The New Classroom

Whether educators are utilizing AI, mobile apps, or VR/AR tools, the landscape of learning is being reshaped.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jake Himmelspach

Higher Education institutions are on the cusp of major disruption as they adapt to the new rules of an economy based on choice and powered by technology. Everything from pedagogy to recruitment is changing, and what makes a classroom a classroom is now in question.

Cost continues to be an issue. College students in the 1987-1988 school year paid an average of $3,190 in tuition for a four-year public institution (price adjusted to reflect 2017 dollars). Those students’ children are now paying an average of $9,970—a 213 percent increase 1. Students and their parents are thinking deeper about the value of a degree and how to approach higher education.

‘The education landscape has changed. Leading schools are exploring ways of delivering new experiences through technology as a way to engage students and maintain growth.’

Meanwhile, educational institutions are facing steeper competition. Universities are increasing their satellite campuses 2, investing in online learning, and students are applying to more schools than ever before—10 to 20 not being uncommon 3. The education landscape has changed. Leading schools are exploring ways of delivering new experiences through technology as a way to engage students and maintain growth. Following are a few examples of how technology is changing pedagogy and increasing engagement.

Mobile and micro

Distance learning is nothing new, and neither is online learning. What’s changing is its legitimacy and proliferation, with more than 6.3 million U.S. students taking at least one online course as of the 2016 fall semester 4. But while higher education institutions are catching up to learning online, education innovators like the Kahn Academy and Coursera have already moved to mobile. Going one step further, the mobile learning app Duolingo is changing how people learn new languages. A big part of Duolingo’s success is thanks to the gamification of content and leveraging the practice of microlearning, breaking content into bite-sized pieces of information.

Gamification and microlearning are the cornerstones of mobile learning. They force institutions to think about how they deliver and develop content, what they want their audiences to learn, and how they’re measuring progress. It increases engagement, builds communities, and can have a major impact on how teaching and learning happen.

Go without leaving

Approximately 60 percent of U.S. schools have purchased connected devices for students as of 2016 5, and the average college student brings seven Internet-connected devices to campus with them 6. Meanwhile, the quality of VR technology is increasing along with its market penetration. Google, combining its Google Cardboard VR viewer and its Google Expeditions team, is bringing immersive field trip experiences into the classroom. While experiences like Google Expeditions are engaging, they also push individual experiences over collaboration. Other companies such as zSpace are using virtual and augmented reality to increase collaboration inside the classroom.

Augmented and virtual reality technologies are as close to Mrs. Frizzle’s Magic School Bus as we’ve been able to get—transporting educational experiences to the surface of Mars or isolating and spinning veins within the human body. The hurdle for VR/AR in schools will not be the hardware, as more schools are adopting one-to-one technology. It will be in content. As content grows, K-12 and higher ed will redevelop the way teaching happens in the classroom, which means the products inside the classroom will change.

Artificial Intelligence 

Is asking Google cheating, or smart use of time and resources? When it comes to bringing AI into the classroom, ethical questions arise—and the difference between cheating and leveraging new resources is only the tip of the iceberg. For better or worse, AI is already impacting the classroom and how people teach and learn. A great example of this is Jill Watson, who is the best TA for Georgia Tech’s Ashok Goel. Jill is an AI chatbot—however, students had no idea they were communicating with a bot until after the semester. Until then, Jill served students with timely and helpful answers. This took a load of repetitive tasks off of Goel, allowing the computer science professor to focus on higher level interactions 7.

Jill Watson (powered by IBM’s Watson) isn’t the only educational AI out there. Between 2018 and 2022, the global market for artificial intelligence in the education sector is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 43.36 percent 8. For school and for everyday life, asking Google, Alexa, and Siri for answers is becoming commonplace—making answers more of a commodity. The premium in education starts to shift from memorization to analysis and asking better, and new, questions. This could have a radical impact on the way classes are taught and students learn.

The increasing prevalence of AI also suggests a new medium for learning: voice. Whether asking a direct question or using speech-to-text, students are learning and composing through voice. This can change the dynamics of how a classroom is run and can make learning a more tailored experience.

Access to education is not equal and its cost continues to grow out of reach for many. When this is combined with the questionable value of a degree, educational innovators will look to new technologies for solutions. Whether educators are utilizing AI, mobile apps, or VR/AR tools, the landscape of learning is being reshaped.

Jake Himmelspach is Principal and Strategy Director at Peopledesign, a Michigan-based strategic design consultancy that includes strategists, researchers, managers, designers, developers, writers, and artists serving clients across business and academia. Write to:


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