Meeting the challenge of connecting with and inspiring students.
GUEST COLUMN | by Byron Hsu
Technology has played a major role in scaling education. We’ve seen large shifts in academia, as well as in industries that use technology to help educate their employees. Technology can create a greater impact at a lower cost by replacing or augmenting human actions with those of a machine. However, this raises a tension. After all, education depends on the uniquely human ability to connect and inspire. This need for connection and inspiration creates a challenge as we seek to leverage technology and scale education while retaining its magic.
Doing What They Do Best
Educators create magic when they expand the minds of young people. This “aha moment” can come from finally grasping a difficult concept, or being inspired to reach some goal, or getting hooked by curiosity about a career path. These life-changing moments are sparked by the flow-state of an educator who is doing what they do best.
‘This “aha moment” can come from finally grasping a difficult concept, or being inspired to reach some goal, or getting hooked by curiosity about a career path.’
Any educational role will comprise multiple activities that naturally include low-magic responsibilities such as administrative work, logistics, planning, reporting, and scheduling. These are duties that do not involve directly inspiring students, despite being very necessary. Of course, we prefer to operate in high-magic as much as possible – but how?
Two Ways to Scale
In general, there are two ways to scale magic in education. One is to amplify high-magic activities by extending them to more people. Ideally, we want to do this without diluting the magic-per-student. This is more feasible with certain types of education. For example, we can simply turn a great lecture into a video that anyone can watch. Or, perhaps we can use personalized adaptive learning to replicate the constant adjustments and lesson-planning of a 1:1 tutor.
The other way to scale magic in education is by reducing time spent on low-magic activities that sink the time and energy of educators. By removing low-magic activities from their plates, we empower educators to lean into their high-magic activities.
Through technology, we can shrink the time consumed by low-magic activities:
- Data can automate insights and decisions.
- Content can scale information delivery.
- Automation and integrations can eliminate repetitive tasks.
- Software tools can help move information in and out of systems efficiently.
- And when all else fails, technology can help compartmentalize and selectively outsource work to others.
If one is attempting to scale a narrow slice of the educational journey, a simple technology solution could be sufficient. For example, we can scale the delivery of lecture content through a simple video library. However, a student’s educational journey is fraught with twists and challenges that one-sided media isn’t equipped to address. Students are likely to churn if they get stuck or lose motivation. They require support, coaching, feedback, and inspiration.
Support Mechanisms to Amplify the Magic
Therefore, an educational system that attempts to bring students from A to Z must comprise a complex solution that includes touch points and support mechanisms along the way. Humans are more flexible than machines and can fill in the gaps where automated systems fall short. However, bridging humans into an efficient process requires its own set of technology solutions.
Externships are an example of a more complex end-to-end solution. Externships are online cohort-based educational programs – like mini remote internships. Through an 8-week program, students are trained on skills and complete a real work project. The interactions include consuming content and working asynchronously, plus synchronous collaboration with peers and instructors.
A multi-faceted program requires multiple tools to integrate humans with technology solutions. Distinct roles are specialized and scaled, with talented humans applying their unique magic to create educational content, support students, give feedback, answer questions, and inspire. Each of these roles benefit from specialized software that eliminates low-magic activities and helps scale their high-magic impact. Combined together through vertical integration, the net result is an efficient system to maximize the conversion of time to magic for students.
Technology has already proven its ability to improve education. We can further utilize it to amplify high-magic activities while reducing low-magic overhead to increase impact and job satisfaction. The tools are out there. It’s now up to educators and companies to utilize them to further education options – even outside of school.
Byron Hsu is co-founder and CTO of Paragon One, scaling real work and experiential learning between companies, schools, and students. Byron holds both a Master of Engineering and B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, as well as a B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Connect with Byron through LinkedIn.