Published on Tuesday 22 March 2016

Joseph Buttigieg, Education and Training Associate at Arts Council Malta, on how technology is changing education in fundamental ways

Technology has been making inroads into education for decades. In classrooms around the world, teachers are adapting and incorporating devices into the exchange of information with students. But the mobile revolution is changing education in more fundamental ways than just providing a new gadget that delivers information. Mobile devices, particularly tablets, are changing the way students learn and think.

Recognising this clear shift toward digital, teachers are engaging students in more meaningful ways by using technology, including mobile devices, as teaching tools. Many of today’s students have never known a world without technology, and they have little patience or aptitude for a learning environment without it. This trend is not exclusive to the field of education. In just a decade, today’s learners – from young children to teenagers – will enter the workforce as skilled and digitally-driven professionals. Last year, a Pew Research Center-Harvard University study found that one in four teenagers in the EU owns a tablet computer. According to the EU Department of Education, almost every classroom has at least one computer, and internet connectivity is also available in more than 90% of classrooms.

Students of all ages generally find learning on a tablet more personal and accessible than being chained to other traditional methods. They also respond well to animation-driven apps, which make lessons more interactive and entertaining than linear modules. As computers have become more portable, so has education.

Many people who grew up in the digital age were first introduced to computing via video games. In an effort to make learning more fun and engaging, educators have introduced elements of games into their curriculum. This caused a shift in the way people learn, with active emotional engagement replacing dry periods of concentration. Learning becomes less an abstract, theoretical exercise and more of an emotional and highly engaging activity. The result is higher motivation levels.

In the pre-digital age, students turned in their work and took tests and waited for teachers to grade their assignments and exams. Today, students expect feedback in real time. Research shows student performance significantly improves when feedback is given immediately. Real-time feedback in the learning process is a clear benefit to students as they can immediately apply the lessons learned.

One danger posed by the rise of digital communication and the use of technology in classroom pedagogy is that some students are losing the ability to articulate ideas in longer form. Additionally, they have fewer opportunities to engage in face-to-face communication. For that reason, it's important for educators to make sure students have the opportunity to participate in collaborative activities and face-to-face meetings.

Learning used to be more about concepts being conveyed in an abstract manner using textbooks. Mobile technology makes the learning process more interactive and engaging. Technologies such as the augmented reality Google Glass, digital and interactive paper, and animated learning through apps are changing the way education is becoming personalized. Today, forward-thinking learning centres around video lectures in favour of two-way interactions in which tutors walk students through problem solving and demonstrate new concepts using tablets.

These technology-driven trends are fundamentally transforming the way students learn. Instead of requiring students to read a lesson in a book or complete a linear module via desktop, tablets and mobiles are enabling them access to engaging, interactive lessons.

As technology continues to influence learning, it's important for educators to make sure students don't become too isolated and that they have opportunities to converse and collaborate. Innovations like tablet-based tutoring can enable two-way conversations and increase collaboration, giving students the best of both worlds in a changing education environment.