Technology makes life better. It allows people from across the globe to collaborate as if seated around the same table, has allowed 3D printing to become a reality and makes it possible to master Guitar Hero from the comfort, and privacy, of our living rooms. As technology changes the world around us, it is also transforming education. Technology at its best can empower teachers and students, raise standards and improve outcomes for those who learn.
While we have seen youth unemployment dropping to its lowest level for five years, it is still too high. Yet employers with jobs to fill are saying that they are unable to fill entry-level vacancies as they cannot find candidates with the necessary skills. This is damaging to individuals and businesses alike. By harnessing the latest technology, we can develop innovative learning techniques and platforms to ensure those entering work for the first time are equipped with the skills employers need, and that those already in jobs are able to progress through their career.
Better still, evidence shows that the biggest impact of technology in education is on those who need it most. Technology has the power to break open the doors of learning, making education more inclusive and enabling it to embrace those learners that have for too long been marginalised. It is these individuals who can benefit the most from innovation. Traditionally, learning was constrained to classrooms and required students to physically attend set lessons. This immediately excludes those who are unable to make this type of commitment, whether because of disability or due to childcare or other caring commitments. If we take learning out of the classroom and put it online, or indeed make it accessible on a mobile phone, then suddenly those people that were previously excluded are able to make learning a part of their lives.
Encouragingly, innovation in digital education continues at pace. Just recently, online learning company Qualt launched a new platform that allows learners looking to develop their careers to study professional skills Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) via a free downloadable app on their smart phone. This is a prime example of how technology can offer people a flexible, low-risk opportunity to develop in a way that works around them and their lifestyle. This week also saw adult learning charity NIACE awarded ‘App of the Year’ in the Prolific North Awards for their Maths Everywhere app that helps adults build vital numeracy skills.
It’s not just outside of the classroom that technology can make a difference. Technology can be effectively used by teachers to bring subjects to life within schools, colleges and universities. It can also assist teachers with their administrative and planning tasks, allowing more time to focus on inspiring and nurturing pupils.
Through embracing technology, students - whether sat in a classroom or on the sofa - can benefit from a bespoke education tailored to their personal strengths and weaknesses. Digital learning programs can be paced to suit the individual, meaning those who benefit from extra time on key subjects, or indeed those who are capable of racing ahead, are kept on-track and engaged. The digitally enhanced classroom has no disengaged back row, no struggling students too embarrassed to raise questions in front of their peers and no bright stars wasting their potential re-visiting topics they have already mastered. Technology can help keep the de-motivated engaged just as it helps the best to soar.
While technology is a subject to get enthused and excited by, we must not lose our heads. Teachers should not fear technology. But to get the best out of it, investment in learning technology needs to be results driven. Success must not be measured on technical terms or spending commitments, but instead by its ability to drive up standards and outcomes for learners. Embracing technology does not simply mean writing cheques. We have learnt the hard way that brand-new kit is only able to prove its worth if used effectively. This means making smart purchasing decisions and ensuring that staff and users are trained to take full advantage of their new devices.
By harnessing the latest learning technology, we can raise standards of education for everyone. Schools can offer students a more dynamic learning experience catered to their individual needs, employees keen to further their career can learn new skills online, and critically those previously left on the sidelines of education, can benefit from more opportunities to learn than ever before.
Matthew Hancock is Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise