Technology Is Changing Education


When a Stanford University professor offered a free online course in artificial intelligence in 2011, he had no idea that the experiment would attract 160,000 students from 190 countries and generate a wave of publicity.

That’s one of many examples of how technology is reshaping education around the world. From the rapid proliferation of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, to the widespread use of mobile devices that support a variety of “blended learning” models (part online, part bricks-and-mortar based), technology is creating new challenges and many new opportunities for educational institutions of all types, from early education to universities.

“Technology is changing the dynamics of education, especially the relationship between teachers and students. As educators begin to rethink the learning experience, we believe it will be important to also reshape educational spaces to support this evolution,” says Andrew Kim, a Steelcase WorkSpace Futures researcher and a member of the Steelcase Education Solutions team that has been investigating the spatial implications of learning and technology. So far, the study has involved observing and interviewing students and teachers at 20 schools.

Among the fastest-growing and irreversible trends at all levels of education: increasing use of laptops, tablets and other mobile devices. Many primary schools now provide every student with a laptop or tablet. At colleges and universities, many undergrads now own tablets as well as laptops. Always interested in the advantages of portability, a growing number are also now asking for content delivered to their smart phones.

As recently as a few years ago, mobile devices were used almost exclusively as only a souped-up substitute for conventional tools like handouts, transparencies for overhead projectors, books, paper and pens. Today, however, these technologies are beginning to transform how instruction and learning actually take place.

Teachers are using technology to replace old models of standardized, rote learning and creating more personalized, self-directed experiences for their students. There’s more multi-device synchronization with software that supports multiuser collaboration and more support for virtual conversations, both within and beyond a classroom. And more students and teachers are creating their own digital content, including animations and videos.

“What’s interesting is that as learning is becoming more virtual, the virtual activities are actually becoming more physical. One might say virtual and physical are meeting in the middle.”

Andrew KimSteelcase WorkSpace Futures

Much of the information that only teachers possessed in the past is now available to students online, challenging the old model of teachers presenting content and students absorbing it. As a result, educators are now leveraging technology to create a different role for themselves in their classrooms. Instead of using class time to spoon-feed information, technology is helping them use their time with students to advance problem-solving, communication and collaboration—exactly the type of higher-order skills that leading education specialists say should be the goals of education for today’s world.

“More and more, classrooms are becoming places where knowledge is created versus consumed by students,” says Kim. “As students start to have more control over what they use to help them learn, you need to have spaces that support more creative or generative activities. This means more mobility inside and outside of classrooms, as well as new kinds of learning spaces that support varying individual activities and rates of learning. Providing a palette of place, posture and presence—i.e., virtual as well as face-to-face interactions—is as important in educational spaces as it is in workplaces, for many of the same reasons. In fact, schools are beginning to leapfrog corporations in the use of mobile devices and many are facing the related challenges head on.”

As the tsunami of technology trends washes over education, some things have managed to stay the same. For example, students and teachers haven’t abandoned analog materials—and aren’t expected to anytime soon. They continue to use whiteboards, paper and notebooks to capture and visualize thought processes, and will continue to need spaces designed to support the parallel use of analog and digital tools.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *