The Compelling Case for EdTech

The process of learning has changed surprisingly little since the days of Socrates.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jay Chakrapani

CREDIT Barnes & Noble Education.jpgWhile banking, shopping and even driving a car have all become more intuitive and user-centric in recent years, the process of learning has changed surprisingly little since the days of Socrates. Learning, perhaps by its very nature, has always been presented as something hard to access and hard to do. Our students have already asked the question, ‘I live one way, why do I need to learn in another?’

While Provosts and administrators are facing operational pressure to do more with less, they are also facing the challenge of improved academic achievement.

Finding an answer to this question preoccupies us at Barnes & Noble College. Technology, and its impact on the learning experience is inevitable. While Provosts and administrators are facing operational pressure to do more with less, they are also facing the challenge of improved academic achievement — to get better outcomes with less. Here’s how I believe technology can help with both issues:

For me, technology in learning starts with the student experience. Each learner has their own unique needs, goals and styles. Technology isn’t about one size fitting all, rather it is an enabler to personalize a learning experience for each individual. Amazingly, this can happen at a massive scale without a massive cost outlay. As more academic institutions come to realize the value of data, as other industries have done, we can take a diverse and disparate student body, pinpoint each learner’s unique needs and scaffold a learning pathway to their desired career or goal faster and cheaper than ever before. All while empowering a support system of faculty, advisors and coaches to help a student at the right time with the meaningful guidance.

With the widespread availability today of new learning software and platforms, differentiated instruction can take on a revolutionary role under the guise of personalized learning. And, this could alter our thinking about education and the way students learn. With personalized learning, the more a student interacts with the learning materials, the more the software adapts to the individual student’s learning strengths and weaknesses — modifying the learning path accordingly. In this way, personalized learning provides students with access to more individualized tutoring and with it the opportunity for greater student success.

What sets this model of learning apart from other modern-day learning technologies is that it analyzes the learning history of the student and uses it to provide interactive adjustments based on their understanding and ability to learn. Supporters of personalized learning say it could be the answer to what has become now known as the ‘iron triangle’ of education’s biggest challenges: cost, access, and quality.

More than anything else, these kinds of tools are arriving at a time when campuses are teeming with ‘digital natives’ — Millennials and Generation Zs  — who have grown up with consumer-based interactive technologies anticipating their needs and, that too, may guarantee a higher level of engagement with their lessons.

While technology will have an impact on course delivery, it will also have an impact on how those subjects are taught. According to the recent Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology, a study conducted by Gallup on behalf of Inside Higher Ed, 61 percent of respondents believe that personalized learning has “great potential to make a positive impact on higher education.” But how do you teach it? Although technology can be programmed to provide a similar interaction to that of a professor, their job isn’t going away anytime soon. We’ve noticed this with our own LoudCloud learning platform, particularly our Courseware offering.

In its initial pilot programs, educators voiced some concerns managing another new initiative that might require extra time to adapt to their lesson planning and were concerned they would lose the flexibility to teach their courses in the way they have always found most effective. However, the opposite proved to be true; the platform provided the ability to add and edit teaching components, gave the freedom to present the course material in the way their experience told them would be the most engaging, and supported their student’s progress with adaptive tests and quizzes that offered important information about their understanding of the lesson.

With less time needed to deliver class content, educators can concentrate on at-risk students or participate in one-on-one or small group settings that support the interactive lessons. The learner-centric analytics — personalized data that the software learns about each student — can also provide not just the professor, but the students themselves, feedback on their particular learning strengths and weaknesses as a further measure of student success.

If this is the beginning of the revolution in education, it will undoubtedly present the biggest change in learning since those early Socratic teachings, and provide the greatest opportunities and value for student and institution alike.

Jay Chakrapani serves as Chief Digital Officer of Barnes & Noble Education (NYSE: BNED), the parent Company of Barnes & Noble College, a leading operator of college bookstores in the United States. Jay leads the product team for the digital business and is responsible for product innovation, strategy and development.

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