Few would argue with the idea that education–not only the business of education, but also the way educators teach and students learn–is undergoing great change, and it could be on the cusp of an even greater transformation. Technology has changed the way the world works, and inevitably, it’s changing the nature of learning as well.
Today’s students are wired 24 hours a day and seven days a week with laptop computers and mobile devices. Content is available from a variety of sources and content experts online, and much of it is available free of charge. Students of today, growing up in the Information Age, have a vast world of knowledge available at their fingertips: If they learn something of interest in school, they know they can find out more about the topic in just a few clicks. Sometimes, what they learn online differs from what they were taught, and they are learning to question the veracity of information.
In short, students no longer are limited to learning only in classrooms under the tutelage of certified instructors during designated school hours–and this change has profound implications for educators.
“When I was growing up, your teacher and the library were really the conduits to be connected externally beyond your local community,” says Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the use of information technology to aid in teaching and learning. “Today, if that’s all the connectivity you have, your world is pretty bland.”
With all this information available through such a variety of media, today’s students have become masters of the art of multitasking. Barbara Kurshan, executive director of Curriki, a community of educators, learners, and education experts who are working together to create high-quality online materials for teachers and students, refers to a recent experience she had with a group of middle school students she encountered in a friend’s basement. Some students were on the computer, some were sending text messages via their mobile phones, and others were on Facebook. She asked them what they were doing, and they responded, “Studying.” They had been given a problem set and were collaborating on how to find the answers, working together and reaching out to other friends to see who had the knowledge they needed.
“That’s exactly what goes on in the work world when solving a problem,” she says–and too often, “it doesn’t go on in the classroom.”
Some people believe that when students are multitasking, they are not learning as well. “I disagree,” Kurshan says. “I think they’re learning the way we work in the business space. If there’s something you don’t know, you’re finding it, and you’re doing a lot more critical thinking and problem solving. At the moment, kids may be learning more outside of schools than they are [inside them].”
As the world changes, a gulf has grown between the way students have begun to learn and the way many schools continue to teach. Students are becoming used to learning in a nonlinear way. They’re learning in both formal (schools) and informal (within their own communities, online, and so on) situations.