The danger of being comfortable: Education

So far, our series of posts on disruption in a variety of industries has focused on those that have already seen big changes and a definite direction for the future. (Missed the others? You can still read them.) Today’s post looks at the field of education – an industry that has started getting a taste of disruption, but hasn’t hit the nail on the head yet.

Like any other industry, education spans to both ends of the spectrum when it comes to integrating innovative technology. In the classroom, it ranges from teachers who struggle to work even basic technology into a lesson plan all the way to virtual classrooms.

School districts are playing a wild card when they put a tablet in each classroom or give one to each student. It could either unlock huge potential or get ignored. The pressure isn’t just on teachers, though, to get the right combination of hardware and software. Sometimes teachers become innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. The Los Angeles City Schools iPad debacle is a great example of good intentions that resulted in a train wreck of technology that simply didn’t work. Software that doesn’t meet expectations is plaguing the education field. From apps that crash to apps that simply won’t say what they do, it’s no wonder that teachers have really mixed feelings on using technology in the classroom. Finding a good app for the classroom can feel like finding a needle in a haystack.

Some of the best educational apps out there at the moment are those that encourage critical thinking and interaction between student, classmates and teacher. Know My World, an organization that promotes cross-cultural competency by use of technology, has seen good success in a variety of classrooms across the globe with solutions like SchoologyEdmodoPadlet, and Penzu. Students love communicating with each other through what they’re familiar with, though, like Google+ and Skype. They key to success with these apps is that they are stable, fast, and up-to-date to match the latest hardware options. Know My World has seen that teachers generally lean toward apps that are just one piece of a larger project instead of a full-service solution to address multiple needs.

Apps like Udacity and Knewton are highly functional and can even replace a teacher for a time. What price are students paying for this kind of functionality, though? The way these apps work is based on a student absorbing information, demonstrating a level of mastery of it, and then tackling a more difficult lesson or reviewing a simpler one until mastery is achieved. In this fashion, education becomes a commodity to be consumed.

As nearly any teacher will attest to, simply being able to answer review questions does not indicate a true comprehension of the material, nor does the inability to answer review questions indicate total incomprehension. Learning involves creativity and critical thinking about the information and ideas presented, not just rote memorization. If these teacher-replacement apps are only driving students to respond with an answer that is completely right or completely wrong, there’s a critical element of comprehension and application of thought that is missing.

It’s quite easy to see that education hasn’t yet been disrupted like finance or hospitality have been. There’s no Square or AirBnb of the classroom. It’s just around the corner, though. Someone in the near future is going to turn education upside down – for the better – when they figure out how to make mobile technology truly enhance the learning process with a quality innovation.

The new app or service that is going to disrupt this industry is still up for grabs. Do you think you have the idea that’s going to revolutionize learning? We would love to chat with you about your idea.