Early Childhood Education and the Cloud

New ways the cloud can benefit education and what to look for in a cloud-hosted curriculum for early learners.   

GUEST COLUMN | by Mikkel Storm

CREDIT Waterford InstituteAs more and more elementary schools make the jump into using cloud-hosted curriculum, they’re discovering firsthand the already much talked about benefits touted by earlier adopters like higher education and business. Lower costs. Reduced internal hardware and software requirements, and less pressure on in-house IT services. Increased agility and efficiency. Anytime, anywhere access.

It makes sense that early discussions have focused on these positives first; none of them should be trivialized as they can bring significant gains for schools. But as early education gets more comfortable with the cloud and sees these benefits, I believe there will be other – less touted, but equally important – benefits to discover. I also believe early education will trend toward new levels of scrutiny as the bar for what constitutes successful, age-appropriate cloud-based curriculum continues to rise.

Exciting discoveries lie ahead as childhood education begins to realize the full benefits and potential of cloud-hosted curriculum.

4 Cloud Benefits Specific to Education

Cloud-based curriculum offer schools many unique potential benefits. In my opinion, here are four ways we can move the conversation about cloud benefits forward to consider school-specific opportunities:

1. Transparency for Parents and Researchers. As schools move toward cloud computing, consistent student information will be better preserved and shared content more accessible resulting in exciting opportunities for parent involvement and education research. For example, parents could follow their children’s educational progress from their smartphones using customized consoles that displays data the way parents need it, when they need it. Researchers could view results in real time and adjust on the fly to adapt to changing environments and improve educational outcomes.

2. Narrow the Opportunity Gap. With the cloud, we can reach the children where the children are – at school, at home, with grandma, at the daycare, and on the bus –  and work to narrow the opportunity gap. Educators can connect with students across geographic and socioeconomic boundaries, ensuring that important educational tools won’t be reserved for just a fortunate few.

3. Avoid the Summer Slide. Many children, especially struggling readers, forget some of what they’ve learned or slip out of practice during the summer months. Imagine using cloud applications to provide curriculum continuity over the summer break with educational tools that let children continue to learn, even when school is out.

4. Direct delivery mechanism for innovative learning content. Ten years ago, to get updated content, schools would have to wait for the next version of a textbook to come out – or skip or hold off on updates because of budget. Now, with cloud-based curriculum updates are installed automatically, giving schools continual access to the newest and best versions of curriculum without any additional investments. This means schools can adapt as fast and as much as needed, providing the best for their students, without incurring extra costs.

What to Look for in a Cloud Product for Early Learners

With these opportunities in mind, what else should an education technology professional look for when considering cloud-hosted curriculum? Not all applications are cloud ready and it’s very important schools find a provider that offers up virtual environments specifically designed for education.

Nowhere is that specialization more necessary than it is with early learners. Our youngest learners have unique characteristics that require careful consideration and web program development, such as:

  • Inability to read and write. The user experience on cloud-based curriculum must be very intuitive. Early learners can’t read instructions or type in their information. Their user paths must be communicated visually or via audio, and have low barriers to access.
  • Low autonomy. Early learners have a relatively high dependency on adult involvement. For example, they don’t have their own email address, which can make the usual processes for cloud application signup and registration difficult. This also breaks down the typical model for two-way communication between the cloud application providers and the end users. Adults act as the middle man to communicate student experiences and needs.
  • Little technology experience. It’s amazing how quickly young children can pick up how to use technology like smartphones, apps and computers. But the fact remains that they have relatively little technology experience, which means software developers can not make the same usability assumptions as they can for older children and adults.
  • Shorter attention span. Young children have a low tolerance for defects and barriers. Cloud curriculum developers have to make sure the quality of their programs is high and that the user design and flow is optimized for maximum use of student time and attention.

Exciting discoveries lie ahead as childhood education begins to realize the full benefits and potential of cloud-hosted curriculum. By transforming how content is created and delivered, cloud computing has the power to transform the entire learning process – and the innovation is just beginning.

Mikkel Storm is the VP of Product and Marketing at Waterford Institute, a nonprofit research center that creates personalized, cloud-based instruction for children age Pre-K to 3rd grade.

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