How Education and Digital Technology Are Growing Together

By Andreas Oranje, Vice President of Assessment and Learning Technology Development, ETS

Andreas Oranje, Vice President of Assessment and Learning Technology Development, ETS

We’ve only scratched the surface on the ways education and digital technology can work together meaningfully as they transform the way we learn and measure what we can do

Digital technology has taken hold of nearly every aspect of our lives, education being no exception. We see this in the way our children are being taught, the materials with which we teach, and the changing role of teachers. From tablets to smart speakers and phones, devices have become an integral part of classroom instruction, while those same devices, cloud-connected, are gaining steady ground in our homes to further supplement learning. The distinction between what happens in real life versus online is fading rapidly, and it fundamentally changes the human experience. What is probably most surprising is that traditional education is often painted as stodgy and stuck in an antiquated model of whole-classroom instruction, yet we find ourselves and our students deeply engaged in digital learning and assessment tools that are powered by sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithms.

Education couldn’t be more different from 10 or even five years ago, and the digital technology revolution has an awful lot to do with that. Even just taking a basic skills assessment is an unrecognizable experience for learners at both ends of a single generation, from the interaction that the test material holds to the kind of insights we obtain from that interaction to better understand learning and create more effective interventions. Creating such assessments has become as much a matter of content expertise as of user experience/user interaction design and full stack development.

There is, of course, much to be concerned about in terms of equity, fairness and efficacy in digital learning and assessment tools as long as there is woefully disparate access to the digital world between socio-economic classes, racial/ethnic groups and geographic locations. Yet, while we work to reduce those opportunity gaps, there will be far more to be gained as educational technology further matures and opens doors to all learners and teachers.

For example, enjoying a learning experience that adapts to your abilities and gives you what you need at the right time is extraordinarily powerful. If, through technology, those experiences can be delivered to locations and learners who otherwise would not have access to education or assessment, this would create even more opportunities. Similarly, developing a cognition, data and insight dashboard on a student’s learning progress could immensely boost the reach and efficacy that teachers can achieve. And all that can create an upward cycle of access and opportunity for everyone as human learning expands exponentially. It will require education and technology to grow and develop hand in hand, including the development of systems, tools and experiences that are thoroughly grounded in good pedagogy and understanding of cognition and learning. Conversely, insights out of those tools must be leveraged to further strengthen and evolve educational practices.

We’ve only scratched the surface on the ways education and digital technology can work together meaningfully as they transform the way we learn and measure what we can do. There is a lot to be learned to get this right— and there is too much at stake not to do this right.

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