It was like walking into a time capsule, the principal said, when contractors at a high school in Oklahoma City stumbled upon century-old chalkboards during a renovation project this year. Almost perfectly preserved, the chalkboards held neatly marked math problems, arithmetic tables and multicolored drawings. The superintendent of the Oklahoma City Schools called them “artifacts” and vowed to preserve them at all costs.
The chalkboards are in good company. As it turns out, relics are pretty common at schools across the country, and schools have plenty of practice preserving artifacts. Chief among them is a one-size-fits-all education model, in which students are taught the same lessons at the same pace — regardless of their individual knowledge, skills and abilities.
We have long known that individualized instruction is a game changer. In a groundbreaking 1984 study (PDF) led by psychologist Benjamin Bloom, students given personalized lessons performed two standard deviations better than their peers in a regular classroom. That’s enough to vault a middle-of-the-pack student into the 98th percentile. But despite Bloom’s findings, American classrooms have remained largely unchanged for nearly 200 years. One-on-one tutors, after all, are insanely expensive.
Life Imitates Science… Fiction
But that’s changing. Technology advancements that would have seemed like science fiction a decade ago have altered the fundamentals. We’re entering an age where every student can have a personal robot tutor to guide them through individualized education. It’s time to step out of the time capsule.
INFOBESITY VS. SMART DATA
All the Data
Today we generate a staggering amount of data. Eighty percent of the world’s data has been created in the past two years. In fact, the International Data Corporation predicted that by 2020 some 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet. And they were mostly correct, as by today’s standards we created about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day. To put that in perspective, in 1969, astronauts flew to the moon and back using computers with only 2 kilobytes (0.002 megabytes) of memory.
Time for Data to Hit the Gym
All this data has in some ways been a giant leap for mankind, but “infobesity” can paralyze. Separating the signals from the noise can be transformative. Indeed, advances in data science and database technology have made it possible to unlock insights from these vast troves of data, creating opportunities for a wide range of industries. E-commerce platforms like Amazon, Alibaba and eBay use powerful algorithms to predict purchase preferences and make timely product recommendations with precision accuracy. Spotify can suggest artists, albums and songs by constantly analyzing what music you — and people like you — listen to. More than half of the programs watched by Netflix’s 214 million–plus users start with a system-generated recommendation. The list goes on. If you aren’t using big data, you have big problems.
New Ways of Learning
Historically, it has been difficult, if not impossible, to access analytics that measure the effectiveness of a course or education product — not to mention to do so in real time or in a predictive or prescriptive way. But the digitization of education content — from printed textbooks to interactive software — has created the potential for personalized, adaptive learning materials. The same software that powers Amazon and Netflix can now track how well you understand a subject in real time while providing timely prescriptions to fill gaps and optimize learning.
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THE PANDEMIC CHANGED EVERYTHING
As covered by OZY a few weeks ago, the pandemic hit a lot of people hard, especially in the school system. The education system is in desperate need for teachers, substitutes, and other faculty members. With more teachers leaving than joining and the recent Omicron variant, students are going days without proper instruction. Students that were falling behind already, especially those of color, were doomed to fall behind even more. Something needed to be done to fix the rising problem and technology was the answer.
The Digital Classroom
Some school districts are partnering with digital education platforms to create digital classrooms. A group of elementary schools in Kentucky have adopted the Discovery Education platform as their new form of teaching. Students and teachers can access the platform to gain a wide variety of materials suitable for their continued learning. Activity tools, quizzes, lesson plans, and just about anything they need are at their fingertips.
Technology to Succeed
Startups and established players alike are catalyzing innovation. Newsela, who recently acquired HapYak, and is backed by Kleiner Perkins and Mark Zuckerberg, builds literacy skills with a publishing platform that automatically tailors news articles to a user’s reading level. Acrobatiq, a recent spinout from Carnegie Mellon, has developed adaptive courseware based on a decade of research from the university’s pioneering Open Learning Initiative. McGraw-Hill’s ALEKS and Pearson’s MyLab are high-impact personalized learning platforms that we believe will increasingly be adopted at scale. IBM is betting that supercomputer and Jeopardy! champ Watson will shake up education the way it has health care — with data-driven solutions — in recent years.
How do you think we can improve education for the future? Share your thoughts with us at OzyCommunity@Ozy.com.
OZY is a diverse, global and forward-looking media and entertainment company focused on “the New and the Next.” OZY creates space for fresh perspectives, and offers new takes on everything from news and culture to technology, business, learning and entertainment.