Digitally Enabled Learning | Future Thoughts
We are at a time when the focus for new developments in digital tools, technologies and resources is about to change. This is always an ‘interesting’ time for those of us who are involved in trying to predict future use to help plan the direction that we may take going forward.
To make it even more interesting, different education systems, in a variety of countries, seem to be approaching educational change and development in ways that often seem contradictory. Sometimes these contradictory approaches end up achieving similar results, sometimes they have very different outcomes. For nearly all, as it was ever thus for education, trying to identify what factors enabled success or contributed to failure, is very difficult.
So rather than trying to pick a ‘winner’, in this section we aim to identify some future trends in technology and explore their potential relevance to learning and educational organizations.
As with all our musings, we aim for these future thoughts to be rooted in, and focused on, learning and teaching but with a little more technology infused, some of which may very well be vaporware at the moment.
As we have tried to show earlier in this resource, looking to the future, however flawed that may be, is an important part of your overall strategy development. Spending some time every year predicting what may happen and reviewing previous predictions is a useful exercise which helps keeps your strategy relevant and dynamic.
We have presented two strands of our current thoughts about the future in the sections below. They are not necessarily the most important of the future possibilities for educational organisations but they do challenge us to think about the two ends of the technology spectrum that may impact our learning environments in the future.
Bring Your Own Device will become the more dominant model for education over the next ten years and we discuss why this should be and some of the issues associated with this approach. In particular, we challenge educational organizations to consider which devices they should purchase to make the greatest educational impact.
Intelligent Assistance and Big Data hold the promise, as yet unfulfilled, of more personal and personalized approaches to developing the learning journey for each individual. Thinking ahead about the use of these tools will be important if education is to make safe, effective use of their power.
Bring Your Own Device(s)
Bring your own device (BYOD) will likely become the norm across education for most age groups. We make this prediction based upon the evidence we have seen from business, education and society in general.
Over the last five years many businesses have moved to a BYOD infrastructure and whilst it does have challenges the benefits are enormous and, to be frank, these businesses have decided that they cannot push against the preferences of their employees and the benefits that BYOD offers, especially in the improvements in productivity and the reduction in maintenance and repair.
In education we are already in a Bring Your Own Device, multi-system environment even though many organizations fail to recognize the reality of students bringing phones, tablets and other equipment such as wearables into their learning spaces as well as using a mixture of devices when outside the classroom.
There are an increasing number of successful BYOD projects within a range of schools, in a variety of contexts and with students from a rich mix of backgrounds. While these BYOD schools are still in the minority we believe that the increasing number of schools deploying 1:1 technology infrastructures will eventually move to a BYOD model.
Taking the next step to a BYOD model demonstrates an eagerness to enable students to take more responsibility for their own learning by handing them the responsibility of choosing the device, or devices, that will suit their own particular needs and experience.
Going BYOD often needs more planning and support for students and parents than is sometimes thought. Giving students and parents the option of choosing the right device(s) requires the learning organisation to ensure that they have the knowledge, skills and understanding required to make an effective choice.
This is where the increasing focus on Computing and Computer Science within the education system as a whole can be used to your advantage.
Using a well structured Computing curriculum to help students become informed about the technology choices that they have to make gives an authentic purpose to their studies, with a specific outcome at the end.
We predict that as the teaching of Computing becomes more effective over the coming years the willingness of educational organizations to adopt BYOD policies will also increase and that effective learning organizations will adapt to make use of the many different devices that their students choose to use.
Given the financial constraints that we all live under, the trick will be to identify which devices it makes sense for the organization to provide to ensure the most value to our students.
Devices will include:
Laptops will continue to develop more and more features that can be found in tablets — touch screens, cameras, pens, etc.
Tablets will continue to develop more and more features that are found in laptops — attached keyboards, multiple windows, pens, etc.
Phones will continue to develop features that are found in laptops and tablets — screens and battery life will get better and allow a phone to become a full-blown device.
Watches and Health Bands
Watches and bands will continue to add features that will be helpful to learning, especially biometric data designed to improve feedback to the learner.
As wearables appear in different guises they will pose both opportunities and challenges to educational organizations.
Virtual/Mixed Reality devices
VR/AR devices will become more portable, flexible and integrated into the learning environment.
And there will probably other categories of device that will make it into the educational environment over the coming years. Overall we would like to see educational organizations developing device strategies that provide an element of ‘wonderment’ for their students.
Yes, every student will need a device, or devices, that they can use to carry out the basic elements of a successful learning journey.
But in our view there also needs to be space for students to be inspired by opportunities to make use of and interact with the exciting range of devices that are now becoming available, most of which they would not normally experience in their everyday lives.
Less Apps, more intelligent services?
Many of us rely on the use of discrete apps or programs to deliver specific tools, resources or activities to students, teachers and others across our learning communities.
Whether these are on a mobile device such as a phone or a tablet or a more conventional laptop or desktop the number of these applications being used effectively within educational institutions seems to be decreasing over the years.
This is mirrored in other areas of society as people, especially young people, reduce the number of apps that they download and use.
Some people foresee a reduction in the reliance on specific ‘Apps’ on devices such as phones and tablets in favor of more modularized, service orientated tools that respond to a user’s specific needs at a specific time. This doesn’t mean that the iPad or Android app that you are using, or plan to use, at the moment will suddenly go away, although if it gets bought by one of the big companies it may just do that.
More likely is that you will continue to be able to use that app but the company producing it may shift to providing a product that has a subscription focus, as opposed to a an outright purchase business model.
This in turn may see your ‘app’ being gradually relegated in importance by action/activity-specific services that are delivered to a device as and when they are required, without the need for installation.
If we are moving to this more services oriented environment then we are likely to find that these services are going to want to know more about us as individuals, which may conflict with the need to provide privacy for our staff and, especially, our students.
The hope is that such services are more likely to make use of increasingly sophisticated machine learning, or artificial intelligence, to help present ‘more effective’ learning experiences and activities to our students and to provide us, as educators, with better information about learning progress.
The rise in importance of machine learning may take several years to become apparent in education, since a great deal of the early developments will be focused on high-profit areas such as business, the health sector, etc., but undoubtedly it will come.
We are already seeing the first steps towards this ‘services’ ecosystem with tools such as Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana and Facebook’s ‘bot’ infrastructure.
While these tools are very much ‘first steps’ into the development of ‘intelligent assistants’ they do have access to increasingly large amounts of data and are capable of useful, if limited’ support for individuals and small teams.
It is not fanciful to suggest that at some point an ‘intelligent assistant’ would be able to suggest to a student a bank of resources and activities that would suit their particular learning needs, based upon how successful they have been with such resources in the past.
Moreover, such a tool could also alert a teacher that an individual was either struggling or was making better than expected progress and give the teacher some indication of the triggers that had impacted on this development.
The system could then correlate data from other students, possibly from across the world, who had taken a similar path to progress and use their data to suggest some successful option open to the teacher to use with the student.
Apart from the technical obstacles that still exist around the implementation of such as system there are a number of ethical and philosophical issues that will need to be ironed out before it can become a reality.
Despite the potential barriers we expect to see some form of intelligent educational assistant to be implemented within the next few years and for it to become a common part of the educational experience within ten years.
One of the aims of this resource is to share best practice and ideas from around the world in order to enable you to make judgements about their relevance to your organization.
So we hope that at the end of each section of this resource you will feel comfortable sharing some thoughts and ideas with others.
We will collate all the thoughts and ideas shared and present the key ideas, statements and comments, anonymously, for everyone else to see on our web site and in future iterations of this resource.
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