When I was in first grade, the teacher assigned our class to take out our paper and a pencils and write down what we thought life would be like for a first grader in the 21st century. There are three things I distinctly remember writing: (1) kids would be riding to school in hovercars and personal spaceships like on The Jetsons; (2) cows would be able to produce chocolate milk for schoolkids (my love for chocolate milk in first grade bordered on the obsessive); and (3) children would learn from teachers on computer screens. We’re not there on numbers 1 and 2 yet (and now as an adult, I’m totally okay with that), but learning from teachers on computer screens is definitely an idea that has come of age.
It wasn’t so long ago that online learning was an incredibly limited offering consisting of a handful of select courses provided mostly by community colleges for working adults unable to attend class during regular hours. Now, online learning is quickly becoming the evolution of education delivery, with students of all ages consuming digital content, attending virtual schools and exponentially expanding their horizons.
BYOD: Learning at Everyone’s Fingertips
While a mass-adoption master plan for online learning is still in development, one method of ed tech experimentation is allowing students to use their own smartphones and tables to enhance their education experience. Since 2009, the number of teens using smartphones has tripled, with most students bringing their phones to school, and up to this point, not usually for learning.
The goal with BYOD (bring your own device) for learning is to turn an increasingly prevalent classroom disruptor into a cost-effective learning tool for schools. A Forbes article recently highlighted a Texas school district that is having great success using bring-your-own and donated smartphones as mobile learning devices.
Teachers are taking what their students use and view with fervor outside the classroom: videos, apps and information, and integrating them into lesson plans to create a love and enthusiasm for learning. Math test performance levels in the Texas school district jumped from the 70th to the 90th percentile since mobile learning devices were incorporated into classroom learning.
Gamification, including virtual course completion and proficiency badges, replaces smiley faces and stickers to reward and encourage progress. Students are also being encouraged to embrace education on a more global scale, learning and interacting with students and teachers from Miami to Madrid to Mumbai – and to extend learning what they love (whether that’s physics, engineering or even Shakespeare) beyond the final school bell. According to a new Project Tomorrow report, the profile of a typical student interested in taking an online class today is a middle school girl who values the use of a mobile device in school and sees online learning as her ticket to a more personalized learning environment where she is in control of the learning process.
Expanding The Mobile Classroom
If mobile learning device adoption can succeed at the elementary, middle and high school levels, implementation in higher ed should be an easier progression with smartphone ownership by young adults reaching record highs. According to Pew Research, 67% of 18 to 24-year-olds and 71% of 25 to 34-year-olds already own smartphones.
School principals and administrators are avid smartphone users themselves with more than 70% in this group owning smartphones compared to the national average of 46% of all Americans. And according to the new report Learning in the 21st Century: A 5 Year Retrospective on the Growth in Online Learning, a majority of teachers, school site administrators and district level administrators have participated or are participating in an online class for their own professional development (for teachers, a 148 percent increase since 2007). Thirty percent of teachers say that online professional development is now their preferred approach for continuing education.
In addition, one-third of parents now support increased investments in online learning, as BYOD and online learning adoption at schools mirrors increasing BYOD adoption in the workplace.
Facing the Challenges of 21st Century Learning
With any major change in education delivery comes a unique set of challenges. Funding is of course at the top of the list, along with the infrastructure needed to support digital learning, student internet safety and training for teachers. But the increased development of cost-effective, cloud-based technologies, in parallel with and in support of this change in education delivery, may just make a 20th century first grader’s dream of what 21st century learning would be like a reality.
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- National Network of Digital Schools Improves Service for more than 200 Education Institutions across the Nation with Parature
Project Tomorrow Speak Up Project Infographic: