A girl takes out her phone and opens Instagram. On her feed are posts from friends she regularly interacts with on the platform. She likes several posts and moves to her “explore” tab, browsing posts about her favorite topics—food, pets and pop stars.
“Young people today are already getting customized experiences delivered to their fingertips through their devices,” said Don Carlson, Director of Education, Microsoft APAC. “But in school, we put them in uniforms, place a mass-produced textbook in front of them, and ask them to learn in a specified way. To help them achieve better outcomes, we need to start transformation from the top and think about how nations, schools and teachers can deliver lessons that are tailored to students’ learning styles and needs.”
Schools and educational institutions are already laying the groundwork for change by looking at creating more personalized learning experiences for their students. But, Carlson pointed out, if teachers were asked to develop individualized learning plans for 20-30 students every lesson, their likely reply would be that they don’t have the time.
“And that’s the role technology plays in the transformation of education. It empowers everyone in the ecosystem to maximize their resources and focus their efforts on driving the change they want to see,” said Carlson. “With digital tools and technology, we can build more personalized, conducive environments that allow every student to thrive—whether they are visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners.”
Collaborating to deliver better content and lessons
There are myriad technology tools available for educators to create more personalized experiences that cater to students’ different learning needs and styles. However, Carlson encourages school leaders and teachers to go a step further to fully capitalize on technology’s greatest strength—its ability to connect people across time and distance.
“You don’t have to build everything yourself,” Carlson said. “That takes a lot of time and resources. There are many technology services and apps designed to enable seamless collaboration, so teachers and schools can pool their resources for greater efficiency and effectiveness.”
For instance, Nayland College, Maryland, New Zealand, leverages Office 365 to collaborate internally. A OneNote staff handbook was created to share resources and expertise, and all course content and files are now stored on SharePoint Online. Instead of having to create lesson plans from scratch, teachers can now save time by working with existing content that was previously developed, and tailoring the material for their students.
Educator collaboration can also take place outside of individual institutions. Carlson highlighted online resources such as the Microsoft Educator Community and Skype in the Classroom, two digital platforms that enable teachers across the globe to share and exchange ideas and expertise to improve their lesson plans.
Understanding student needs and learning environments better
Beyond reducing the amount of effort and time taken to personalize lessons, technology can also be leveraged to understand students’ needs more deeply.
“Big data and analytics, complemented with the Internet of Things, provide insights into student learning patterns and their environments,” said Carlson. “By leveraging technology, we can use this data to create better lesson plans, curriculum materials, and policies that set students up for success.”
Omaha Public Schools in the United States, for instance, leverages Microsoft Azure and Power BI to gain deeper insights into the effectiveness of their teaching tools and strategies. This allows educators and school leaders to make timely refinement to lesson plans and curricula for better student outcomes.
The information not only helps teachers take an insight-driven approach to improve their lessons, it also facilitates planning for schools, districts and national ministries. Using the analytics obtained from their apps, Omaha Public Schools can now look at coaching outcomes and educational trends more holistically for informed decision-making and strategizing.
“Technology can help to leverage resources and data in a more efficient and effective manner to scale personalization for students,” said Carlson. “This enables educators and school leaders to tailor learning materials and create conducive environments that cater to individual learner needs, empowering students to flourish and achieve better learning outcomes.”
Facilitating Change with a Technology Partner
For educational institutions looking for ways to leverage technology to create student-centric environments, Carlson urges them to consider looking for a Microsoft partner that is committed to working closely with them. These partners will assist with developing a holistic strategy that encompasses planning and implementation, ensuring educators are at the forefront of this education transformation.
For more information, please visit Microsoft Education or the Microsoft Educator Community Portal.