Education Evolving

Paula LabrotBy Paula Labrot

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Education Evolving
My magical grand-daughter Sidney comes to my house when she is too sick to go to school and her folks have to be at work. I can’t lie... I love those days. It gives me a chance to catch up with my heart-child. This week, she took me on a tour of the computer programs used at her school as we tried to keep up with her schoolwork. It was an interesting glimpse into the life of the modern student. New technologies are embedded in the curriculum in all subjects, reminding us that the future of education is constantly undergoing significant transformations. A few key trends are shaping the future learning platforms. These include an increased focus on personalized and self-directed learning, the growth of online and distance education and a new emphasis on soft skills such as communication, collaboration and critical thinking. Personalized and Self-Directed Learning With the advent of online learning platforms, students have greater access to customized educational experiences, tailored to their individual needs, interests and learning styles. IXL is the world’s most popular subscription-based learning site for K-12. Used by over 14 million students, IXL provides personalized learning in more than 9,000 topics, covering math, language arts, science, social studies, and Spanish. Interactive questions, awards, and certificates keep kids motivated as they master skills. The platform provides all kinds of analytics to help teachers set their students up for success. Check it out at ixl.com. If you want a young child to learn to read, you can try the phonics-based Starfall program. You can even streamline the experience for special needs kids. Typing Club is a free program to teach kids computer keyboard skills. Lexi is a literacy program used at Topanga Elementary as are Zearn, a top-rated math learning platform, and Seesaw which is similar to IXL. According to the Brookings Institute, “online platforms offer the promise, through artificial intelligence (AI), of providing the optimal course pacing and content to fit each student’s needs and thereby improve educational quality and learning. The latest “intelligent” tutoring systems, for example, not only assess students’ current weaknesses, but also diagnose why students make the specific errors. These systems then adjust instructional materials to meet students’ needs.”
Online/Distance Education
Online education is expected to continue its rapid growth, making higher education more accessible to people around the world. Today, universities offer a cornucopia of courses for students to pursue online degrees or just the pleasure of learning. This shift has led to the creation of new and innovative educational models, such as micro-credentials and competency-based programs. Learners can stack these credentials to gain degrees or certificates and tailor their learning to specific career needs, professional goals or personal interests.

Soft Skills
As automation, robots and artificial intelligence continue to disrupt traditional jobs, the demand for people trained for collaboration and critical thinking is expected to grow. Collaborative learning refers to an instruction method in which students at various performance levels work together in small groups toward a common goal. Collaborative learning creates a relationship among learners that fosters positive interdependence, individual accountability, and interpersonal skills. Empathy is included in soft skills training, since research shows a measurable lack of empathy in children raised in the digital age.
Critical thinking programs teach reason and the recognition of fallacies. Beyond that, students can use programs like Plague Inc. that require critical thinking and strategy to solve problems presented in a gaming environment. Whoo’s Reading poses high-level questions that require depth of thinking while giving students a chance to show what they know. Mapping programs present a visual way to organize ideas for better clarity and recall.

Some Pitfalls
There is an elitist advantage for successful students. The negative effects of online course-taking are far stronger in students with lower prior GPA. According to Brookings, students in online courses perform substantially worse than students in traditional in-person courses. There is a higher likelihood of students dropping out of college as well. Even the globalists at TC Global, a one-world education platform, say, “It takes away the ability of students to come together, engage, discuss and create bonds with one-another—forming friendships online is simply not the same as forging face-to-face bonds and understanding different kinds of people, contexts, and cultures.
“Digital learning also takes away the opportunity to find new interests and learn new skills by joining clubs and societies. Students sitting at home cannot participate in events like performances, competitions, fairs and mixers that allow them to explore new fields, and develop other aspects of their personalities.”

What’s Coming?
To give students the best start possible, schools are looking to help them develop a toolkit of skills such as problem-solving, coding and a good understanding of STEM subjects. The idea is that these will prepare them for future technologies and challenges we can’t even definitively predict yet.
I’m pretty sure we will be in a hybrid classroom/virtual model for a while yet. But, as often noted in this column, the pace of change is accelerating every day, so I will share one of the best pieces of advice anyone gave me when I was a new mother. “The best thing you can do for your child is help them to learn to be flexible.”
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Paula Labrot

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