From education to employment

Reflections from the Bett show 2015 on the future of technology for learners

Maren Deepwell is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology

At the Bett show we heard from two Ministers, who each shared their vision for the future of technology in education. In my work for the Association I have been involved in Education Technology Action Group (ETAG), as well as the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG), and I listened with interest to find out which ideas and recommendations would be included in their speeches.

Both Ministers duly acknowledged the role of Learning Technology, its potential and its impact. They both spoke about the future, about preparing learners for it, and how technology could help. Ministers were followed by senior speakers from Google and Wikipedia on the first day, and Apple on the second day, who in different ways also spoke about the future and the role that technology has, does, or will play in education. Meanwhile, across the exhibition at the Technology in Higher Education Summit, I also listened to Dave Cormier from the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada, who spoke about a different way of learning. Rhizomatic is the term he used (and if you are interested in challenging your concept of learning and teaching I certainly recommend you seek out his work). But he started his talk with a backwards glance to the late 19th century and the role of school education in preparing young people for work – life in the factories that were fuelling the industrial revolution.

The criteria of success, of completion, were clearly aligned with the requirements of the workplace, and contributing in a useful way to the economy and society. Dave Cormier reminded me that the industrial workplace required behaviours that education instilled. Obedience, timeliness, regularity, adherence to procedures.

Now, there are different views from Government, industry, providers and teachers as to how technology can best be utilised for learning, teaching and assessment. But there seems agreement as to the ‘why’. The learners and their future are at stake.

And that made me think about the future that young people are being prepared for, the future in which an increasing number of people across the globe will gain basic and advanced skills. A future in which access to information, creating and sharing it will become more commonplace across cultures. A future for which we do not have a clear set of requirements for gainful employment, for contributing to economic and social success.

While we try to prepare learners with the skills we already know may be useful, from basic digital literacy to coding, we also know that the pace of technological development is rapid and that industries can change quickly. So we hope that we can use technology to instill values and skills in learners that will remain useful in their future workplace.

We look to skills like critical thinking, reflection, communicating and collaborating to prepare learners for their future. And these skills empower. This kind of empowerment, added to the potential of technology to disrupt and, considering the scale of a globally networked generation, gives me pause for thought.

Maren Deepwell is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), an independent membership charity whose mission is to ensure that use of learning technology is effective and efficient, informed by research and practice, and grounded in an understanding of the underlying technologies and their capabilities, and the situations into which they are placed


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