This post written by Daniel Burrus first appeared on GettingSmart : Automating and Humanizing Education for The First Time In History.
While many parents and teachers lament over the amount of time today’s youth spend on video games, the truth is that these high-tech “toys” can be used to revolutionize education and training. Think of it this way: The games our kids are playing take them into a highly immersive, interspatial, 3D world. They learn how a wide variety of tools operate, including sports, futuristic vehicles, and various machines. They develop sophisticated strategies and tactics they can use to accomplish goals and win the game.
And they don’t do all this alone. You often find them wearing a head set, collaborating with teammates from all over the world. In addition, they can use a video conferencing feature to see the people they are collaborating with in real time.
After spending hours of concentrated time communicating, collaborating, strategizing, and executing in this advanced 3D learning environment, our kids go to school, stepping into what must seem like a time machine that goes backwards.
But in places like India, China, and other countries with rapidly developing economies, millions of families are migrating from no-tech rural areas to the cities in search of opportunity. When their kids enter the classroom, they feel as if they are stepping into the future and opportunity. Of the two groups—industrialized nations and developing nations—which group of students is more motivated to learn in school?
Blending Machines and People
Gaming machines like the Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s Wii can create amazing interactive learning tools for K-12 public education as well as college level academics and business. These gaming systems are capable of displaying fully immersed, three-dimensional, advanced-simulations in a collaborative, fully networked environment. Most kids already have one or something similar, and if you don’t have one yet, you can get a used inexpensive one on eBay. So these devices are already available at a reasonable price, making them perfect for the automation and humanization of education.
In 1983, I forecasted that shortly after the year 2000 we would have the tools to automate education and humanize it for the first time in history. At first, those two things—automation and humanization—don’t seem to go together, but they most certainly can go together. Here’s how: You automate the parts that aren’t fit for humans to teach.
For example, anyone who has ever tried to teach a kid how to multiply knows the job isn’t easy for a human. Teaching a child what an adverb is can give you a twitch in your face. However, teaching basic subjects like these are both efficient and effective when the student uses an interactive, electronic game that is self-diagnostic, fun, and competitive. They easily learn how to multiply and all about adverbs, and the teacher is then free to teach the higher levels of the cognitive domain, such as analysis, problem solving, and synthesis.
In other words, once a child knows the basics of math and the various parts of speech, then the teacher comes in to teach. The teacher’s job is to take that basic knowledge of math and show the student how to use it to balance a budget…or take that basic knowledge of the parts of speech and show the student how to write something someone would want to read.
With this approach to education, the teacher is set free from the lower levels of the cognitive domain where they’re stuck right now. And let us all remember that most teachers got into teaching in the first place because they were excited about teaching the higher levels of the cognitive domain, which is analysis, problem-solving, and synthesis.
If you’re like most adults, at this point you’re probably thinking, “But we don’t want kids on games all day—that’s not good for them.” I agree. I don’t want them on the device all day either. Variety is the spice of learning and life. Therefore, when you look to the future of education, don’t think “either/or”; rather, think “both/and.”
“Either/or” says either it’s all humans teaching or it’s all machines teaching. And that’s the default way of thinking, which is why so many adults say, “We don’t want the kids are on the computer all day.” A better approach is to have a “both/and” mentality, which means we need to have the kids using machines at the right time and have teachers interacting, teaching, and taking kids to the next level at the right time. There needs to be a balance. We are now at that point where we can indeed automate, humanize, and have that balance.
Additionally, thanks to the rapid spread of tablets like the iPad, we have schools in the United States and other parts of the world integrating e-textbooks with the traditional learning format. The rationale is, “textbooks cost the school a lot of money, most of them are obsolete, and few of them are tailored and customized the way the teacher or even the district would like.”
Knowing this, it only makes sense to give the students a tablet. It’s less expensive than buying all those books. Plus, by going the electronic way, the school has instantly raised the relevancy of the book because now it’s an interactive multimedia book that can be more customized. And, even more important, the school increased the relevancy of the information to the students because they’re used to using technology, not paper. Finally, every kid now has a computer they can use for their schoolwork. It’s the perfect way to blend technology with teaching. This is what you call a win-win-win situation.
Step Into the Future
Too often, adults think of games as a negative, but they’re only a negative because we’re thinking of them that way. Likewise, we tend to think that automation means no humans, but that’s definitely not the case either. When you expand your thinking past “either/or” and embrace a “both/and” mindset, games and education, as well as automation and humanization, go hand in hand and lead to real solutions to today’s education and training dilemmas.
Daniel Burrus is CEO of Burrus Research and leading technology forecaster and business strategist.