The recent Technology Salon Bangkok asking Can Technology Improve Education in Asia? brought together more than 25 professionals in education and technology to separate the hype from the promise in ICT4Edu. We had two lead discussants to guide our discussion:
- Scott Andersen, Director, IREX for AMDI (Advancing MOOCs for Development Initiative)
- Steven Ehrenberg, Associate Director, FHI 360
Participants shared their experience in the field and then debated what current trends in technology for education indicate about the future of educational technology. Highlights of the discussion included the following:
What Has Promise:
- Mobile learning’s moment has arrived. Five years ago we were talking about SMS and very limited smartphone pilots. SMS is limited as a learning device given its inherent constraints, but the explosion of smartphone ownership everywhere means that applications are now a legitimate tool for delivering educational content – and content that can be interactive and responsive. The path to scale now exists. People are already using smartphones to learn, even in ways they aren’t aware – the development field’s job now is to harness this tool for systematic educational initiatives.
- Easy online environments provide new potential for communities of practice to gather and learn from each other. Educators and other educational professionals who may have been previously isolated from each other can now much more easily and conveniently connect and exchange knowledge. This facilitates the dissemination of new ideas and tightens professional networks, making them more useful and rewarding to participants.
- “mini-MOOCs” are demonstrating the appetite and potential of new e-learning models. While MOOCs are in the very early stages of uptake and development in developing countries, “mini-MOOCs” – short courses, delivered to computers or mobile devices – can help users develop specific discrete skills to help them become more competitive for employment. Mini-MOOCs help people improve specific, discrete skills that make them more competitive. In 5 years, we won’t be using the term “MOOCs” we’ll just be talking about different types of e-learning.
- Blended learning is becoming a reality. The ability for instructors to usefully integrate technology tools into lessons shows us that there isn’t really a choice to be made between good teachers and useful technology. Effective pedagogy makes use of both. One participant shared an example of how a trainer asked students to use their smartphones to fill out a short online poll, and then used the real-time results to direct class discussion.
- Adaptive technology gets students content that responds to their skills and pace. More effort and investment in bringing adaptive learning systems to developing countries will result in relevant educational content that can scale fast. Some examples of tools that already exist are DuoLingo, for learning languages and Adapted Mind, for learning math and reading (in English).
- Simulations. “The best way to learn is to actively solve problems.” We heard about research and experimentation into digital simulations that allow medical students to practice surgery in a safe environment – especially practicing rare cases that they might not have the chance to encounter during schooling otherwise.
What is Mostly Hype:
- Technology isn’t going to replace the teacher. Approaches that cut instructors out of the picture entirely are bound to fail at scale. Education systems exist, and are full of teachers – while they may have many problems to address, ignoring them completely only creates resistance and suspicion. Teachers must be seen as allies in the effort to put technology to use effectively. And when they are on board, school systems are the best vehicle for rapid scaling of educational content and tools.
- MOOCs are not going to replace universities. Originally, MOOCs were seen as a way to avoid the crushing student debt that plagues students of higher education in the US. But in developing countries, MOOCs are in a different environment and have a different purpose. The will be most useful as supplementary tools – helping students gain exposure to content that may have been unavailable to them because of lack of access to tutors or high-quality teachers – and therefore help students become more competitive for universities and jobs.
Amidst all the discussion of new ideas and trends was the undercurrent of the current value of education in the Southeast Asia region. “The industry is the real customer” and currently employers are showing almost unanimous dissatisfaction with graduates of schools and universities, who are far behind in meeting the needs of the modern job market.
Suggestions included better integrating industry certifications (such as those common in the tech field) into curricula. Educational institutions in the region must catch up if they want to produce graduates who can fit into the kinds of jobs that drive growth.
Read this far? Then sign up to get invited to the next Technology Salon Bangkok