Digital learning is redefining education

Imagine experiencing an historic moment as it happens, or discovering cellular biology in 3D from inside the body. This is now possible using virtual reality

In parts of Asia, North and South America, Europe and Africa, digital technologies are enabling students to learn more effectively and from entirely new perspectives.

Student uses VR headset
A growing number of schools are using VR programmes to teach history, maths, science and more

Connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning and algorithms, virtual and augmented reality (VR/ AR) are some of the innovative, disruptive technologies, which continue to change how we live, communicate, commute, deliver healthcare, enjoy entertainment, farm, work and more.

The same goes for learning. Around the world, as students of all ages prepare for their future, the education industry is rethinking its teaching systems.

But it goes beyond primary and secondary education. Aging populations working longer in environments that are being reshaped by technologies will require regular retraining or life-long learning.

Additionally, some of these technologies are providing people in developing countries, remote locations or with limited mobility, access to education, which enhances overall quality of life.

A quality education for all

Through education, it is possible to improve the quality of life and create the basis for sustainable development. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 Quality education, aims to ensure that all girls and boys have access to and finish their free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education. It also looks to ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university regardless of gender, disability or indigenous people.

Innovative technologies, such as virtual reality, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) are helping to increase and diversify learning opportunities for people in different situations worldwide.

e-tech caught up with Erlend Øverby, who leads IEC and ISO standardization work in the area of IT for learning, education and training (ITLET), to talk about latest developments and how standards can contribute not only towards the evolution of this industry, but to achieving SDG 4.

How is technology affecting the education industry as a whole?

AI and connectivity already bring many benefits to learning. For example, the more data we have, the better we can learn from it through analysis. Algorithms can mine and compare data sets from a variety of learning contexts, in order to find which activities give the best learning outcome. These include learning management systems, interactive learning environments, intelligent tutoring systems, educational games, and data-rich learning activities. This kind of tailored learning is possible because the data matches the competence level of the students with their learning activities. This can also be applied to teaching processes.

“Technology in itself does not provide learning, education or training. When things are put in context and managed by a ‘teacher’, then we have education. The use of technology must be put in a context that fulfils the goals of learning, education and training. Technology is nothing alone; it is how we choose to implement it that matters.”

Learning institutions and the workplace require regular training for computer literacy, for teachers, educators, students and employees alike.

“There needs to be a shift in attitude towards seeing the computer as a tool for solving problems, and not only as a computing machine. This is what needs to be taught in schools, so that if there’s something we don’t understand or if we need more insights, we should know how to find the answers using technology.”

Another issue is the development of proprietary technology packages, which may ultimately limit the choice of learning materials.

“Regulators need standards that will contain requirements to put forward to providers of IT programmes for schools, which must ensure the technology is independent of devices and ecosystems and is fully interoperable. This will avoid locking schools into a specific system and allow teachers to choose the best learning experience for its students.”

Additionally, data security and privacy must be ensured for digital learning. For example, data created during the learning process may be stored and shared. If students role play, using online personas, which are hacked and misused, they could end up being wrongfully profiled as someone else.

What are the challenges?

While many countries have a strategy for the use of digital resources in education, much needs to be done to incorporate IT into modern education systems around the world. Countries see the benefits that digital updated, relevant learning resources have over outdated paper school books. More standards are needed to ensure that all IT used for learning, education and training becomes seamless and free of hindrances and closed ecosystems. The ultimate goal should be for everyone to be able to participate, regardless of devices used, and have the best learning experience available.

“Our main challenge is to get more countries, developed and developing, as well as experts, to participate in our work. All countries with a digital education strategy should take an active role and give their perspectives. Equally, EdTech companies and startups, who plan to have a global presence, should see how their solutions could be easily adopted if IT-specific details are interoperable with other IT systems, for example, to better share data.”

The future of learning

Digital education is growing. Doctors can live stream complex surgeries to students worldwide, while disaster relief responders train for deadly diseases or urban emergencies using VR gaming programmes.

In the workplace, whether a factory, hospital or office, employees experience ongoing training, to be able to work with increasingly automated processes and understand new IT programmes.

IEC and ISO international standards for learning, education and training, will help advance the digitization of education, by ensuring soft- and hardware developers provide interoperability and data security, thereby broadening accessibility and enhancing the overall quality of global education.