When we discuss technology innovations, we usually focus on the ways that new tech is making our lives easier. While this is certainly a great perk of technology, it also causes us to overlook an even better benefit of the new innovations and developments we see on a daily basis: how technology is improving learning.
Both inside and outside the classroom, the following tech innovations are having a drastic impact on the way people learn, helping to change education for the better.
1) 3D printing
Learning by doing — or experiential education — has become increasingly popular in recent years as more and more educators recognize that firsthand experience is the best way for kids to develop their problem-solving skills. Few technologies are better at fostering innovation than 3D printers.
3D printers provide an amazing opportunity to learn the basics of engineering and design with seamless wi-fi integration with the technology we use on a daily basis. Printers from businesses like Robo have been introduced in thousands of schools nationwide to provide opportunities for a hands-on introduction to the world of engineering.
Created for ease-of-use right out of the box, these consumer-friendly 3D printers serve as a fantastic and surprisingly uncomplicated tool for sparking imagination and learning.
Using video games to teach has long been a controversial topic in education, but it’s an area that has gained increasing traction in recent years. The insanely popular Minecraft has been used to teach everything from history to reading comprehension (the game even has an “Education Edition”).
By creating an interactive environment with clear in-game rules, objectives and competitions, digital games encourage a more active learning experience that is better suited to capture the attention of today’s tech-savvy learners.
3) Virtual reality
The next step up from standard apps and video games? Virtual reality, of course. Virtual reality has already been implemented in many schools in Europe and the United States, primarily to teach subjects like biology and architecture, where interacting with rendered visuals can greatly enhance the learning experience.
The launch of Google Expeditions has even made it possible to virtually explore hundreds of locations around the world. With important information displayed onscreen and the ability for teachers to annotate their tours, learning about distant countries and natural wonders comes to life in a way never before possible.
4) Massive open online courses
While the previously mentioned tech innovations have a great impact in the classroom, technology’s influence doesn’t end there. An increasing number of universities have jumped into the trend of offering massive open online courses (MOOCs), which enables millions of learners to take classes from anywhere in the world.
MOOCs make use of online lecture videos, live discussion forums, quizzes and tests to provide a full learning experience. Some universities have even begun offering a hybrid model in which students watch the online lectures during their own time and then use classroom hours for projects and discussion with faculty members.
At this point, Skype may not seem particularly innovative — after all, it’s been around since 2003. However, there is still a lot of educational innovation to be found in the creative ways that people use this popular app.
Because Skype allows you to easily communicate with people from around the world, many companies have launched language-learning services that connect learners directly to a native speaker. Live face-to-face conversations greatly enhance the language learning experience in ways that classroom learning never could. Skype has even facilitated the launch of companies like Tribalingual, a project geared toward preserving endangered languages.
6) Big Data and customized learning
Big data has already been harnessed to understand customer behavior, sports performance, healthcare and more. With quantifiable data, it becomes easier than ever to identify opportunities for improvement or to deliver a personalized marketing message. However, big data is also starting to make an impact in the classroom.
Algorithms and data tracking enable the monitoring of everything from test-taking habits to reading comprehension. For example, data tracking can be used to identify areas in a text where students are having difficulty understanding the materials, or where they want to learn more about a particular subject. Individualized insights help teachers better address a student’s needs and provide feedback that will enhance their learning ability.
7) iPads and Chromebooks
Another popular tech innovation with a profound educational impact, iPads and Chromebooks are fostering inquiry-based learning in classrooms across the country. Essentially, introducing these technologies to the classroom has flipped the entire experience — rather than having everything managed by the teacher, students are in charge of their own research, while the teacher facilitates the experience.
When students are put in charge of their learning, they become more engaged and have a higher chance of retaining what they study. Teachers use the technology to guide their efforts to find answers to questions or to solve problems that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no.
From tools that we use on an everyday basis to new ideas that are just being introduced to the general public, it’s clear that technology will continue to lead to exciting educational innovations. By creating more opportunities for everyone to learn through engaging, hands-on experiences, these tech innovations can ultimately improve education for all.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.