Is technology changing education for the better?

Saturday, 1st September 2018

Is technology changing education for the better?

Have you ever considered what university would be like without technology? Research would require taking out encyclopaedias from the library, looking up definitions in dictionaries and hand-writing thousand-word essays. Without technology, lecture notes would be copied off a blackboard, communicating with peers would only be done in person and group work would be an absolute nightmare to co-ordinate! As digital natives, every student has thought about this at least once, probably shuddered and then proceeded to thank their lucky stars that they were born in the digital era.

Aside from enhancing the university experience, the use of technology in education is widely encouraged because of its positive effects on learning. Not only can it increase student engagement and interaction, it fosters the development of digital skills that are essential in the 21st Century. In addition, advocates argue that implementing EdTech in schools could potentially close the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.1

However, if this is true, why then have student drop-out rates been increasing for three consecutive years?2 Why is higher education experiencing a mental-health crisis?3 Why are universities being criticised for failing to equip students with essential skills for the real world?4 As technology continues to dominate, has it really changed education for the better?

If you’re interested in this topic and want to find out more, keep reading and join us next month at The EdTech Debate (Tuesday 11th September 2018), powered by Supernotes!

Global Education

Access to university

One of the most profound ways technology has transformed education is by increasing accessibility. The growth of online courses has enabled students to transcend geographical barriers and learn from anywhere in the world. Not only does this provide the benefit of flexibility and convenience, online programmes significantly reduce the cost of education and improve affordability. For example, a recent trend has been the expansion of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) which provide university-level courses free of charge for an unlimited audience.

Whilst this is a tremendous feat, the completion rate of most courses is below 13%.5 Furthermore, the prevalence of informal online courses diverts students away from formal degrees. Is this beneficial given the importance of higher education in society?

Access to education has also been improved indirectly through the automation of mundane tasks, allowing universities to streamline their operations and onboard more students.6 For example, the use of Learning Management Systems (LMS) has made it possible for universities to efficiently manage and better deliver educational courses to larger student bodies. Yet, with nearly half of UK graduates claiming they would have secured their current job without a degree,7 are these new technologies actually increasing access to education or have they simply made it easier for universities to profit by offering ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees?

In addition, the success of technology in tackling deeper issues, such as unequal access to education, is debatable. The digitisation of the application process may have arguably hindered access to education as it acts as an obstacle to the less affluent. Indeed, universities have been criticised for their slow uptake of under privileged students and, despite increasing pressures, the proportion of students from ethnic minorities and disadvantaged backgrounds admitted to leading UK universities has declined in the last year.8 Therefore it is reasonable to ask, has technology made progress in bridging the gap in access to education or has it simply widened it?

Moodle Computer Unplugged

Within University

From lecture capture to adaptive courseware, EdTech solutions have revolutionised the classroom environment. But has it been effective in improving the teaching and learning experience?

No doubt, students have benefitted in innumerable ways. The web has put information at our finger tips, sped up sharing of documents and facilitated collaboration through the use of online forums and discussions. With libraries expanding their digital spaces to include audiobooks and podcasts, there is no shortage of resources available making the days of waiting for a specific textbook a thing of the past. Moreover, with digital resources optimised for mobile devices, there are no limits to when and where these can be accessed. Learning can take place anywhere!

The EdTech space has also provided a plethora of note-taking and file-management apps to help students learn better. Cloud-based apps enable easy storage and retrieval of information from various devices whilst apps with gamification features maximise student engagement. Who knew learning could be made fun!

Yet despite this, student dissatisfaction remains high with over one third of UK graduates regretting going to university (Aviva, 2018). Perhaps the instant gratification that technology provides, in making knowledge easily accessible, isn’t always better.

For teachers, new hybrid methods of teaching have emerged that combine traditional classroom methods with online media. This includes webinars, videos, animations and simulations that all provide new interactive ways of delivering information. More importantly, the automation of routine tasks has enabled teachers to manage large cohorts and combat excessive workloads. The use of online assessments, for example, help teachers overcome the cumbersome task of marking hundreds of scripts. The additional free time can then be used to engage with students and prompt a deeper level of understanding.

Nevertheless, with technology comes distraction. Recent studies have shown that splitting attention between lectures and electronic devices hinders long-term retention of information.9 Furthermore, teachers face the additional challenge of keeping students engaged and combatting cheating. In efforts to maintain control, some professors ban all mobile phones and laptops during class, a solution unsurprisingly rejected by students as extreme. The struggle then for teachers is finding the appropriate balance of technology use in the classroom.

Graduation Cap

After University

The popular opinion in favour of EdTech is that it improves the quality of education. Recent figures show an unprecedented rise in the number of first-class degrees being awarded, in some universities as many as five times more.10 However in spite of this, businesses continue to report a widespread skills gap and many graduates struggle to find graduate-level jobs.11 One reason for this is the lack of continuity between university and the corporate world. From the information taught to the software programmes used, graduates struggle in applying their knowledge to the real world. Alarmingly, economists find that Love Island contestants could expect higher lifetime earnings compared to an Oxbridge graduate.12 This highlights a major problem with the schooling system. Perhaps, rather than applying new technologies to improve the educational structure we need to change the existing structure itself?

Additionally, rapid technological advancements not only improve the quality of education but they also threaten to make our existing knowledge obsolete. Consequently, learning does not stop once we graduate with professional training and development becoming a routine process in many organisations. There are a number of tech solutions to make this process cost effective for firms. Video-based training is commonly used to deliver engaging courses whilst LMS and data analytic tools facilitate the development of personalised training programmes. By customising learning based on behaviour and study patterns, training is more effective in targeting each individual’s difficulties. Therefore, just as in the classroom, technology has redefined learning in the workplace.

5G iPhone

Future of Education

And what does the future hold? Consider a little over a decade ago where iPhones were a rare commodity amongst adults, let alone children. Nowadays, iPads are being used to engage toddlers in primary school!13 It seems like anything is possible for the next digital generation.

Fast forward a couple of years where developments in augmented reality could make it possible to provide 3D presentations using holograms or beam distant guest speakers into the classroom. Similarly, upgrades in simulation software could lead to various vocational professions, such as nursing, potentially being taught online.

Equally exciting is recent developments in 5G networks which, with download speeds 20 times faster and reduced transmission delays, promises to change the way we learn and share knowledge. What does this mean for education? Aside from high-definition videos and instant streaming, the ultra-fast connectivity when combined with virtual reality will allow for real-time immersive experiences. This means that skilled professionals, including surgeons and musicians, will be able to share expertise and guide students in real-time from different locations.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is another phenomenon increasingly used in the classroom to automate routine tasks previously carried out by teachers. The purpose of these AI-driven tools ranges from sorting, assigning and evaluating submissions to adapting lesson plans based on student assessments. In the future experts envision AI to be used in anything from designing textbooks and course content to providing university and career advice to students.14

Although the role of teachers is still crucial in teaching students how to learn, with continuous advancement in research and machine learning, robotic teachers may well be able to replicate human teaching behaviours. How then will the role of professors change as the prevalence of AI increases? And how much automation is too much?

Another factor that is often overlooked is the dependence of AI driven technologies on continuous data collection. Given that the power of data is still unrealised, this raises major privacy and ethics concerns. With technology moving faster than policy, courses on online safety may become imperative in the future.

From improving accessibility to conveying information more effectively, technology has impacted education in more ways than we can count. Yet the question still remains, to what extent has it benefited education? Overall, has it improved or hindered academic performance? Has it enabled higher education institutions to be managed more efficiently in the interests of students or as profit-seeking businesses? And what will be the impact on education in the future? If you are interested in the answers to these questions, join us at next month’s EdTech Debate for an evening of thought provoking discussion with leading professors and founders of EdTech start-ups from King’s College London.

  1. Timmis, S., Sundorph, E. and El-Gamry, D. (2018). Beyond Gadgets: EdTech to help close the opportunity gap. [online] London: Reform Think Tank. Available at: [Accessed 23 Aug. 2018].
  2. HESA (2018). Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2016-17 - Student numbers and characteristics | HESA. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Aug. 2018].
  3. Financial Times (2018). UK universities act to tackle student mental health crisis | Financial Times. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Aug. 2018].
  4. Financial Times. (2018). UK economics graduates lack required skills, study finds Financial Times. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Aug. 2018].
  5. Onah, D., Sinclair, J. and Boyatt, R. (2014). Dropout Rates of Massive Open Online Courses: Behavioural Patterns.
  6. HESA (2018). Non-continuation: UK Performance Indicators 2016-17 | HESA. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Aug. 2018].
  7. Aviva (2018). UK: Generation regret: over a third of millennials who went to university regret doing so as they struggle with debts and squeezed finances. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Aug. 2018].
  8. The Independent. (2018). Bring back maintenance grants for poorest students to boost diversity, university boss says. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Aug. 2018].
  9. Glass, A. and Kang, M. (2018). Dividing attention in the classroom reduces exam performance. Educational Psychology, pp.1-14.
  10. The Guardian. (2018). UK university figures show up to fivefold rise in first-class degrees. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Aug. 2018].
  11. The Telegraph. (2018). Universities are failing to deliver the workers businesses need. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Aug. 2018].
  12. Financial Times. (2018). ‘Love Island’ is more lucrative option than Oxbridge | Financial Times. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Aug. 2018].
  13. BBC News. (2018). IPads ‘help improve young pupils’ skills’. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Aug. 2018].
  14. The Chronicle of Higher Education. (2018). How Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Teaching. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Aug. 2018].
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