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Education can benefit from ICT in a host of different areas from organisational management to learning tools, but what is the most powerful opportunity of all?

Education can benefit from ICT in a host of different areas from organisational management to learning tools, but what is the most powerful opportunity of all?

I think ICT in education will be all about making the right connections at the right time.

This sounds a bit banal to you? You may think, sure, connections are important, we need to be connected to water, electricity, internet, data, Facebook friends? No big news, so what?

Well, in the formal education sector, things seem not quite as connected as in other areas of our daily lives.

A schematic illustration of a brain from the 19th century.

The images above shows a schematic illustration of a brain from the 19th century. A certain group of scientists at the time believed that various human abilities and characteristics would be located in specific compartments of the brain. This was called Phrenology.

The colourful more recent brain visualisation below is a still image from a simulation of the brain’s synapses, making millions of connections at any moment.

Synapses making millions of connections at any given moment.

Quiz question: If you had to select logo which describes the state of affairs of our education system which image of the two would you select?

If you chose the synapses one you must be a bit of a dreamer. Our idea of learning still follows a rigid, compartmentalised model in which learners are organised by subjects, age groups, socio-economic backgrounds, geography, and so forth. This model hasn’t changed much in the last 150 years. We seem to be caught up in the idea that learning needs to be “institutionalised”.
When we look back in history we find that certain key technology have brought positive disruptions to our traditional way of doing things. Prominent examples within the last 150 years are electrical light or the invention of the telephone, which have brought about radical changes to our societies. Today we are all thrilled, sometimes scared, how information technology pervades our daily lives at work and in our families. We live in the information age.

But how must we use information technology best when it comes to the way we teach our kids and organise our schools?

What do you think is the difference between the two chairs on next image?


The left one is a genuine innovation, and the right one is a fraud!

In the first half of the 19th century, Michael Thonet, devised a new manufacturing process in which he bent wood into shape using hot steam. With this technology, he was not only able to create aesthetically beautiful designs, he also devised robust and durable structures with less material. The Thonet chair was a real innovation at its time and has become a classic of good design.

The chair on the right is manufactured today and made from steel, which is absurd since steel has completely different properties. Not only have the opportunities for innovation and improvement been missed by copying this design in a new material, the chair on the right is inferior to the original design, it is heavier, less comfortable, and so on.
What has this to do with IT in education?

Well, I believe that we often make the same mistake when thinking about IT in education. There are still government tenders which call for the “digitisation of textbooks”.

For me this is similar to using steel to manufacture a wooden chair.

Powerful IT applications make the right connection at the right time.

Over the last years information technology has gained super power status in its capacity to connect people, their preferences, needs and interests, and places. Also, systems are gathering lots of data about users in order to be able to offer the best service to users.

The peer to peer taxi service UBER is a prime example of how ICT makes the right connection at the right time.

In the next few years we will see many more application which follow similar business models. An ambitious and exciting scenario for such an application to support learning is the concept of personal learning environments. Environment in this context means an integrated set of “tools” which operate on a common “platform”.

At Formula D interactive we have been thinking about the possible features of such an environment.

Imagine a learning environment that connects and harnesses a host of distributed activities and projects across the city and web, which can be selected or booked by learners according to their self-guided, teacher-guided, and data-informed learning paths.

Activities like reading a blog or a book, signing up for a math class, visiting a museum or doing an internship at a local company, would be logged in the learning path, acknowledged and credited. Traditional schools would focus on producing good content and exciting projects that could be individually booked by learners, instead of trying to fit everything into one curriculum.

The system would be equipped with powerful data-mining tools, which would dynamically evaluate and visualize the impact of personal learning decisions and activities with respect to an assumed career path if applicable. Scheduled peer, tutor or master assessments would certify key learning points. Gamification strategies would allow for virtual and real-world rewards for progress. Already at a young age, good students could become tutors or teachers in fields they are good at. Peer to peer interaction would always end with a rating of the interaction, so learners and teachers will gain credibility points just like vendors on eBay for successful transactions.

I imagine the main components of a Personal Learning Environment would be:


  • Education “Health” status: Ambient visualization of Learning progress (learning ‘garden’, tree, tamagotchi)
  • Learning timeline: “Cradle to grave”
  • Learn Zone / ‘here and now’ focus area with various content feed, publishing and collaboration tools (visible to invited peers or tutors)
  • Play zone: Learning with games
  • Module mall (market place for learning activities ranging from real-world activities like museum visits to global online projects, learning games etc)
  • Scheduling assistant

  • Peer network and interaction tools
  • Learning path tool mining live data from current careers
  • Evaluation Centre: learning check points or evaluation from peers and teachers. Compare to self-assessments.

In summary, IT in educations has the potential to positively disrupt the way we learn and teach, but we need to be careful not to reinforce old thinking with new tools. The big opportunity of IT systems is that they can offer learners the right connection at the right time to aid their learning journey.