GUEST COLUMN | by Becky Splitt
It’s an unavoidable truth that students live a significant portion of their lives online; school research, internship applications, and social network updates make the Internet a habitual home. The continued influx of mobile devices has allowed for ubiquitous access to connected screens—a phenomenon that, when combined with the online lives of today’s “digitally native” students, is pushing education tools more broadly into the mainstream.
Students are defining the transition from pen and paper to digital, and the education industry must keep up with this shift by creating feature-rich education tools that link seamlessly with class learning.
Education at the nexus of mobile and social is a growing phenomenon, and the following trends will make 2013 the most exciting year ever for innovation in education.
If 2012 was the year of big data for businesses, then 2013 is the year the value of big data moves into the mainstream education market. Using big data and analytics to improve learning starts with a useful platform—one that can efficiently categorize, store, and record every student’s edtech footprint.
Educational tool providers are starting to apply this learning to give students a roadmap for what to study next based on what they and others like them studied last, and the path they took to get there. And while there’s a lot to gain by applying big data analytics and adaptive learning algorithms to this process, students must first adopt the digital tools that make them possible. To that end, it’s imperative that we meet students at their current level of technological and academic fluency. That means giving them a better way to do what they’re already doing, and allowing them to see how much more is possible during the process. The first step is moving to a hyper-smart version of pen and paper that collects millions of data points from which the best learning algorithms can be developed and tested.
The goal: a predictive learning platform that provides a GPS of sorts, unique to the individual. As the platform collects data about what the user needs to learn, and what they know and don’t, it gets better at understanding when the student has adequately mastered the current material. Once the platform knows the individual student, it can begin aggregating data cross-class to help students compare how they’re doing against others like them. This is the next wave in big data functionality, where smart platforms improve the learning experience by actively predicting what the student needs to learn next and prompting them to move on when they’re ready.
While each individual gets smarter, the platform does the same across millions of other users, and turns that collective knowledge about what works best for all like-minded individuals into better results for each student.
Students learn from books, online lessons, teachers, and increasingly, from each other. The merging of online, mobile and social technologies has made it easier than ever to connect and share content with other students.
As a result, crowdsourced learning is taking off. For example, Learnist is using a community pinboard format to share information, and UNESCO is using crowdsourcing initiatives to educate kids around the world. StudyBlue users have created more than 100 million study materials ranging from anthropology to zoology and every subject in between.
Why does it work? Students integrate and create study materials that illustrate their understanding of a specific subject in the presence of others. For example, StudyBlue student users willingly allow their notes and flashcards to be shared. One student’s content gives another the ability to see how a peer explains a concept. Like-minded individuals tend to understand things in similar ways, making the peer-sourced learning process more cohesive for everyone.
Digital tools at the forefront
Over the last year alone, digital devices (tablets specifically) have made a permanent home in pockets, backpacks, and classrooms at elementary schools and universities alike. The roles they play at these institutions differ, but the end results are the same: devices are becoming a pillar in how learning is achieved and measured.
The higher education landscape is where the device revolution is playing out in full. University classrooms are becoming true BYOD environments, with students using their tablets and smartphones in a variety of ways to aid their learning process. For example, a medical student may use his or her tablet to quickly snap a picture of a cadaver to help memorize the anatomy of a cancerous tumor. With one tap the student can then sync that picture across all their devices to come back to, or share and compare with classmates, at any time outside of lab.
Elementary schools, middle schools and high schools are seeing the device influx come to life in different fashions. At the elementary school level tablets are often school-owned and left in the classroom to provide supplementary and interactive learning experiences for students. Middle school and high schools are beginning to see a blend between teacher-directed tablet use, 1:1 tablet programs and BYOD integration. Regardless of the grade level, teachers and professors have begun to enthusiastically usher devices into their classrooms, making it possible for digital content and services to move from supplemental to essential parts of the curriculum.
Widespread acceptance will reach a tipping point in the next year, and although tablets won’t make their way into every classroom, by the end of 2013 we predict that educators will begin to use these tools definitively.
The year ahead in edtech will be an exciting one, and will see many changes as we move even further into digital. Big data, crowdsourcing and tablets will be key to the development of the future of education tools, and we look forward to seeing where it takes us.
Becky Splitt is the CEO of StudyBlue, a mobile and social study platform used by more than 2.5 million students who have created and shared 100 million documents across the Web and iPhone, iPad (iOS) and Android apps.