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Can education technology really improve learning in Australia?

Edtech encompasses a whole range of things that enrich the way students can learn. Picture Shutterstock
Edtech encompasses a whole range of things that enrich the way students can learn. Picture Shutterstock

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The student learning experience in Australia has come a long way since the days of chalkboards and being forced to write with your right hand. Quills and traditional whiteboards have been replaced by tablets and smart boards. Abacuses and calculators have since been replaced by laptops and smartphones.

Educational technology continues to evolve in exciting ways, and some promising new developments in the world of edtech are creating possibilities and enriching young minds like never before. But one question still remains in the minds of Aussie parents and teachers: can education technology really improve learning? Let's take a closer look.

What is Education Technology?

Commonly referred to as edutech, edtech, or ed-tech, education technology refers to either the combined use of hardware and software and educational theory and practice to enhance and expand the education of students or to the industry that creates and advances education technology.

Edtech encompasses a whole range of things that enrich the way students can learn. Theoretical and practical knowledge, communication, psychology, artificial intelligence (AI) and learning theory are all combined to facilitate learning. In simple terms, edtech integrates technology and education to maximise the benefits of both, creating a more functional and diverse learning environment.

How Education Technology impacts learners

The global pandemic taught us how essential technology is in education. Students all over the globe were able to attend school and socialise with their friends without leaving their homes. It brought the school to the students; and it could bring students anywhere else they could possibly dream of. Picture this: you're a history student about to take a school excursion to Ancient Greece. This is a possibility for students due to virtual reality technology.

The key tools of education technology are intended to innovate and improve how we can both teach and learn. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can create so many possibilities. Gamification of learning can make learning fun for students and has been used in various forms in education for a long time. Online learning platforms mean students don't have to miss school even if they can't physically attend.

Learning management systems, adaptive learning software and data and analytics make it easier for each student to have a more individualised approach that works for them. Gone are the boring "chalk-and-talk" classroom days. Technology keeps students engaged, informed, and part of a learning community.

Imagine a world where a sick kid in the hospital doesn't have to fall behind in school or a kid who struggles with the traditional learning approach doesn't feel the need to drop out. Students learn at their own pace and in their own style. Education is not one-size-fits-all, and edtech makes it possible for everyone to learn in a way that suits them.

How education technology impacts teachers

Technology doesn't make teachers and other school staff obsolete, it actually lessens their workload and frees up some of their time.

If AI or another system can answer questions 24/7, it means students don't have to wait, wasting crucial time, when they have a query about homework or some other aspect of school. It also means teachers and admin staff can field hundreds or even thousands of repetitive questions and save some precious time to focus on other tasks.

No computer can replace a good teacher. But even the best teacher struggles to meet the individual needs of 20+ students while adhering to school system rules and regulations. Similarly, even the most passionate teacher struggles to teach a classroom of bored, understimulated (or overstimulated), whining students. Education technology can make learning seem like a shiny new toy.

Teachers don't have to worry about not being able to keep up with technology. Education technology is all part of the job and is generally covered in university. Potential teachers who are doing their Education Masters degree online are already absorbed in the world of technology!

Edtech can help both teachers and students seek support, get instructions on how to complete a task, find new information, and find information in a format that best suits them. Every student has a different learning style. One may prefer to read, another may find a podcast or video helpful, and a third may learn by physically doing a task.

Potential pitfalls of Edtech

There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all solution to every problem faced by every school system. Edtech is no exception - it won't provide an allround, perfect learning experience in every way.

Technology impacts every aspect of our lives. Very few professions are free from technology, and we rely on it for everything from communication to keeping our money safe. And yet it has not fulfilled its full potential in educational settings in Australia.

One reason for this may be that some schools choose to use either technology or analog tools instead of a combination of both. Technology doesn't need to replace traditional teaching tools, and it certainly doesn't need to replace teachers.

Passionate, informed, caring teachers are still vital in every classroom, and they can work with the students to maximise the benefits of technology. While many education systems combine modern technology with other materials, they don't invest heavily in technology.

No two students are the same, nor are any two teachers. No two schools are the same either. School systems differ all over the world. Each will implement edtech in different ways, and it won't work for everyone. Any school considering investing in edtech needs to assess its personal needs and goals, as well as how it would fit into its infrastructure.

While children attending school in a developing and underprivileged area may benefit greatly from edtech, their school may not have fast and simple access to the internet or electricity, nor may the children have access to these things at home.

Things like the staff and students' familiarity with technology must also be taken into account. Investing in edtech may also be difficult for education facilities that don't have access to grants or whose budgets don't have room for such luxuries.

Despite the fact that it won't be the ideal solution for everyone, the positives of edtech are generally considered to outweigh the negatives. Edtech is a blank slate that we can implement as much or as little as we want in whatever way works for us.