Article Highlights:

  • Technology has profoundly transformed our lives, yet one of the most important aspects—education—has yet to embrace technology’s transformational benefits.
  • The future of education now resides in a concept known as “personalized learning”.  Personalized learning has the potential to truly transform education for students of all ages, as well as for teachers, too.
  • Effective collaboration among all the relevant stakeholders—educators, administrators, governments, non-profit organizations, international donors and the business community—who have a vested interest and desire to dramatically improve the state of education is the only way to realize this transformation and drive sustainable progress.

Imagine school children in rural India sitting in a shipping container studying math. They don’t have textbooks in front of them, but are using the latest technology to learn.

Sound futuristic? It’s not. Children on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Gujarat now have some of their classes in a converted shipping container, equipped with the latest technology, wireless connectivity, electricity, furniture, fans and air conditioning, called a “Lab-in-Box”. They study math and language using HP Videobook, which enhances a student’s textbook experience via online videos they access depending on how they learn and whether they require additional explanations.

It is common knowledge that technology has profoundly transformed our lives—from the ways we communicate to how we are entertained and even how we manage our finances. Yet, one of the most important aspects of our lives—education—has yet to fully embrace technology’s transformational benefits. This is not just about giving every student a laptop and Internet access; we need a fundamental shift in how we approach education. We need to equip students with the knowledge needed to compete in today’s global economy.

At a 2010 Boston1 symposium, there was strong consensus among leading American educators that merely tweaking the teacher/classroom-centered model is inadequate. Rather, they suggested that a “systemic redesign” was necessary for a more ‘personalized learning’ approach, one that uses technologies to tailor educational curriculum, instruction and student support according to the needs and aspirations of each learner.

Imagine the disruption of moving away from an “industrial-age, assembly-line educational model1” in which ‘the sage on the stage’ speaks to students en masse, missing those outside the achievement bell curve who may learn in a different way. This notion is so disruptive to the current educational system that many educators attempt to avoid it by trying to adapt or extend the traditional one-size-fits-all teaching approach.

Yet, the future of education now resides in a concept known as “personalized learning,” or tailored teaching and learning environments for individual students. Many of us believe that personalized learning will help address some of the deepest problems in global education, including access, quality and relevance.

“This is not just about giving every student a laptop and Internet access; we need a fundamental shift in how we approach education. We need to equip students with the knowledge needed to compete in today’s global economy.”

Several phenomena are driving the adoption of technology for student-centered, personalized learning. These include the steep drop in IT costs, increased Internet access, the ubiquity of personal computing devices and the proliferation of easily accessible content online. In many parts of the world, cloud-based educational content and programming is already lowering costs and increasing services in schools. It is also allowing schools to rapidly scale or contract as demand changes and instantly access information as well as many free applications and tools.

Through a personalized learning approach, learning can take place anytime. Whether inside or outside the four walls of the classroom, students can focus on their own skills development with unobtainable or expensive textbooks supplemented by downloaded content—sections of which can be viewed or printed based on individual needs. These tools help students become better prepared to enter and compete in the dynamic, digital and interconnected workforce of today.

One practical way of achieving full, student-centered personalization at scale and reasonable cost is with technology.

These new student-centric environments also provide many benefits for teachers. They feature smart e-learning systems that help track and manage the learning needs of each student. They provide a platform to access adaptive learning tools that engage every student at the right level that addresses his or her individual needs efficiently and effectively. Analyzing large volumes of data regarding student interactions in an e-learning system can help identify the right tests for each student as well as peers who could provide support, increasing student performance. When teachers are not solely responsible for instruction, they have more time for individual engagement with students.To us, these are small but important steps on the path toward democratizing education.

Effective collaboration among all the relevant stakeholders—educators, administrators, governments, non-profit organizations, international donors and the business community—who have a vested interest and desire to dramatically improve the state of education is the only way to realize this transformation in education and drive sustainable progress.

HP is fully committed to this vision and to the collaboration necessary to make it a reality. In my experience managing sustainability and social innovation programs, the progress that’s being made with personalized learning is a game changer. Access to a quality education remains one of the world’s most critical challenges – and one of the greatest opportunities for long-term, positive individual and societal impact. Personalized learning has the potential to truly transform the way we teach and learn. Pockets of innovation in personalized learning are occurring every day 1. Innovation and technology can enable a “systemic redesign” and offer the wonderful possibility that success in school will be possible for all students. Most importantly, all students will have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Further Reading:

  • The “Innovate to Educate: System [Re]Design for Personalized Learning” symposium, Boston, MA, USA, August 2010
  • The High Cost of Low Educational Performance, OECD 2010
  • Fifth APEC Education Ministerial Meeting, 2012, accessed 7 October 2012: http://www.apec.org/Meeting-Papers/Ministerial-Statements/Education/2012_education.aspx
  • Belfield, Clive and Levin, Henry M, The Price We Pay: Economic and Social Consequences of Inadequate Education, Brookings Institution 2007