Yes, robots are the future – but not how you may think. Read about how tech can enable and extend human capabilities.
As a technologist I often get a chance to talk to educators about some of the latest trends in eLearning, like the role humans play in traditionally tech-heavy topics. Some examples of those topics include personalization and adaptive learning, and impacting modern education by transforming teaching and learning.
Unfortunately, while there is a ton of interest in these topics, there is just as much misconception about the aim of the technology involved.
When I talk to educators, I find their reactions generally to be two-fold:
- Acknowledgement that there’s significant promise in technology aiding students by facilitating a more personalized learning experience.
- Concern about how the instructor’s role will ultimately fit into this equation, and how practical the technology is to use.
When I first started in eLearning as a computer science undergrad, I heard an explanation of Bloom’s two sigma problem. I was immediately struck by the opportunity presented by technology to not only automate the effect of individual tutoring, but also to actually extend the expertise and capabilities of teachers.
I’m not talking about full blown robo-tutors here, but rather robotic exoskeletons that learning experts can pilot and control. Picture Ripley’s power loader in the movie Aliens as opposed to the T-800 robots from The Terminator film franchise.
Technology as an Extension of Our Abilities
Technology of any kind lets us extend our natural senses and abilities. In this case, an online learning management system (LMS) is akin to a human-powered robot that extends instructors’ ability to coach, inform and challenge students based on their unique needs.
The real benefit that comes from such personalized learning is how it can provide tailored instruction and support to each individual. This allows the learner to take control of their own education and learn according to their own unique abilities and experiences.
So what does this mean?
Although the instructor’s role becomes more challenging, the benefit is there are new tools at their disposal. For instance, there are many more avenues through which they can interact with their students, particularly in our connected society where learning can and is happening all the time, not just in a classroom.
How Technology Can Serve the Instructor
To effectively serve instructors, technology must be able to eliminate menial and repetitive tasks, such as building and sequencing content. The goal of technology should always be to make the instructor more available to engage with students.
Traditionally, LMS platforms have done well with automating tasks, such as grading, course re-offering and other critical functions. However, some of the most common tasks instructors must deal with daily include keeping a pulse on who is struggling, who has completed their work, and following up with those who have outstanding assignments. These are the sort of tasks that technology can absolutely perform.
The instructor already has an idea that, by a certain date or point in the course, students who haven’t completed a task or assignment won’t be successful unless they intervene. So why not have an LMS just look for those conditions and make an instructor-designed intervention on the instructor’s behalf? This way, the instructor’s time is better spent with individual students that need a deeper understanding of a topic. They have time to do what they’re great at: designing learning activities and teaching.
From Automating Tasks to Adaptive Learning
Adaptive learning goes even further than simply automating repetitive tasks. While there are many different types of adaptive learning, I’m going to use this one for my purposes:
Yes – I know, there’s a robot in this diagram, but in this scenario, it serves the instructor. Think robot butler, not overlord.
Using Tech to Teach Better
In an adaptive environment the instructor chooses what to teach. One of the perils of the near infinite content available out there is finding good stuff and understanding how it fits into teaching goals. Adaptive technology saves instructors from having to find the content, tasking them only with having to determine how well the content the “robot” finds fits in with their teaching goals.
By automating the alignment of content to topics/objectives and discovering the right material at the right time for a specific learner, adaptive learning technology allows experts to better devote their time to choosing the best learning experiences for their students.
Instructors can then focus on leveraging the information being collected from students to gain a better understanding of who’s struggling and what concepts may or may not be working. With this knowledge, instructors are better empowered to use their own expertise to decide how to react. By not having to deal with the nitty-gritty of the specific pieces of content or questions in this model, they can focus their strategy on how to deliver personalized learning experiences tailored to ensure each student succeeds.
As this education transformation continues, instructors should keep looking to technology as an enabler and extender of human capabilities, never losing sight of the fact that teaching students still requires the human touch.