Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Teaching has always been a traditional industry. The style used to teach our students in the classroom within institutions of higher education hasn’t changed much in the past 200 years.  At times, lecture-based, analytical approaches are abandoned in favour of hands-on, practical methods, but the traditional model still survives: learning is largely a guided process.

All learning is essentially guided. Students with foundational knowledge of a subject are often in need of direction, but that direction is typically pre-determined.

A teacher generates and implements a lesson plan and students follow along. Although room is often left for creativity and spontaneity, the structure is more rigid than one might think.

In addition, students are expected to sit in the same room as the teacher. With the advancements we’ve seen in technology in recent years, many of these concerns are no longer the case.

Living in the digital age, we are all well aware that the internet and the proliferation of digital devices have changed the game when it comes to sharing information around the globe. Education has taken on many forms, as self-directed learning has become more popular and more achievable than ever before.

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This all boils down to one term already quite popular in education: access.

It is free access to materials, ideology, and expertise that have made it possible to study at university without attending, to meet self-made millionaires we’ve never spoken to, and to engage with communities we’ve never encountered. In fact, it is the proliferation of content that has been driving our society’s education over the past decade or so.

A perfect example to illustrate this concept consists in the abundance of online learning platforms which charge a subscription fee to take one course or gain access to a variety of course content. Such websites often offer expert advice and guidance as students seek to achieve mastery. Although access to unique tools and informative material adds value to the consumer, the model is still identical to the one we currently use. In this regard, very little has changed.

The real question when attempting to innovate in the educational environment is: how can we do things differently? The answer appears to be less related to the content that is being produced and more often driven by the technology that is being developed.

Software and platform integrations are key when it comes to innovation, as well as the functionality of content produced across a range of devices. The world is going mobile, so what would have worked on a website 10 years ago, must now be optimised for the mobile market. App development, then, becomes a real concern of tremendous value. In addition, how we package educational strategy and practical application within the mobile space matters.

There is much innovation surrounding technology. More specifically, educational technologies are advancing rapidly, yet are very slowly integrated. The issue revolves around finding solutions that work for everyone, both in a practical and academic sense.

One such solution is the digital app. Over the past decade, the app scene has exploded, and a seemingly infinite number of targeted applications have hit the market. According to Apple’s ‘Apps in the Classroom’ brief, engagement, developmental appropriateness, instructional design, and motivation should all be considered alongside accessibility when determining if apps are suitable for use within educational curriculum. Further, Apple’s App Store now categorises and promotes apps for all age ranges and developmental levels, including those best suited for students with special needs.

This is not to say that apps are the answer. However, what is clear is that apps provide a look at what is possible in this new age of education. And, we need to continue to innovate and improve upon existing models to ultimately forge a more relevant way forward.

If we tie all of these pieces together – the traditional educational model, access to content, technological developments, and our seemingly endless search for knowledge – it becomes clear that we are in need of change. There is a bit of dissonance in the signal that connects our educational past to the future of scholarship. Part of building this bridge will likely involve trial and error while the rest will require advanced technologies which meet the unique needs of the human body and mind. Overall, this will require approaching the problem differently.

We should not abandon tradition, however, we should approach teaching and learning in the digital age in a more flexible way. The first step might be to ponder how much our students need to be guided set against how much they are already learning on their own. Attempting to merge these two considerations in some way via technology seems as flexible and accessible as any current or former educational practice.

Jeremy Shulman, Chief Editor, Subscriptions and Product at InterActive Pro and Edology.com

 Jeremy Shulman is Chief Editor, Subscriptions and Product at Interactive Pro, assisting students and faculty in procuring essential resources, and developing and managing vital student programmes like the student career centre and IA’s Community Hub.

 He holds a master’s degree in education from New York City’s Lehman College and has 10 years of experience as a former high school teacher in the United States, teaching writing, grammar, and literature at a top