According to research by Gartner there will be around 21 billion technology devices connected to the internet by 2020, three times the total estimated global population by that time. Any parent with a teenager will have no problem accepting this forecast. It is not unusual for a millennial to be connected to several devices concurrently, and the fastest way to get their attention is to unplug the wifi. We are living in the digital age and it has profound implications for both our world of learning and learning in the world.
Trends in technology are having an impact on how leaders think about their infrastructure and the kind of technologies they deploy. For ‘screenagers’ wifi is now as important as a utility like heating and should be given the same status. Those born after the year 2000 have no concept of a pre-digital age and for any leader seeking to ensure that they remain relevant a digital by default mindset is a prerequisite. It is not unusual for one person to have several devices they wish to connect to wifi, and so a sufficiently robust wifi solution is essential for innovative organisations seeking to work smarter.
Living in the digital age, for most of us, means living in an open, social and more connected world than at any time in all of human history. Learning can now happen virtually anywhere, but it’s a social process and requires intelligent design. Too many online courses are the digital equivalent of Siberia because technology, rather than people, was the focus. It’s essential to remember that to the educator technology is an enabling tool, not a replacement for the social learning and teaching process.
Technology affects how we live, work and learn. In education, learning is now happening in connected social learning spaces leading to an explosion of interest amongst educators in ‘flipping the classroom’ and online learning options. This makes sense. You can’t be an analogue teacher in a digital age. However alongside the opportunities new technology provides to educators, there are also challenges. Budgets are declining in most parts of education and as teaching staff face an increasingly complex set of challenges it is important that for any technology to succeed it must satisfy two essential points.
It must be simple to use and it must make life better.
Too often new technologies do not satisfy both of these conditions and when that happens you have a solution looking for a problem. The number of apps available to download to your smart device are a key example of this. Millions of apps are available, yet you will likely use less than ten regularly. The few that you do use regularly will be both simple and make your life better in some way that matters to you.
In the education market the type of technology that leaders are investing in is changing. Cloud computing is not the strange ‘unknown’ it once was, and device agnostic simple and effective solutions are now readily available.
It is the technology giant Google who has become the one to watch in this space. In just two years Google Apps for Education has achieved a global user base of teachers and students that exceeds 60 million, and every indication is that by 2020 it will be well over 100 million. To put that into context it took Moodle over two decades to achieve 78 million users worldwide. The reason for its success? The technology is simple to use and it makes life better, and it’s free. The Google ecosystem also provides educators with infinite free storage space, video conferencing via Google Hangouts and many more benefits.
Technology like this works because it solves many of the issues that keep people awake at night. For example, in my organisation over 1,000,000 documents have been uploaded to the Google cloud storage platform Google Drive and not one has been lost. The only solution a student has now for losing their work is the dog ate my wifi router. Conventional email traffic has reduced by over 26%, no bad thing as people move to more engaging and enriching forms of communication. Too often email is used simply as an audit trail. Communication platforms are now open and social, and the best organisations understand and exploit this.
In the digital age those companies seeking to engage with leaders in education will need a new kind of business model that creates value in new ways. Software that used to generate revenue may now have a better alternative that is free. Education is moving from the campus to the cloud, and learning is now mobile and platform agnostic.
Chromebooks have become the fastest selling device in education, replacing the conventional desktop and it’s not hard to see why. In a cloud enabled world, a device that boots up in less than five seconds, retails at less than £200 inc VAT, uses between 65-85% less energy than a conventional computer and that will never slow down is clearly worthy of consideration. They meet the requirements of students with their heads in the cloud and they also enable constrained budgets to go much further.
Using technology in education isn’t optional. The only questions are whether it’s simple to use, and does it make life better?
Jamie Smith, Director at South Staffordshire College, is passionate about innovation I education and the dynamics of people and technology. Jamie has published white papers in the International Journal of Cloud Computing and co-authored the ‘Digital Colleges – The Journey so Far’ report. His research interests include the fusion of technology and creativity in transforming the wellbeing and happiness of communities, enabling education to inspire, engage and thrive in a digital age.