Digital technology and the future of education.

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” (John Dewey, 1916)

In an evolving technological world, new systems of learning digital and otherwise need to be implemented in order to keep up with a new generation of learners. We are at a crossroads in the future of learning. The past systems of education will have to change in order to produce a new successful generation, one who is hungry to learn, reflect and relearn continuously.

“The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done” (Piaget, J. 1953).

This current intersection is problematic because we can only implement new methodologies once we have defined the practices, and with a continuously changing world technological implications will no doubt affect these.

Education originated with schooling systems forged to teach children en masse giving more time for parents to work and provide and so the school experience was a means to educate and produce more workers. With science, technology and globalisation, the present curriculum taught in schools has changed considerably from a past era that nurtured industrial workers. Then have these historic methods of learning changed, and with the introduction of digital technology are they going to?

Do children know the answer? Yes. Why? Because children play games.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” (Benjamin Franklin, 1750)


Today schools mostly provide children with a passive non-personalised learning experience. They sit in classrooms listening to a teacher who expel facts, history and theories to them at a microscopic level on whiteboards with little interaction. But kids habits of learning are changing, take for example the YouTube clip of the two and half year old who can navigate an iPad tablet easily or the children playing Angry Birds and Minecraft enthusiastically at home.

Children are using interactive devices to analyse, build structures and ultimately explore new worlds. Passive methods of teaching are no longer going to hold as effective means of educating a generation growing up intrinsically with technology. Their experiences outside of school are not matching their experiences inside of school and this is curbing their desire for further development.

Might this result in a dissonant socioeconomic future not only for the children themselves but also for society as a whole?


The influential trends of digital technology are having an impact on learning today and gamification is no doubt on the rise. Learning with gamification could be central to the implementation of new teaching models. Technology use in the classroom creates an active learner in contrast to a passive observer sitting in the classroom listening to a teacher lecture or reading a textbook (Turkmen, 2006). So considering the digital world as a valuable tool to aid learning, how can gamification within schools be the answer to a better way of learning?

Jane McGonigal suggests that games were first invented 2500 years ago in the Kingdom of Lydia during a time of extreme famine with ancient dice; they would eat one day and play games the next taking their mind off their hunger. This continued for 18 years until the King decided one final game would happen and the winners would leave Lydia on an epic adventure in search of new opportunity. She concluded that using games is consistent with broken environments where people are unsatisfied with the belief that games will make life better (McGonigal, 2012).

The military have been using virtual reality flight simulators since the 1960s designed to train them in navigation, problem solving and failing in a safe environment. With technology like Kinect and Oculus VR we can visit mixed and augmented virtual realities and use them as physical gaming tools. Today fighter pilots and surgeons use simulations software as a part of their training. According to the research, doctors who reported having played video games at least three hours each week worked 27% faster and made 37% fewer errors on surgical tasks compared with those who had never picked up a game controller (Rosser and Lynch et al., 2007). Dr. Andy Wright from the Institute for Simulation and Interprofessional Studies (ISIS) says surgeons are using LapSim giving them procedures to practice through different difficulty levels and consequently teaching judgment, team management, communication skills, conflict resolution, and error disclosure in the sim lab (Johnson, E. 2011).

Immersive virtual reality experiences have also been tried as a support tool for students with Asperger’s; the results showed that the use of immersive virtual environments can improve the learning of these students because of the possibility to repeatedly reproduce real environments and situations (Wallace et al., 2010).

Looking at the trend in gamification from initial online gaming like World of Warcraft introduced in 1994, gaming has become an everyday part of children lives nowadays. The average young person will play 10,000 hours playing online games before they are 21. This parallels the track of education happening at the same time for today’s children. We are looking at an entire generation of expert gamers who are extremely good at something but at present only in virtual online worlds.


Today the face of education is changing with the likes of online learning; a trend threatening a mass disruption to the economic model of educational institutes all round. With the likes of popular learning sites like Khan Academy allowing free on-demand learning beyond the normal structural institutes (Wheeler, R. 2011) we’ll likely see a foreseeable decline in the cost and spending on education, and ultimately a decline in the business of schools unless they can deliver something more. The argument against online learning presently is its traditional holds on this model of passive practice.

Schools of the future need to create more engaging, immersive and playful learning environments to keep up with the way the youth are learning in a digital society. The Montessori Method of teaching is distinct in that it does not use textbooks, worksheets, tests, grades, or punishments (Haines, 1995). It was designed and been successful in nurturing children through child-centred learning, letting them make critical choices, being sensitive to each other, actively listening and having social awareness. Sound familiar?

This is the world of gaming.

Games like Minecraft encourage children to design solutions, build and creatively problem solve. When children play games they are active and absorbed in these worlds, they want to achieve creatively and playfully. Using gaming as a pedagogical tool, children learn to be critical thinkers, which have provided evidence of visual-spatial skill improvement (e.g. visual tracking, mental rotation, and target localisation) in addition to development in problem-solving skills (Schmidt & Vandewater, 2008). Studies have also shown that enhanced motivation towards learning (Rosas et al., 2003) increases and subsequently creates a more engaged classroom culture (Barab, Thomas, Dodge, Carteaux, & Tuzun, 2005).


Historical methods of teaching cater to microscopic learners, issues occur with children who learn macroscopically consequently fail. One of the integral factors of gaming is the ability to fail/die. In Paul Andersen’s Classroom Game Design, he experimented with methods of instant fast failure and discovered that it was a part of learning. Unlike gaming, the classroom is not a place for failure but let’s introduce gaming into the equation and children have the motivation and aspiration to learn, to reach the next level. If we change traditional grade based models to awards, rewards and levels removing the stigma of failure and challenging students to self-motivational learning; will they find that epic win. A proven version of this type of framework can be seen in Finnish schools where classrooms are mixed ages depending on their learning level with positive results (Lopez, A. 2012).

“Skillful use of technology supports the development of process skills such as higher order skills, adaptability, critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration that are essential to succeed.” (Turkmen, 2006)

The introduction of gamification as a way of learning is already disrupting the modern day school system. Technology in a classroom environment has changed from slates and chalkboards to whiteboards, screens, projectors and in some cases tablets and mobile devices as learning aids (Devin, L. 2013).

As classrooms become more digitalised, more educational games and programming tools look to be on the horizon in future learning experiences. Teachers and students are interacting with technology in a way like never before, they must work together to achieve results, share knowledge and give instant feedback. The disruption of learning will not only be a result of a change in learning systems with methodologies of experiential learning becoming more mainstream, but the cost of implementing technological aids to classrooms is an economical one.


What if we think of the history of the education system, schools and educational institutes, in terms of a similar business model like the film industry. Film companies like Fuji and Kodak plummeted once cheaper, reliable digital technology started to interfere with its existing structure. The manufacturing of TV’s and computers changed the film watching experience from one of only theatrical/cinema release to home viewing and distribution; Netflix upped the disruption of the business further by charging a single monthly fee for an on-demand service letting consumers watch when they pleased. If the educational business model equates itself to this model, the business of schools could tumble in similar fashion. Online learning is already the cheaper more convenient way to learn but it is still a passive experience; schools need to get more interactive.


From gamification, through the use of online school communities, open courseware, portable academic histories, and digitalisation of books we move into an era of more digitilised classrooms. These classrooms will showcase interactive wall screens and eye tracking devices. But let’s go beyond Microsoft’s Concept of How 2019 Will look Like and move to more artificial intelligent models of learning. We could see student designed learning mechanics like personalised apps and move on to teacher assignment algorithms with algo-generated lessons changing the traditional student-teacher model into a more facilitation based stance. The use of telepresence, reactive classroom materials including furniture would create a further interactive environment and bridge the offline/online world of gamified learning offering a potential future of interactive immersion cohesively with access to information (Zappa, 2012).

With Virtual reality classrooms will hold exploration to new worlds providing more emotional and personalised journeys and learning experiences. Applying virtual/physical environments to the schooling system we will be creating a more immersive and interactive learning space through mixed and augmented reality. Imaging a world where learning about the theory of relativity could be from Einstein, or learning geography by visiting the countries, and even interacting with other kids learning languages peer to peer might not be so far fetched.


So what kind of adults would children educated through gaming produce and for what kind of future jobs ?

Gail Gallie, chief executive of ad agency Fallon, says

“Ignoring the rise of gaming now would be like ignoring the rise of mobile in the 1990s. Gaming is no longer a pastime, rather the mechanics of modern gaming are infiltrating the way we fundamentally interact with each other and therefore the way all brands will do business.” (Spanier, G. 2012)

If we take what games aspire people to do — bring the type of desire to tackle obstacles with the belief of tangible success and attach it to real world problem solving, build a community of people sharing the same values, trusting and working symbiotically and playing by the same rules — we might produce a generation excited by learning who want to save our world.