Is Digital Learning Here to Stay?

Digital Learning and virtual education have taken the world by storm. Are they just passing clouds or is this the future of education?

Is digital learning really the future of education?

As a digital learning and EdTech professional for the better part of a decade, my personal and professional answer would be a resounding yes. Owing to some real (and some imaginary) grievances, virtual learning has become a hot topic for parents and educators across the world. But after some soul-searching along the way, I’ve realised that digital learning is not just here to stay, but to reign supreme in the foreseeable future.

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. With very little exposure to traditional schooling, it was nearly impossible to hold her attention during online classes. Since the lockdown, her entire source of learning (however sufficient or insufficient), has been through puzzles, videos and games. 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.”

The digital age has been around for a while now, but its role has risen to undeniable prominence over the course of this pandemic. Shopping for groceries, paying the bills, watching movies – everything became completely virtual. And yet, when it comes to education, why are we still struggling to adapt? In-person classes have always had their fair share of problems, and digital tools afford the flexibility to counter them left, right and center.

Digital learning as a solution to common learning problems

Though engagement is the core of digital learning, it isn’t the only factor. Two other benefits it offers that are close to my heart, are:

  • Individualized Attention
    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 cannot be subjected to the one-size-fits-all nature of classroom learning. However, the digital tools of today offer a more customised learning experience. Through gamified lessons, audio-visual stimulants, and activities that quickly gauge the student’s strengths and weaknesses, virtual learning takes the shape of whatever environment in which the child is most comfortable.
  • Self-Paced Learning
    The structure of regimented classes has only conditioned children to look forward to the ringing of the school bell. There is no freedom in this schedule and no way for them to choose the timings or set deadlines better suited for each child. But digital tools depend heavily on independent learning – a child can be taken through an entire module without the help of a live teacher, finishing lessons at their own pace and moving onto the next only when they’re comfortable with their understanding of the material. There is no fear of lagging behind their peers or a teacher rushing to complete a topic within the period; only immersive study.

Should you join the digital education bandwagon?

With the hype surrounding EdTech today, many critics argue that none of this is proven and that companies are making tall promises. I agree on the second count, that there are areas where improvement and advancements can be made, but digital learning is still new and we’ve only just begun to scratch the proverbial surface. As for the first claim, problems with student engagement have been cropping up for years now, but studies prove that the incorporation of electronic devices like laptops, cell phones and tablets can significantly improve learning enjoyment in classrooms. 

In my closing thoughts, let me pose a question – if you know your child is going to spend significant amounts of screen-time, would you prefer a world where they have access to educational apps and more productive tools to occupy their interest?

To me, the choice is clear. The growth of EdTech is a foregone conclusion; the only question is how quickly digital learning will mature and start outpacing brick and mortar schools.

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