Guest Post- Lindsey Wright firstname.lastname@example.org
Studies have shown that students flourish when they receive one-on-one interaction with an instructor. Unfortunately, as class sizes have multiplied, that direct interaction between student and teacher has become increasingly difficult to achieve. Without that close interaction, it becomes difficult for a teacher to identify which students are struggling and which are excelling on an individual basis. Worse yet, students performing somewhere in the middle may miss out on opportunities to excel because they aren't getting the guidance they require.
It is too much for one teacher to handle on his own, which is why more schools are looking to adaptive technologies to help them teach. Adaptive technology isn't a new concept, and has been around since the 1970s. It was only in more recent years, though, that the technology has become sufficiently advanced and inexpensive to make it a realistic option.
Adaptive learning technology is a method of teaching that relies upon computers as interactive training devices. When students utilize adaptive technology they are still participants in the learning process. They don't passively sit and listen while a teacher lectures. Instead they are engaged in a multimedia presentation that involves auditory and visual components while also encouraging them to answer questions to gauge their understanding and progress.
The wonderful element that makes this sort of technology so invaluable is that 'adaptive' part, its ability to tailor itself to the needs of each learner. The technology tracks the student’s progress, noting when they are ready for a new challenge or providing further review if necessary. Students largely progress at their own pace, establishing a solid foundation of knowledge that can be built upon with increasing complexity. In schools or online courses these learning efforts are generally pursued in tandem with a teacher who can monitor the student’s progress and also provide further insight and guidance.
However, one needn’t be enrolled in school to take advantage of all that adaptive learning technology can offer. Websites like the Khan Academy provide a rich, interactive learning experience at absolutely no cost to the user. Many schools have already implemented Khan Academy videos on campus, while other learners use the resource out of a simple curiosity or a thirst for general knowledge.
Anyone can become a student at the Khan Academy and can therefore benefit from the more than 2,400 videos currently housed there. Available topics are diverse and wide-ranging, though most deal with math and the sciences. Salman Khan, the ambitious founder of the website, intends to cover other subjects eventually, but for now users are already benefiting from the videos. Many users have written to Khan expressing their appreciation and gratitude, reporting a rise in their overall grades or simply the joy of finally grasping a subject with which they have long struggled.
The Khan Academy provides users with a comprehensive map that allows individuals to track their progress. As students progress through different lessons they are awarded with badges and other awards marking their achievements. Students and teachers can link up their Khan Academy accounts so that teachers can monitor the work of their students and make helpful suggestions regarding direction and further areas of study. Each lesson at the website is formatted as a video averaging 10 to 20 minutes in length. The format is ideal as it allows students to stop, start, or repeat lessons at will. The website also tracks students' performance and provides suggestions for further study based on this performance.
The offerings at the Khan Academy may well represent the future of education in America and around the world. It is a free education available to anyone, anywhere with access to the Internet. Even better, it is specifically tailored to meet the needs of each student individually. Perhaps no machine can ever completely replace the teacher in the classroom, but it seems sensible to assume that educational improvements can only be achieved by merging the humanity and understanding of a teacher with the tireless and analytical functionality of a machine that fundamentally works toward the progress of each student at a very basic level.
At this time it's not difficult to project a future in schools where students study at their own computer terminals, advancing through lessons at their own pace while a teacher monitors their progress. Of course, it will take time and diligence to get there. Teachers will need training regarding adaptive technologies. Already some teachers are finding it difficult to keep up with the latest trends in technology, and some technologies are so new that it’s not yet clear how they might be useful in school.
Tomorrow’s schoolrooms are likely to look and feel quite different from those with which we are familiar today. The rows of identical desks will vanish, as will the teacher’s customary place at the front of the room. Future classrooms will encourage both collaboration and individual intellectual pursuit. Using their own personal computer terminals or mobile devices, these students will learn at their own pace, collaborating with other students or working individually, while the teacher monitors their progress and offers guidance when necessary. Only rarely will the teacher stand before the entire class. Rather, their interaction with students will occur more on a one-to-one basis, giving them ample opportunity to assess the student’s needs.
The strict division of subject matter will likely disappear as well. Students will merge economics with social studies and history and math with science and English. Arbitrary and artificial barriers between the subjects will be broken down so students can truly achieve mastery of their studies. It’ll be an environment that will foster achievement and creativity, spurring a new generation of learners toward a thirst for knowledge and a motivation to never stop learning.