Will the year 2012 prove to be a turning point for education? There’s certainly an ever-increasing spotlight on the quality of education and an interest to help improve it from all corners of society. As I travel around the world, I see many technology companies increasing their focus and investment in education. And I think it’s time for the industry to pull together to think not just about winning and losing, but how we can do what’s right for students and make learning better.
I’m inspired everyday by the work of teachers, school leaders, policymakers, and business leaders who have made improving education worldwide a facet of their lives. As part of Microsoft’s Partners in Learning initiative, we work with more than 9 million teachers in 115 countries, and it’s amazing to me that regardless of local economics or other challenges in their unique learning environments, teachers find a way to make a difference in students’ lives.
With the ever-changing economic climate, the next year is sure to be filled with both challenges and opportunities. Here are some trends and themes I think we’ll continue to hear more about in 2012.
1. A tighter focus and prioritization on workforce readiness and jobs. This is going to be everywhere. Traditional universities are thinking much more about preparing students for the workforce, immersing students with job skills training earlier. Traditional community colleges, technical and vocational schools will continue to see a rise in popularity and student interest. And even in the K-12 space, schools are doing more to introduce skill-based learning outside of the core subject areas of math, science and reading that students are tested on. This is true globally where the unemployment rate is also at record lows. In countries like Spain and Korea, entrepreneurship is rising in importance and kids are looking to discover and create new industries. Through our Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) project, we know skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity are vital for students as they prepare to enter the workforce. So much so, that The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – a worldwide, three-yearly evaluation in OECD member countries of school pupils’ performance – will be including Collaborative Problem Solving as a mandatory component of the 2015 study.
2. A support for innovative teacher methodologies is critical. There’s a lot of debate whether technology can replace or diminish the role of a teacher in the classroom. At Microsoft, we believe investing in teaching and professional development of teachers is one of the most important investments we can make in education. One teacher can reach thousands over the course of a career, and literally catalyze the future of a community. Between our Innovative Teaching and Learning Research and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, there is a lot of research on teacher effectiveness and its impact on student learning. We know the more education a child obtains, the higher their income earning potential is…and now there is a new study out of Harvard and Columbia that shows how just even one great teacher can impact a student’s future earnings. The Partners in Learning Network is a free community resource with networking, educator resources, lesson plans, and invaluable learning content from the world’s best teachers.
3. 2012 is when the cloud moves from a curiosity to a necessity. While more than 22 million students, faculty and staff are using Microsoft’s cloud services today in education, there is going to be huge growth. Schools will recognize the cloud is a key component to their digital content platform strategy to storage options as it relates to security, identity, back-up, etc., It’s also a way to cost-effectively deliver more technology to more people quickly and so that they can focus their IT resources on projects that really drive improvements to learning.
4. Real data-driven learning. Another big trend I think you will start to see is more examples of data-driven learning and education taken to the next level. Historically, data-driven education has been a chart taking activity where we get data and display information, but then reaction to the data has been inconsistent. The data collection of students’ progress hasn’t been driving a real opportunity for proactive support. This is where business intelligence (BI) can enable a much richer dialogue with regards helping teachers personalize learning and being able to create individualized lessons for students at different places in their learning.
5. Gaming and the emergence of Kinect as a PC factor. Yes, I am a gamer…and I blog a lot about how gaming and the mechanics of gaming can and should be brought into education to help drive expectations of students higher. At CES, I had an opportunity to see Kinect applied in very interesting ways. There were vendors showing how Kinect can work with digital whiteboards and classroom navigation, lecture capture, and how voice control can be integrated in very simple and elegant ways. We are starting to see a grassroots effort and more teachers include Kinect as a component of classroom design and a way to motivate students. It’s also a way for schools to save money yet still acquire innovative technology to create rich, interactive experiences. The marketplace for more education solutions will continue to grow after the Kinect for Windows SDK and Kinect for Windows Sensor is released publicly on February 1st.
6. Change the conversation from the device to learning. I think we’ll see a movement where schools will move beyond 1:1 computing and really focus on digital learning. It will transform from a device conversation to a learning conversation. There will be trends like “bring your own device” (BYOD) that support it, and the proliferation of multiple device types (laptops, slates, tablets, phones) that support the technology environment schools want and need. But then the conversation needs to turn to connecting the devices to curriculum and pedagogy and the assessment models. And all the content needs to be accessible on multiple devices and be available anytime and anywhere.
7. The rise of digital curriculum and reading. The rise of digital reading is certainly a reality in the consumer space, but textbook providers are just starting to build out next-generation content experiences. I think we’ll finally start to see the transition and some schools like this one in Turkey as early adopters. While many schools will use the opportunity to save money on traditional textbooks to fund devices, schools have to think about this holistically and not just buy a device to replace a textbook. Digitizing textbooks in and of itself is not transformative, but by focusing on the entire learning continuum and how digital curriculum and content created by students and teachers can be connected to back-end systems that can link the student outcomes to assessments, personalized learning and increased student achievement…now that’s transformative change.
Microsoft is working with more than 150 publishers worldwide, including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Cornelsen, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Santillana to publish and distribute digital textbooks in the cloud. These textbooks and new content will be able to be consumed by students on a variety of devices, from Windows 7 notebooks to tablets and slates, Windows Phone, Xbox, Kinect and Office 365, reflecting the diversity and personalization required as part of the learning experience.
I think it will be a very exciting year.