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Is Digital Education Really A Bust?

digital educationAn interesting article in today’s NY Times expresses frustration that many schools are feeling that after huge investments in computers, white boards, educational software, etc. test scores are still not moving.

This is a fact, but why is that and does it mean digital education is a bust?

There are of course many reasons for the lack of impact.  One, cited in the article, is that Internet access in the classroom allows students to expand horizons during class in a way that was not possible before.  This broader understanding of the world however is difficult to capture in a test.  In fact, arguably, it hurts the test score as this kind of teaching detracts from meat and potatoes fundamental learning that is tested.

Another reason, not mentioned, is that educational software suffers from click through — students can get through the material with guesses, or by clicking next, without truly absorbing the material.  While software manufacturers are getting better at resolving this issue, it is a huge impediment to success.

Finally, the digital revolution so far is not exactly changing the world.  Most of the time it amounts to automated teaching, software that replicates what a teacher can do, but aimed at the top and bottom of the class, so that the teacher can actually teach to the middle.  It’s a productivity tool, more than a test raising tool.

We are big believers in computer software, naturally.  After all, it’s what we do, provide educational software at home.  We do differ from the educational community in one respect though.  We think the real opportunity is where software does what humans can’t — respond and adapt to student responses with great precision, pulling  a student along a pathway to higher learning.  And right now, there are only 2-3 programs that deliver in this regard, so the future of digital education is still undecided.

Gemm Learning uses this approach with its cognitive brain training software called Fast ForWord — it exercises cognitive and reading skills, using adaptive algorithms that respond to a student’s every click — no teacher can match what this software does.  reading programs for kids like Fast ForWord, which treat the cause of learning issues, represent the future of digital education, and yes, in case you were wondering, many school districts do use this software, and yes, in almost all cases, their test scores improve with Fast ForWord.

Here’s a link to the NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/technology/technology-in-schools-faces-questions-on-value.html