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Diversity in Our Digital Design: Mapping the Future of Education

Jeremy Shulman, Chief Editor of Subscriptions and Product at InterActive Pro provides his opinion on Diversity in Digital Design.

It has become quite clear that rapid developments in technology have ushered in a new era of teaching and learning. From distance learning to assistive technologies to self-directed interfaces that map user tendencies, learning in the Digital Age has become a much different experience. Access to a wide variety of free educational content has also changed the paradigm, allowing motivated individuals to learn much more than ever before.

Yet, with all these changes, it is important to not only assess what is working at present, but to also plan for the future. How will education look in 10 or 20 years? What goals do we have for teachers and learners in this timeframe? What is the ideal educational environment for all?

Though I’m not so sure I have a complete sense of how the field will end up once we transition, I do have an idea of where we can start to look for answers. For me, and a number of researchers and theorists, it all begins with the human mind.

What We Think We Know About Learning and the Brain

The brain is quite a fascinating thing. It processes our internal and external worlds at lightning-quick speeds, enabling us to act and react in a number of ways depending on our mood, our environment, and a variety of other factors. Our instincts often kick in, as do our impulses, to protect us from harm. The brain both helps us to survive and to thrive in certain situations, though nearly all of its functions have been learned to some degree.

Consider that it takes the average individual 10,000 hours of practice to master a task. This theory, proposed in a study conducted by Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Romer in 1993 and later made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, focuses on the role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expertise. Specifically, the study purports that learning is a product of intense and prolonged effort, and not tied exclusively innate ability. We are not smart or dumb as much as we are diligent or lazy.

What this finding tells us is that we have the ability to learn anything and master it, no matter our innate skills. This speaks to our mind’s capacity for building knowledge through a method of compounded learning, meaning that we tend to retain new knowledge by associating it with previously acquired information. In this way, we can accrue a wealth of knowledge through focused practice in any field we choose.

Multiple Intelligences

To look a bit deeper into the human mind and to further debunk the notion of innate intelligence, it turns out that we all may be intelligent in our own way. However, in order to truly embrace this idea, we need to widen the scope of our perception of ‘intelligence’.

In 1983, Howard Gardner published Frame of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences and forever changed education. Though he has published countless ruminations and revisions on his initial paper since, the core principles of Gardner’s theory remain intact: there are many forms of intelligence and we all rate differently from one to the next. From musical intelligence to bodily-kinesthetic intelligence to spatial intelligence, what is clear is that Gardner’s original list of Eight Intelligences offered a new way to think about how we think. And, more importantly, how we value those lines of thinking.

Since the study was first published, it has become essential reading for aspiring educators. The rationale behind this is that, although the theory may not be the guiding light for all teaching practice, it should help one to think differently about how differently we all think.

Leaving Room for Play

A third consideration when thinking about our thinking is the role of play. Many of us have had the experience of losing track of time as we lose ourselves in an enjoyable activity.

In an attempt to capitalise on this idea from a learning perspective, some educational sites and programmes have adopted gamification strategies.

Gamification turns any seemingly mundane activity into a competition by imbuing a platform with game-like elements. Built from the video game model, gamified learning platforms often include leader-boards, points, badges, and rewards. These elements make it easy to compete with yourself or others to achieve high scores and master the ‘game’.

And, to some degree, this appears to enhance participation and turn the chore of learning into a fun experience for many. As a result, learning is then less arduous and information is more readily retained.

The Future of Education

If we can hone in on a conclusion given all of this information, it should be this: learning takes a variety of forms. There isn’t one sure-fire method that works for every learner. From one person to the next, the ideal learning environment is nuanced.

Previously, we have accounted for this by teaching to the individual. It has been one of the fundamental roles of the teacher to determine the strategies that work for individual students and play off of them in myriad ways to engage the group. Yet, what we end up with are hit-and-miss, take-your-pick strategies from day-to-day instead of tried and true methods.

As we move forward in our pursuit of educational excellence, undoubtedly within the digital sphere, we must ensure that the user experience account for nuance. 10 or 20 years from now, we may well be using physically-integrated interfaces and devices that read our very thoughts, yet what we’ll find is that none of these technologies will provide a one-size-fits-all solution.

Instead, we’ll need an intricate plan that accounts for these considerations. We’ll need expansive content that allows for hours upon hours of deliberate practice. We’ll need adaptive programming that can learn about the learner to differentiate that practice. And, we’ll need to make it fun so that practice feels more like play.

To truly innovate and revolutionise education, we’ll need a wealth of diversity in our digital design.