Today, technology has had an impact on almost every aspect of life, including education. Is that correct? In some ways, education appears to be much the same as it has for many years. Because of the parallels to modern life, the scene is instantly recognisable. The teacher gives a lecture from the front of the room from a podium, while the students sit in rows and listen. Some of the students appear to be following along with their books open in front of them. A few appear to be bored. Some are conversing with their neighbours. One of them appears to be sleeping. Today’s classrooms are not much different, though modern students may be looking at their laptops, tablets, or smart phones instead of books (though probably open to Facebook). A cynic might argue that technology has had no impact on education.
However, technology has profoundly altered education in many ways. For one thing, technological advancements have greatly increased access to education. Books were scarce in mediaeval times, and only a select few had access to educational opportunities. Individuals had to travel to educational institutions to obtain an education. Massive amounts of information (books, audio, images, and videos) are now available at one’s fingertips via the Internet, and formal learning opportunities are available online worldwide via the Khan Academy, MOOCs, podcasts, traditional online degree programmes, and more. Because of technological advancements, today’s access to learning opportunities is unprecedented in scope.
Technology has also increased communication and collaboration opportunities. Classrooms have traditionally been relatively isolated, with collaboration limited to other students in the same classroom or building. Today’s technology enables forms of communication and collaboration previously unimaginable. Students in a rural classroom, for example, can learn about the Arctic by following the expedition of a team of scientists in the region, reading the scientists’ blog posts, viewing photos, e-mailing questions to the scientists, and even talking live with the scientists via videoconference. Students can share their knowledge with students in other classrooms across the country who are following the same expedition. Wikis and Google Docs are examples of technology-based tools that students can use to collaborate on group projects. Classroom walls are no longer an impediment as technology enables new ways of learning, communicating, and working collaboratively.
Technology is also beginning to alter the roles of teachers and students. The teacher is the primary source of information in the traditional classroom, as depicted in de Voltolina’s illustration, and the students passively receive it. This model of the teacher as the “sage on the stage” has long existed in education, and it is still very much in use today. However, because of the increased access to information and educational opportunities made possible by technology, we are seeing the teacher’s role shift to that of a “guide on the side” in many classrooms today, as students take more responsibility for their own learning and use technology to gather relevant information. Schools and universities across the country are redesigning learning spaces to support this new model of education, encouraging more interaction and small group work, and leveraging technology as an enabler.
Technology is a powerful tool that can help and transform education in a variety of ways, such as making it easier for teachers to create instructional materials and enabling new ways for people to learn and collaborate. With the Internet’s global reach and the prevalence of smart devices that can connect to it, a new era of anytime, anywhere education is dawning. It will be up to instructional designers and educational technology to take advantage of the opportunities provided by technology to change education so that effective and efficient education is available to everyone, everywhere.