/ 15 June 2018

Technology in the classroom is key to collaborative, effective and engaged learning

Exposure to technology from a young age makes it easier for learners to transition to their roles in technology-driven business environments
Exposure to technology from a young age makes it easier for learners to transition to their roles in technology-driven business environments

The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is fundamentally changing the way the world works. A key driver of this workplace transformation is technology, with the stupendous growth in availability and use of artificial intelligence, robotics, and digital functionality rapidly making many traditional work functions, and even workplaces, largely obsolete. It’s been argued by many trend analysts, and agreed upon by the World Economic Forum, that a very large percentage of the jobs that people will be doing in 10 to 15 years’ time don’t even exist today. Such is the eye-watering pace of industrial and corporate change and evolution right now.

Against this backdrop, it’s easy to see that traditional pedagogical constructs are no longer effective pillars on which to build the all-important education of our children. Preparing the successful employees, managers, executives and entrepreneurs of tomorrow requires a transformed education approach that focuses less on imparting knowledge and more on enabling young people to develop the insights, skills, abilities and awareness that they will need to create the futures they want for themselves, and others.

The incorporation of technology in the classroom is an essential cornerstone of this new education approach.

Apart from the fact that exposure to technology from a young age makes it easier for learners and students to transition to their roles in technology-driven business environments, the early adoption of technology as a learning tool is vital in terms of teaching learners how to leverage that technology to deliver positive education and social outcomes — which, experts agree, will be key to success in the workplace of the future while also encouraging self-employment through an entrepreneurial mind-set.

Harnessing technology to make learning a team sport

For too long, education has ignored the fact that students learn in different ways; and that these different learning styles invariably translate into different ways of working down the line. The challenge of tailoring the learning experience to each individual child in each classroom has also always been a very daunting one. But today, technology has made it possible. Even at its most basic application level, the incorporation of technology into learning processes allows learners to learn in new ways and at speeds with which they are comfortable. And when one adds to this customisable learning experience a focus on project-based learning, the holistic learning outcomes can be massively enhanced.

The experiences at Future Nation Schools have repeatedly confirmed this to be true. In addition to making it possible for small groups of learners to work collaboratively on a project, the strongly technology-focused classroom approach allows each learner to find their unique niche, or area of strength, within their team and make a significant contribution to the group outcome. The technology employed in the education process also allows Future Nation educators to monitor the progress and contribution of each learner within their team in a completely non-intrusive way, and judiciously intervene if and when required. They get to understand that learning is a team sport by leveraging technology and the various applications used in Future Nation classrooms.

Another somewhat unexpected but very welcome consequence of greater use of technology in Future Nation Schools classrooms has been that it has enabled parents to become far more involved in the education experience of their children. Instead of having to rely on their children to tell them what projects or assignments they have to complete, parents are able to easily and remotely monitor these projects, and the progress their children are making on them, and involve themselves when assistance or guidance is required. As a result, parents are informed of their children’s progress, achievements and challenges on an ongoing basis, rather than having to wait for a year-end report card to discover that they should have intervened.

Leveraging technology to teach 21st Century skills

The real value of technology in the classroom is the opportunity it presents for learners to go beyond merely soaking up knowledge and, instead, discover how to find that knowledge for themselves, collect and process relevant information, and adapt or manipulate that information in a way that delivers a desired outcome for themselves and others. They get opportunities to solve real-life problems, supported by project-based learning models.

The simple truth is that most, if not all, of the knowledge needed by people today is readily available. In addition to that, the manual tasks that have long been completed by a human labour force are increasingly being automated. All of this means that education can simply no longer be about learning facts or being taught how to do a task. The education institutions of today need to be helping learners and students equip themselves with the skills and abilities that will secure their futures, and these include, but are not limited to research skills, teamwork, critical thinking, innovation, problem solving, entrepreneurial mind-set, self-discipline and adaptability.

The outcomes and achievements of learners attending Future Nations Schools consistently show that project-based, technology-led learning is one of the most effective ways of imparting these essential skills. It’s incredibly rewarding for Future Nation educators to watch young learners discover their unique strengths and, more importantly, explore how best to apply those strengths within a group of peers to create synergies and make significant contributions to the achievement of mutually beneficial outcomes.

Creating more engaged learners

It’s a sad reality that everything today, including learning, is competing for the limited attention of a youth that is becoming increasingly immersed in technology. So, in a classic example of the adage about “joining them if you can’t beat them”, incorporating technology into the learning experience is an excellent way to ensure that learners become, and remain, engaged with their learning experiences.

Technology-based learning programmes essentially remove the passive learning that has historically been so entrenched in schools. In this new model, the learner is transformed from learner passenger to driver, freeing the educator to devote more time to enabling effective learning, inspiring involvement, coaching and guiding.

One of the most significant side-effects of this more engaged learning process is that learners experiences a far greater sense of achievement from their outcomes, which is an exceptionally effective form of positive reinforcement that typically prompts an increased desire to keep on learning more. The role of an educator is now to facilitate the conversations in the classroom, as opposed to feeding learners with information.

Creating entrepreneurial thinkers through technology

While technological disruption is unlikely to create the widespread long-term unemployment that many fearmongers claim it will, it is true that competition for employment opportunities is set to become increasingly fierce in the years to come. While this can be a somewhat frightening situation for some, the truth is that the technology-driven world of tomorrow will also create countless business opportunities for those with the ability and will to capitalise on them.

Technology in the classroom is a vital enabler of future entrepreneurial endeavours. The future will largely belong to innovators, disruptors, and technology creators, so these are skills our young people must be learning now. So, while technology is leveraged as an education facilitator and enabler across all learning areas at Future Nation Schools, the focus is specifically on teaching learners to process data, programme, code, and even create apps — all with the aim of preparing them to become the business creators, industrial game-changers and employers of tomorrow.

Ultimately, technology is the future of education and it is imperative that schools increasingly incorporate it as both a core subject and an overall enabler of sound education outcomes, thereby laying the foundation on which Africa can establish itself as the global entrepreneurship, technology and business powerhouse it must become.

Tebang Ntsasa is an entrepreneurship and computing educator at Future Nation Schools