those with learning disabilities. It requires in many cases, a therapist or instructor who understands how the child learns and only focuses on teaching that material in that particular way. In most cases they use the same curriculum as the mainstream programs, but tend to use the same techniques over and over again.