Digital learning –a fork in the road worth taking?

Digital Learning is the new normal. We should leverage it for a better tomorrow!!

Post pandemic, Virtual learning has become a hot topic for parents and educators in equal measures. It has scored a few victories, caused a few heartburns and a lot of anxiety. For the better part of the last decade, we were not able to decide whether to embrace digital learning or discard it. Well, Covid-19 made that choice for us. So, whether you like it or not, digital learning has become the new normal. 

As a digital learning professional, I have spent a lot of time on that crossroad, weighing the pros and cons every time. But gradually over the years, I witnessed some of the most stubborn detractors of digital learning, melting away on their own. We used to be concerned about internet connectivity, access to devices, digital devide, but these problems solved themselves with time – Yes, the universe is conspiring!!

What we need to do now is to focus on leveraging the benefits of the digital learning to build a better tomorrow. Probably, further down the road, when we will look back, we will realize that this was a blessing in disguise!!

From Pencils to Pixels

My three-and-a-half-year-old daughter had just started going to play school when the COVID-19 lockdown began. Schools either shut down entirely or moved online. Since she had very little exposure to traditional schooling, it was nearly impossible to make her attend online classes. Since the lockdown, her only source of learning and engagement has been few puzzles, blocks, flashcards and videos, lots of videos. It is devilishly difficult to make her do something she does not like.

One such failed attempt was tracing alphabets on paper – a standard exercise for children her age. At the time, I was experimenting with an EdTech mobile app that had a letter tracing exercise. Thoroughly fascinated, my daughter watched for a while, then took the device from my hands and began tracing the letters happily. Did the app make her a letter writing expert? Not even close. But the level of enthusiasm she displayed, for an activity she never enjoyed on paper, gave me pause.

And therein lies the value of EdTech – the ability to tap into children’s natural inclination towards technology, and make education fun and engaging.

The industry has already coined a catchphrase for these kids – “Digital Natives.”

Digital learning apps have the intrinsic capacity to tackle the engagement problem. Through gamified lessons, audio-visual stimulants, and interactive activities, digital learning can take the shape or pace to match each student’s style and needs. Research Studies prove that the adoption of electronic devices like laptops, cell phones and tablets can significantly improve engagement in classrooms.

Digital tools as a solution to common learning problems

Digital tools can solve learning problems that are extremely difficult to tackle through traditional brick and mortar schools. Though engagement is the core of digital learning, it isn’t the only factor that makes it effective:

  • Individualized attention and self-paced learning
    Bloom’s Two Sigma Problem, a study from 1984, discovered that one-on-one tutoring often yielded better results than conventional lectures where a single teacher’s attention was split between thirty students. This is understandable, as every child is different and should not be subjected to the one-size-fits-all approach, which is generally taken in the classroom. However, the digital tools of today offer a more customized learning experience as they can gauge the student’s strengths and weaknesses in real time. Students can finish lessons at their own pace and move on to the next only when they’re comfortable with their understanding of the material.
  • Constructionism
    Wikipedia defines constructionism as a learning theory grounded in experiential learning where the core idea is that the most effective learning happens when the learner involves in activities that require him to make (construct) meaningful mental or physical models. This necessarily involves students drawing their conclusions by trying out different things and learning by failing. Digital learning can be used to create an ecosystem where experiential learning becomes the norm.

Should you join the digital education bandwagon?

Every new technology goes through a set pattern of boom and bust very early in its life cycle – we saw this happen with the dot-com bubble in the 2000s and then with Machine Learning in the 2010s.

Edtech is at a junction where initial hype meets ground reality and creates some friction. We should not let this short-term trend derail the digital learning journey. The idea of digital learning tools is rooted in sound principles but it is unrealistic to assume that it can be achieved overnight. 

The EdTech ecosystem will grow, sometimes at a sprint and sometimes at a more leisurely pace but early adopters innately know that digital learning tools can tap into the intrinsic motivation of their kids and deliver outsized learning gains!!

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