Revolutionizing Education: The Virtual Future of Learning
This past summer, we witnessed Pokémon Go take the world by storm, topping Twitter’s daily active users and engaging more users than Facebook. It’s clear that virtual spaces are no longer reserved for tech-savvy gamers or sci-fi movies. Virtual spaces in everyday life are here to stay.
So, what does the mainstream emergence of virtual spaces in everyday life suggest about virtual spaces in education?
Well, if the adoption of everyday life technologies by educators in the past tells us anything, we will see virtual spaces implemented more frequently throughout this school year and over the next several years. Television was brought into the classroom after becoming a household fixture. Since then, it’s grown from temporary learning tool that was wheeled into the classroom on a trolley to permanent staple. To this day, the use of television in the classroom is still on the rise.
Expect virtual learning spaces to follow suit. The implementation of virtual learning spaces is more common than it’s ever been. Teachers are using VLCs (virtual learning communities) to engage with one another and grow as educators, while schoolwide initiatives are immersing thousands of students in new digital learning environments. Next year, virtual learning spaces will overtake in-person environments as the most effective places to learn.
What is a virtual learning space?
A virtual learning space is “any set of teaching and learning tools designed to enhance a student’s learning experience by including computers and the Internet in the learning process”, as defined by TechTarget. Alternatively, virtual learning spaces are referred to as “virtual learning environments”.
Virtual learning spaces are already everywhere, and they’re only gaining steam.
How we know virtual learning spaces will overtake in-person environments
National initiatives to improve the quality of education in America are funding tech-forward projects. As a result, young learners are gaining access to a wealth of digital tools that can be used from home and within their classrooms. In turn, we’re seeing an increase in the amount of learning happening in online environments. How sharp this increase will be depends on the success of these initiatives, like Think It Up. And considering there are education initiatives in America being funded by very wealthy individuals, such as Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Gates at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we’re bound to witness a very sharp increase in virtual learning.
By looking at online tutoring alone, we can get an idea of how much money is backing virtual education projects and how rapidly the industry is growing. In 2012, online tutoring was an $11.8 billion industry; by 2018, we’ll be looking at a global tutoring market roughly nine times that size — a $103 billion behemoth. In the US, online tutoring is a $132 million market and is continuing to grow at an annual rate of 6%.
These education-technology projects are able to grow due to the fact that our schools are, for the first time, composed of students who are ready to move to learning in a digital-first environment. This school year, only 12th grade students are still 90s babies. Students in kindergarten through 11th grade were all born on this side of the new millennium.
Schools are populated with digital natives — people who were born into a society that had already adopted digital technology. To put this in perspective, not only were all of these students born into a digital society, but Facebook is actually older than some students in middle school as well as every elementary school student. A survey of the class of 2020 revealed that one in five recall ever having used a landline, but send over 40 texts a day; only 6% submit homework by hand; and 81% use connected devices every day.
It’s rubbing off on the teachers, too. Forward-thinking teachers are evolving their teaching methods to benefit students by introducing new technology and innovative ways to learn, submit assignments, and stay connected to the classroom from remote locations. The median age of teachers in America is 41 years, and at this age they have been teaching for no longer than 20 years. So, since they began teaching, these teachers have been incorporating connected technology in their lessons.
Further, they’ve been active as educators throughout an era of technological advancement that is characterized by more rapid growth than any period of time in history. So, what we will have in America’s education system in the very near future are tech-savvy teachers taking on administration roles. Decisions on curricula and the new tech that students interact with will be made by professionals whose entire careers have been spent alongside computers and other connected devices.
We can already see a new school of thought building among teachers. Funding and improving technologies are allowing teachers to communicate much more efficiently than ever before. They’re turning to virtual learning communities, such as Personal Learning Networks, Personal Communities, and Communities of Practice to bridge distances and interact with other educators who they would previously never speak with. These communities allow teachers to share ideas and resources with one another, producing faster adoption of new methods and technologies by teachers across the country. One of these communities for example is Teachers Pay Teachers, an open marketplace where millions of teachers “share, sell, and buy original educational resources”. With the most efficient and widespread teacher communication happening in virtual spaces, we’ll only continue to see increases of virtual learning among students — enabled by teachers who are now personally familiar with these spaces.
The most significant contributing factor to the rise of virtual learning spaces is the fact that they contribute to a healthier, more productive education system. Virtual learning spaces help students learn in better ways than ever before. Digital technologies are already resulting in better literacy among young learners, enabling instantaneous classroom-quality online tutoring from anywhere, facilitating simpler engagement in classroom discussion, and making assignment submissions easier. Nowadays, students can even complete a university degree program fully online.
There are monumental changes on the horizon. The future of education is as thrilling as it’s ever been, and although it’s impossible to predict all that is about to happen, we can be certain of some changes.
Education will provide more opportunity for students to excel as unique individual learners. New technology and ways of thinking will allow for students with multiple learning styles to find their place in the classroom, for re-engineered classroom layouts, and for new paths to graduation through secondary education.
If we embrace it with the right attitude, the future of education will be more capable and all-encompassing than it is now and than it ever has been.