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Sunday, Aug 25, 2019

Can technology change the way our children learn?

The combination of innate curiosity and a hands on approach to learning will help foster a culture of continuous learning

education Updated: Nov 14, 2018 15:24 IST
Raghav Gupta
Raghav Gupta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Children today are comfortable with voice-based technology – turn to a digital assistant like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa for help. They search online on their smartphones or iPads.
Children today are comfortable with voice-based technology – turn to a digital assistant like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa for help. They search online on their smartphones or iPads. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A decade ago, when kids wanted to research a school project, they stopped by the library. They consulted a well-thumbed encyclopedia at home, or they asked you, the parent. Children today – comfortable with voice-based technology – turn to a digital assistant like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa for help. They search online on their smartphones or iPads. Technology is fundamentally altering how children imbibe knowledge. It is also transforming the delivery of education for newer generations, whose lives are enmeshed with the devices and technology that power their world. I see this radically changing how our children will learn in the future and how we as parents and teachers, need to respond through this change. With the right intervention, techenabled transformation in education can close critical gaps in the traditional classroom of today, even as it opens up new opportunities for our children.


Personalization is already touching so many aspects of our kids’ lives. They are used to tailormade choices, right from the delivery app that pulls up their favorite pizza, to the shows recommended just for them on Netflix. In education, this has deeper implications and benefits. Technology is making a far more adaptive and personalized learning experience possible. Every child does not learn at the same pace. Or have the same learning style. Teachers in a traditional classroom with over 40-50 children have very little scope to individually assess students. Artificial intelligence powered adaptive learning software systems are now solving this problem – courseware can be customized to meet the child’s individual learning needs, at their level. We are moving to a future where the curriculum will be personalized for every child in the classroom. Children will be able to learn at their own pace, on individual learning paths, for optimum results.


Technology is shaping the classroom of the future. Students will move seamlessly from a traditional to a global virtual classroom in the same school day. Video communication tools will allow them to interact with classmates from around the world as they work in real time on a school project. Debate clubs would stream live from two or more continents. Virtual classrooms would open up access to highquality learning or specialized curriculum, besides giving children exposure to rich multicultural experiences and communities far removed from their own. Schools across the world are already bringing virtual and augmented reality into the classroom – technologies that can turn learning into an immersive, often magical experience. With apps like Google Expeditions, for instance, students can take field trips from their classroom with the teacher as a guide, see and walk around a place or object.


Our kids are growing up reading flash fiction. They microblog and think in 140 characters. The way they express themselves and communicate is also extending to the way they want to learn. Research shows us that learners online prefer to study in bitesized increments. They want concise, crisper modules that are engaging. They want learning content to meet the same high engagement standards they expect elsewhere in their lives.

Technology is also bringing a more fundamental shift in the path to education. Future learners will adopt a flexible approach to build relevant skills, as technology – moving at an unrelenting pace – makes existing skills redundant.

Our children will go into a workforce where they will need to continuously build competencies to keep up with technology and stay agile. Stackable, rather than single, monolithic credentials that take years to acquire, will disrupt how students acquire education. Learners will be able to accumulate a series of credentials, studying with flexibility, as they move towards a single degree..


On Coursera, one of the most popular online courses of all time, with 2 million enrollments, is Learning How to Learn, developed by Dr. Barbara Oakley from Oakland University. It teaches students how to use tools drawn from neuroscience to learn more successfully – critical for the future. Helping children learn ‘how to learn’ and master new or tough subjects will be increasingly important for their success. Our children will need to be lifelong learners in an unpredictable workplace, where a college degree alone no longer suffices. Learning will become a way of life, not a stage in life.

Models like online learning will offer them the flexibility they need to be continuous learners. Learners are already seeking greater convenience. They want to watch a 20-minute video on the way to work, for example. A mobile experience is helping them learn on the go, on a device of their choice.

Perhaps the more important shift will be “what” our children learn. “We cannot teach our kids to compete with machines. They are smarter. We have to teach something unique,” Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, told an audience at this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. He argues the “knowledge based approach of 200 years ago” would “fail our kids” because it does not prepare them to compete with machines. Children, he believes, should be taught “soft skills like independent thinking, values and teamwork.” According to the McKinsey Global Institute, robots could replace 800 million jobs by 2030. Skills like creativity, lateral thinking and adaptability will be indispensable for our children in this age of automation.

Helping them develop these skills will be the most important contribution we as parents or teachers can make, to prepare our kids for a new future. As the contemporary world continues to change, the term ‘digital disruption’ has become a watchword in the industry. Efforts today are consistently geared towards maximizing one’s potential through regular skilling to adapt to changing industry requirements. At its core, however, the abilities that form the foundation upon which the skilling process takes place have remained relatively unchanged. These abilities, hence, must be inculcated early in life to ensure individuals are capable of achieving their optimal potential in society.

(The author is Director, India and APAC, Coursera. Views expressed are personal)

First Published: Nov 14, 2018 15:24 IST

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