Education Technology and the Modern Learner

Education Technology and the Modern Learner

October 20, 2016

Flexibility, flow, and reimagining how we best deliver quality education to millennials.

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By Bobby Babbrah

Technology’s impact is often felt immediately by its users but sometimes—especially in education—technology’s innovations do not necessarily take place in “a moment.” Indeed, over a sustained period of time, technology is inexorably transforming the education landscape. This transformation consists of multiple elements, starting with the makeup of the modern millennial learner, continuing to how learning is evolving due to innovations in technology, and finally to how the educational experience will need to be reimagined to adapt to these changes.

Modern Millennial Learners

Modern millennial learners consider technology integral to both their learning and non-learning lives. Members of this cohort of 18-to-33-year-olds can’t imagine a world without technology deeply integrated into how they create, share, co-create and consume information and nurture relationships. This age group has always tended be early adopters of technology and want to push the state-of-the-art to its limits more aggressively than any other prior generation.

We need learning systems and pedagogical models that allow the learner to self-regulate his or her learning pace.

By and large, education is personal to these modern learners. They grew up in an era where the education community began to embrace personalized learning in an attempt to reach economies of scale under the pressure of costs and outcomes. While technology might not have fully realized its potential, educators have now come to the realization that learning not only must be personal, but it must also embrace design thinking frameworks to create end-to-end digital and mobile experiences that transcend both software and services.

How Learning is Evolving

Innovations in technology deeply affect learners’ behaviors in any generation, but especially in this cohort. Mobile phones and the Internet of Things (IOT), which include smart home appliances, have drastically increased the rate of interruption in rhythm of daily life. And with the time between these interruptions shrinking even further, learners have increasingly shorter attention spans.

In a world where competencies and skills must be validated and demonstrated with rigor and vigor, learning modalities must allow for sustainable bursts of learning, analysis, inquiry, and immersion. In other words, a sustainable middle ground must be achieved between the two ends of the spectrum: with micro-learning moments on one end and traditional 50- or 75-minute lectures on the other.

In order to strike a balance across this spectrum, we need learning systems and pedagogical models that allow the learner to self-regulate his or her learning pace. We must apply instructional design principles that allow flexibility and flow for these short bursts of knowledge assimilation. This ideal can be achieved through a thoughtful weaving of instruction, assessment, tutorials, and practice within a robust competency-based framework. We must allow the building blocks to be quickly absorbed, but at the same time recognize that true learning requires sustained attention for assimilation of the subject matter.

Reimagining Education Technology

Since modern millennial learners tend towards self-direction and believe in self-actualization, this is a generation to cultivate, not merely teach. Technology is the only enabler that allows this at scale and that, at its core, is the true promise of education technology.

As users of self-directed competency and blended learning models, millennial learners will lean on anytime/any place mechanisms to feel a sense of connectedness and reliance on peer networks and communities of interest. Social and community-centered aspects of learning platforms will play a major role in technology, shaping the way they and future generations will learn. These aspects will be augmented by engaging social and mobile experiences, with a greater focus on capabilities such as social/community, progress and progression feedback, as well as academic and career counseling and planning assistance.

Immersive learning experiences also have the potential to become the frontrunner in emerging technology for learning. Augmented reality (computer-generated sensory input that supplements physical learning materials) and immersive learning environments have high utility and application in education. At the same time, the relative costs are astoundingly low.

Audio/visual learning has already proven its effectiveness in engaging learners and to help them capture and retain information more efficiently. Augmented reality could very well be the next phase of innovation that allows students to capture and retain experiences, thereby enabling deeper learning to occur.

A new wave of education technology is just now making its way into our collective consciousness as an accessible and attractive solution for bridging the educational gap in our country and upskilling our workforce. We must continue to push the envelope in understanding how millennial learners interact with technology, how it affects their learning habits and expectations, and how we can best deliver quality educational programs and products. In so doing, we will be doing nothing less than reimagining the education experience.

Bobby Babbrah is Chief Digital Officer of Penn Foster, an education provider offering skills development training, credentials and employment matching for today’s frontline workforce. He oversees the company’s digital and mobile educational platforms and products.