Moneyball for Education

Tech in the classroom combines science of learning with art of teaching.

GUEST COLUMN | by Debi Burton

CREDIT McGraw Hill EducationIn almost every aspect of our modern lives, technology has been widely embraced for its ability to make things faster, more personalized and effective. Just open iTunes and glance at your personalized music recommendations, pick up a copy of Moneyball and learn how data has changed professional sports, or order dinner through an app that serves up options based on restaurants you’ve ordered from in the past.

Adaptive learning enables instructors to spend more time delving into advanced concepts and engaging students in high-level discussion—the type of activities that excite teachers about the profession.

More recently, data has begun to change how we approach K-12 education – a trend that’s been made possible by the increasing presence of technology in our classrooms. As technology and data analytics have entered our education system, some parents and teachers have expressed concern that something in the learning experience is being lost: technology is marginalizing the role of the teacher, or that students won’t receive the level of personal attention they need to succeed.

Fortunately, that tide is starting to turn. According to a recent survey, commissioned by McGraw-Hill Education, parents are overwhelmingly beginning to embrace technology, with 91 percent of K-12 parents welcoming digital learning as a performance-improving and more cost-effective learning experience for their children. Parents with college-age kids were in agreement, too, with 89 percent in favor.

What has it taken for educators and parents to feel more comfortable with technology? A strong track record of results and a better connection between digital technology and the more social elements of the learning experience—like direct interaction between students and teachers—that have long been the hallmarks of a great education.

Learning technology has gotten smarter—and more effective

Recent advancements in the science of learning have not only allowed technology to provide students with a more personalized learning experience, but also helped support each teacher’s unique approach to instruction.

Based on educational theory and cognitive science, adaptive technology can make students feel more invested in their learning experience. It personalizes learning by continually assessing students’ knowledge, skill and confidence levels and then designing targeted study paths that help them to improve in their areas of weakness and retain competencies.

As a teacher, I’ve also experienced the benefits of adaptive learning. By better preparing students for class, adaptive learning enables instructors to spend more time delving into advanced concepts and engaging students in high-level discussion—the type of activities that excite teachers about the profession.

With technology now increasingly commonplace in our education establishments, the dynamic of how teachers teach and students learn is changing—but the teacher remains at the center of the learning experience, and students are getting even more personal support than before.

Studies have shown that this personalized learning experience results in a higher level of engagement from students leading to improved critical thinking and creativity, higher completion and retention rates and most importantly improved grades for students.

This more customized experience for students is something that parents clearly approve of: According to the survey, 87 percent of K-12 and 85 percent of college parents believe that classroom lessons should be personalized to meet each individual student’s needs.

Looking ahead: Combining the science of learning with the art of teaching

Adaptive technology built on the science of learning can play a big role in boosting student’s confidence levels and together with the art of teaching can create the best of both worlds. As a result, educators have started to embrace technology as they’ve become more comfortable with its ability to strengthen the relationship between instructor and student. Or, in short, we’re increasingly warming to technology because of its ability to bring together the science of learning with the art of teaching.

The survey findings point to a real tipping point within our society and an acceptance outside of the classroom that technology can help and not hinder learning. Of the 2,500 people surveyed, 78 percent of college and 73 percent of K-12 parents believe today’s classrooms should focus on adaptive learning rather than ‘old school’ textbooks.

The results point towards a generation of parents who have seen how their children react with technology outside of the classroom and firmly believe that the learning experience inside our schools and universities can only be improved by integrating the two yet further.

Improving student performance and achievement standards are the biggest benefits that educators see from using technology in the classroom, but it also enables instructors to focus on what they love most – teaching. As adaptive teaching becomes more advanced the possibilities are endless. For instance, instructors could be able to receive immediate feedback from their students, while data from collective student responses could be used to determine what materials are presented next.

For parents who have given digital learning their approval, the technology allows them to become more engaged with the learning process. There are tools that provide real-time access to information about their child’s progress and with the ability to communicate virtually with school teachers and leaders.

Debi Burton is a mathematics teacher at Big Bear High School in Big Bear Lake, Calif.

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