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Mike Rizkalla


How Technology Is Changing Your Kid's Education

Posted: 10/16/2012 5:14 pm

My nephew -- age nine -- sent me an animated 3-D model of a character that he rigged himself, doing a walk cycle no less. This all happened while my other nephews were sitting around discussing the iPhone app they wanted to make.

I was amazed and it gave me pause for thought, immediately conjuring up visuals of them taking over the matrix and me living in a box begging for food. Then reality chimed in, and I told them to go outside and play in the fresh air with rocks and dirt, doing things kids of their age should be doing.

Welcome to 2012...

Shifting gears for a second, let's consider the phone booth. If I were to ask the same kids what a phone booth was, I would safely bet that they'd have no idea what I was talking about. Now think about that for a second: something like a phone booth -- pictured in so many movies, in every mall, and on most big street corners is completely irrelevant in today's world. It's going the way of the dinosaurs, becoming a piece of technological history. Fifteen years ago, very important; today, a gigantic paperweight. Our youth carry their own phones, have their own connections to the digital world and are making paper and text books obsolete with technology like iPads -- all of this while some are still pooping their pants. This brings a whole new meaning to the industry term "early adopters."

OK, so what the hell does this have to do with education? Well my friends, take a look at modern day courses. Typically they still look and work like proverbial telephone booth, so to speak. Institutions designed courses for an audience of attendees and people ate what they were fed and did as they were told or they went hungry. Institutions made the rules, just like the phone booths -- designed for and ruled by those antiquated institutions known as phone companies. That was, until the digital age came along and suddenly people had choices. People wanted more. Those people are us -- and they are our children and they are the generations of the present and the future. Status quo is over and out.

What does that mean for all us creative types and tech heads? It means there is a big opportunity -- to empower, to evolve and to establish a new way for our youth to learn.

In the past the people making courses and developing content typically focused on the gate keepers which were the teachers and professors because they decided which product their students would use. Now, the focus is shifting towards the student and the recognition that their needs are now just as important as the educator to those content creators. This changes everything. Audience focus has shifted from our middle aged men and women who lived in hard cover books to a new generation who reads and interacts with their tablet, TV, cell phone or computer -- jumping back and forth at their convenience.

What this means for people working in a digital industry is that education is undergoing a huge paradigm shift, not just a facelift. Kids choose the experiences they enjoy. They seek knowledge and education in subject areas they choose -- and that's only the start. Parents are supporting and using technology in helping their kids to find remedial assistance -- one on one, one to many, and many to one. There are new conversations emerging -- conversations that with the institutions and their teachers and teacher's helpers and administrators, much of this through social media.

Even the concept of the expert is changing, people are deciding who they want to learn from. The community decides who the experts are, based upon their experiences and interactions and feedback. Amazing designers, coders, writers, film makers, business coaches, doctors, lawyers etc. are authoring and producing their own content and inviting people to learn from them and it is being recognized by progressive institutions, professional societies and employers alike.

There are a lot of smart people already looking at shifting the model, and they are making waves in the education space. Recently Time magazine released its top 50 websites for 2012. It showcased four companies who offered a new outlook on education. None were major players in the education space, they were small companies focused on new concepts like open learning, digital mentoring, social learning, gaming and learning and community experts and so on. Two things they all had in common, they focused on community and put the student at the centre of the experience.

Further, companies -- big and small are going to be looking for new ways to validate candidates with additional assessments outside of the traditional tests. What you know will become less important than how you can translate and apply that knowledge into something useful for the prospective employer.

That is right, being tested by your potential employer is becoming more and more common. Code with us for a day for example, or do this code test in my industry are things that just didn't happen 10 years ago. Google, Twitter, Apple, Facebook they are all doing it. It's only a matter of time before this becomes a more standardized process and people are expected to show what they can do before they are even invited to fill a seat.

It does makes sense when you think about it, the most common thing you hear from kids starting their first job right out of school is that they didn't know anything until they started in the work force. What that also means though is that kids out of school may be able to compete for positions they would never have been considered for because the playing field is set by the test the employers are using. Competition is much more fierce then it was when we were kids and standardized testing doesn't account for common sense, working in a group, attitude, temperament and or dedication, which are all part of creating good culture in the work place.

These are all things on the table right now. Let's move ahead a few years, imagine your potential employer telling you that to master a course you need to score 80 per cent from this expert they want you to emulate (and demonstrate your proficiency) before being considered for a position, then you would come in for a formal test day with the team applying those concepts in a meaningful way.

Now take a look at the accessibility of mobile phones which are reaching 80 per cent of the world's population. You are seeing people in remote places with touch screens and phones using generators and solar power to recharge them. The delivery method for educational content has changed and is more cost effective then ever to reach people who never would have had the opportunity to learn certain subject matter before. Less money per course, more people learning the material. Imagine if a tribesman from Nigeria could take law and pass the bar exam in New York for example. These scenarios, as far fetched as they sound, are coming -- there's no mistake about it.

More and more, the people and institutions and corporations who deliver education are understanding that students are demanding to be at the centre of the user and educational experience. They choose the kind of media they want to absorb and how they want to absorb it.

Back to my nine-year-old nephew, where it all started, and the animated 3-D model of a character that he rigged himself, doing a walk cycle no less. He chose the subject area he was interested in, found the material and education he needed. Then he started playing and building and applying his knowledge in a way that he found useful. He built the animated 3-D model of a character for himself, not for me. This is the changing face of education, with the student at the centre of the experience, choosing the content they want and who and how they want to learn it.

Strap yourself in, and hang onto your seat. It's going to be an awesome ride.

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  • Attention Span

    Click and go. If we need to wait more than a millisecond, we're angry -- and we click away. So is the state of affairs for not only adults, but kids as well. More and more children are going online at younger ages, and simultaneously, their tolerance for page-loading is decreasing. Apparently patience is a virtue, and in the new world order of digital technology, it's one that is increasingly being lost.

  • Adult Content

    We all know what's out there. Unfortunately, so do the kids, in many cases. Images and video that should never be viewed by the under-18 set are routinely seen by young kids who happen to click on the wrong link. Pandora's Box has been opened and it won't be closing anytime soon.

  • Spelling and Grammar

    Texting, chatting and online shortcuts have undoubtedly contributed to the general decline in kids' ability to spell and use grammar correctly. With the decline in cursive writing as well as a greater reliance on digital communication, parents and educators have to make more time and effort in making sure that their kids have these essential tools.

  • A World of Opportunity

    The digital age has truly made the world a child's oyster. At the touch of one's fingertips (via mobile phone, tablet, laptop or otherwise), a kid can be transported to the farthest reaches of the planet -- or beyond. "World travel" has taken on a whole new meaning for images, video, language support and more are found easily and quickly -- making adventure as accessible as the nearest portable device.

  • Support For Learning

    Does your child need help with math, spelling, languages or otherwise? A major benefit to digital technology is the ability for one to search and find help in the most common or most obscure of areas. In some instances, old-fashioned tutoring has been eliminated or drastically reduced by parents looking for educational assistance for their children online. The prevalence of information that can be found digitally has made learning and teaching a lot easier for both parents and their children.

  • Interactivity and Communication

    No one can dispute that the development of the Internet spawned a whole new level of communication and interactivity amongst the younger set. Starting with simple online games that are tailored to every age group, up to and including multi-platformed gaming, video and real-time involvement on numerous levels, there are more options than ever for children of the digital age.

  • A Voice

    Everyone can be heard online. In the new digital world order, everyone has a voice, if they want one. Children today are much more assuming of the fact that they can, indeed, make a change in their world because of their access to information and ability to chime in (where age-appropriate). And while the younger kids may not be able to physically access the Internet, the changes that can result due to online participation is likely assumed due to the digital prevalence of their day-to-day existence. After all, it's likely that their parents and loved ones are logged in, online and making their digital mark on the world.